De Beers Opens Store in New York

De Beers LV opened its first American store with a bang—including A-list celebrities, the 200+ ct. Millennium Star, and a protest across the street.

In an exclusive interview with JCK, De Beers LV CEO Guy Leymarie says the two-story store, located in New York City at the St. Regis Hotel on 55th and Fifth, will be backed by a $4 million print ad campaign, which includes prominent upfront spreads in Vanity Fair and W. “It’s important for us to be the first jewelry advertiser [in the magazines],” says the head of the chain’s American arm, Alyce Alston. The ads are somewhat eerie yet classic—they use pre-Raphaelite imagery, and their own variation on “A Diamond Is Forever”: “Forever. Now.”

Press accounts have quoted Leymarie as saying the chain plans 150 stores in the next decade—a strikingly ambitious number. Not so, he says. He was merely responding to a question about how much is standard for this kind of operation. “How many we will open and when is obviously a different question,” he says, noting it’s premature to provide specific numbers.

Next up is a Beverly Hills store, set to open later this year. Also planned this year are a second store in London, a presence in a Paris department store, and a fourth boutique in Japan, bringing the total to nine.

No further U.S. stores are definite at the moment, but Leymarie says Chicago, Miami, and Las Vegas are all “major markets” under consideration. And the United States is very much on the chain’s radar. “The United States is 50 percent of the [diamond] market,” Leymarie says. “It’s our top priority.” To run the U.S. division, the chain hired Alston, former publisher of W Jewelry.

The New York opening drew big names like Lindsay Lohan, Teri Hatcher, and Lisa Ann Walter (War of the Worlds). The chain’s original London store—constructed when model Iman was its “style icon”—strived for a hip modern look that evoked Africa; it emphasized brown and wood motifs as well as stylish designs like diamond-studded leather chokers. It was a bold—in some ways noble—effort that nevertheless left many cold.

The New York store retains the wood and signature brown but adds more white for a brighter, more accessible look. The design is “more warm, friendly, more feminine,” Leymarie says. The store also adheres to more traditional formulas, with a prominent Bridal Bar.

The idea behind the chain, Leymarie says, is that “De Beers stands for diamonds.” He notes the name has “78 percent unprompted awareness. There is no equivalent in diamonds in the world. Our challenge is to establish that brand as a retail jeweler.” So far there are no plans to sell wholesale, on the Internet, or anything but diamond jewelry, although diamond watches may be added to the mix this year or next. Leymarie says the stores will stress “brilliance and sparkle” and give consumers “a new way to look at diamonds.”

The opening also drew a protest from Survival International, a group that claims that the Botswana government is evicting the Bushmen from their ancestral homelands to make room for De Beers–backed diamond mines. It has called for a boycott of De Beers.

Leymarie says Survival’s leaders were “very nice” when he met them in London and that they have a right to protest. “This is an issue between the Botswana government and the Bushmen,” he says. “It is not up to me to speak about it.” De Beers has said it has nothing to do with the evictions and that mining doesn’t require displacement of tribal peoples.

Leymarie, a Cartier veteran who began in the chain’s legal department, says he doesn’t think there is a legal issue with the store opening in the United States, noting that De Beers LV is a separate company from its 50 percent owner De Beers Group. He notes the company “buys diamonds in the market like everyone else. Though I don’t think people believe it.”