Anyone Remember the Old De Beers?

For the past year, we’ve heard about De Beers the retailer, De Beers the not-quite-a-monopoly, De Beers the company that’s going through a sometimes jarring series of changes and contortions.

But De Beers executives want jewelers to know that, despite the refiguring, the company can still help you sell diamonds.

“We are still doing the same job for the industry we always did,” says Liz Lynch of De Beers’ consumer marketing division. “Our job is to grow the entire industry. Without the entire market growing, our share won’t grow either.”

The company will spend a record $70 million-plus for “generic” diamond advertising this year in the United States—but there will be differences. The name “De Beers” will no longer appear anywhere on the generic advertisements. Instead, the ads will end with the company’s new “Forevermark.” There’s no longer even a “De Beers” marketing plan—it’s now the “DTC” (Diamond Trading Company) marketing plan. The “De Beers” name is now the sole property of new partner LVMH.

There’s also an unprecedented controversy. De Beers’ U.S. marketers admit they’ve heard negative feedback about the LVMH deal. But they hope jewelers will distinguish between the De Beers that runs the commercials and the De Beers with half-ownership of a soon-to-be major retailer. “We are not involved at all with the LVMH venture,” says Richard Lennox, director of the De Beers account at J. Walter Thompson. “We know nothing more than the press releases. To know more would be a conflict of interest.”

Here’s what to expect from De Beers—oops, the DTC—in the year ahead:

The “design gallery.” De Beers’ adiamondisforever.com Web site has turned into an unexpected hit, with the “Design Your Own Engagement Ring” section particularly popular. “The average visitor stays for 11 minutes,” says Lennox. “That’s unheard-of ‘stickiness’ for a site.”

To capitalize on that popularity, the site will introduce an elaborate “design gallery” in the third quarter of this year. This state-of-the-art cyber showcase will feature more than 1,400 diamond jewelry products, all with diamonds of 20 points and over. The pieces will come from a variety of designers—not, officials insist, just sightholders.

“It’s like having Saks Fifth Avenue available to you 24 hours a day,” says Lennox. “We want consumers to realize the huge variety of diamond jewelry design out there. Very few designers in the industry have a consumer reputation. This will raise the profile of the very talented designers that have no voice.”

There’s a practical side to this. “We know design is a critical component in stimulating purchase,” says Lennox. “We hope by showing all the beautiful diamond jewelry designs available, we will fuel the diamond addiction.”

The gallery will be a cutting-edge, multimedia affair, using flash technology and streaming video and featuring extensive information about the designs and designers. “It will not have the look and feel of a catalog,” says Lennox. Surfers will be able to sort the designs by piece type, designer name, price point, and type of design (such as “art deco” or “modern”).

If a visitor sees a piece she likes, a “jewelry locator” will tell her where to purchase it—although not, Lennox stresses, from De Beers. Information in the “locator” will be supplied by manufacturers.

Expansion of the “past, present, and future” concept beyond three-stone rings into other types of “three-stone” jewelry. By all indications, three-stone rings are hot again, and Lennox credits the company’s ad campaign. “Three-stone rings have been around for years,” he explains. “It wasn’t the rings that captured the public imagination, but the ‘past, present, and future’ positioning. We’ve found it to be an exceptionally rich concept that resonates powerfully with consumers.”

Just as the campaign for the diamond solitaire necklace spawned campaigns for solitaire rings and necklaces, the “past, present, and future” concept will mutate into other products. “We want three stones to be the celebration of ‘past, present, and future’ at whatever moment in your life,” Lynch says. This will likely mean a campaign to promote three-stone necklaces and, possibly, three-stone earrings.

A push for the “diamond line bracelet.” De Beers has gotten strong anecdotal feedback from its “diamond line bracelet” campaign, which launched last October. The “diamond lines” are an update of the tennis bracelet, with high-quality melee goods and snazzy design.

Upscale “fashion victims” are the product’s target, Lynch says. “It’s for the Sex and the City group, the young affluents. They use diamond jewelry the same way they wear a Gucci or Prada bag.”

De Beers has pledged more marketing muscle for the diamond line campaign this year. Still, because it’s an upscale item, the bracelet will be advertised in print, rather than on television. “It’s a tightly focused, targeted product,” Lennox says. A lot of the push will be on the public relations side, as De Beers’ p.r. arm, the Diamond Information Center, tries to get the bracelet on as many celebrity wrists as possible. “We want it seen in all the right places, on all the right people,” Lynch says.

An increase in the “seize the day” campaign. Anyone who lives in a major city is probably familiar with De Beers’ Christmastime “seize the day” outdoor billboards—ads that pitch diamond jewelry with a smart-alecky twist. De Beers now wants to run them year-round and tout diamonds as appropriate gifts for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, birthdays, even the birth of a child. (The bulk of the advertising will remain in the fourth quarter.) Among the items to be spotlighted: the diamond solitaire necklace, ear studs, and diamond rings.