When De Beers LV, the much discussed joint venture between De Beers and LVMH, opened its first U.S. store on Fifth Avenue last July, it attracted New York City's business and social elite, some protesters from Survival International, and plenty of curious onlookers.
Inside the contemporary environment, created by Italian architect and interior designer Antonio Citterio (whose resume includes stores for Damiani, Valentino, and Ungaro), De Beers LV unveiled a new brand identity along with its diamond jewelry assortment.
For the next month, besides new shoppers, the store attracted De Beers competitors, sightholders, and other industry members scoping it out. "Our staff was exhausted from having to deal with mystery shoppers looking for information and asking questions," says Alyce Alston, CEO of De Beers LV North America.
While the company's high profile New York City and Beverly Hills stores will continue to be scrutinized, the foundation of the new brand has been established. Although the industry has focused on concerns about De Beers selling direct, the real impact of the new venture depends on how successfully it has been positioned in the market.
Do the De Beers LV stores have a point of view? Is there a brand being developed, and does the advertising create a clear and consistent message? These are questions that face every fine jewelry retailer—whether you have a $400 million initial investment like De Beers LV or a new branch store in a mall.
After the joint venture was announced five years ago, Modern Jeweler assembled a panel of top experts, each of whom had hands-on experience in luxury branding, marketing, and retailing (July 2001, page 43). The panelists speculated on the challenges for the new retailer in the U.S. market and how the store could be best positioned to meet those challenges.
With nearly six months of U.S. retailing under its belt, De Beers LV now is far enough along for Modern Jeweler to assemble another panel to assess how the brand is doing and to suggest how other retailers might learn from this case study experiment in jewelry brand-building.