Amazon.com enters the jewelry business

The Amazon.com-which in recent years has branched out from its books business to sell everything from apparel to sporting goods to gourmet food—has launched a jewelry store Web portal.

The site (www.amazon.com/jewelry), which has been in beta test for the past few months, opened today to great fanfare by the Seattle-based company. In fact, the company’s home page today is dedicated to advertising the new site. The launch was timed to coincide with the upcoming Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and graduation celebrations.

The company released a statement saying it plans to be a “single shopping destination for consumers, committed to offering low prices on a large selection of high-quality rings, necklaces, pendants, bracelets, earrings, and watches.” It has more than 75,000 “unique items” on the site, ranging from blue topaz earrings for $15 to a platinum, radiant-cut diamond necklace totaling 31.74 cts. for $93,000.

The company says it will charge margins of about 13% for its jewelry, which it says is far less than at retail jewelry stores. Amazon.com says it can do this because it doesn’t have to pay the overhead costs that jewelers typically pay, such as inventory, the renting of store space, the costs of displaying jewelry properly, a sales force, and security.

However, while the company does have merchant relationships, it will reportedly be holding a large amount of jewelry inventory at a secure site and jewelry will be shipped from the warehouse. Fortunoff, Ross-Simon, Mondera, Caroline Ballou, Lois Hill, and Zoppini are among the retailers and designers partnering with Amazon.

To ensure that it is offering the lowest price, Amazon.com is including a feature that it says will make it easy for customers to inform the company if they find a lower price on a comparable product from another reputable seller. If a lower price is verified, Amazon.com will reduce its price on the Web site for all customers.

“We are thrilled to offer Amazon.com customers an unparalleled jewelry shopping experience by making it easy to find and discover the finest jewelry at lower prices than other retailers, online or offline,” said Eric Broussard, vice president, Amazon.com Jewelry.

Amazon.com has reportedly hired a staff of gemologists and other jewelry experts to inspect the jewelry it will sell. In addition, many of its diamonds and gemstones will include certificates and other inspection criteria.

The site also will offer a “Create a Diamond Ring” feature to help customers find the right diamond engagement ring based on their choices of diamond shape, carat size, color/clarity, and setting style. A Learning Center provides buying guides for pearls, diamonds, precious metals, and watches.