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Bond Street seems immune to credit crunch; Russians, Arabs buy rarest jewels
    By Tom Wildhern
LONDON, August 10, 2008 - The Russians and Saudis are coming! Bond Street, symbol of the giddy heights of the global jewellery trade, is seemingly immune to the economic downturn and the credit crunch.

White Rolls-Royces with Arab number-plates, Bugattis and Ferraris with drivers who are sometimes barely out of their teens, patrol the plush streets of Mayfair in west London, as the capital's wealthiest tourists arrive for the summer, with millions of pounds to spend.

The eateries of St. Christopher Place, and the hotels, nightspots and casinos of Curzon and Berkeley Street are crammed, and Bond Street is a powerful magnet for ultra-wealthy foreign tourists staying at the May Fair Hotel on Stratton Street and the Churchill Hyatt in Portman Square.
Business is booming as Russians and Arabs plough their vast commodity riches into buying the world's most fabulous jewels from famous houses like Van Cleef & Arpels and Graff Diamonds which reside on Bond Street.

Bond Street is a glamorous mixture of jewellers, elite fashion houses ranging from Alexander McQueen to Ralph Lauren, and high end art galleries. Jewels fuse with fashion and art to create a sanctuary for beauty and lifestyle here. Bond Street jewellers estimate that more than three-quarters of their jewellery sales are for export - spectacular and rare items sold to visitors from around the world.

Chatila, one of the top tier of jewellers on Bond Street, estimates that around half of its sales to Middle Eastern clients take place between June and September when many wealthy Arab families re-locate to the luxury hotels around nearby Oxford Street to escape the searing heat back home and to enjoy the shopping in London.

Bond Street houses many of the world's best known jewellers. They range from top international brands such as Cartier, Mikimoto and Boucheron, to the independent jewellers celebrated for their ability to source the very rarest of coloured diamonds, emeralds, sapphires and rubies, such as Graff, Leviev, Moussaieff and Chatila.

A customer can spend 2-3 million pounds-plus ($4-6 million-plus) on a sumptuous jewellery suite here. Some Bond Street jewellers sell antique jewellery. Bentley & Skinner, with a presence in the street dating back to 1934, specialises in Art Deco, Victorian and Edwardian jewellery and Faberge, and prides itself on the uniqueness of many of its pieces.

THE WORLD'S RAREST AND MOST FABULOUS GEMS ARE HERE

Graff Diamonds, renowned for the rarity of its gemstones, estimates that 95 percent of its sales are for export, often to customers from Russia and the former Soviet states like Kazakhstan, and from Asia. London-based Graff, which has 30 stores worldwide, has around 60 percent of the global market share in yellow diamond jewellery. The company has a highly skilled team of 70 craftsmen working in Albemarle Street, just a block away from the Bond Street store, producing dazzling new creations with classical designs.

Graff has been so successful with his recent international expansion to some of the world's most elite shopping zones that it now owns some of the buildings on Bond Street, hugely expensive real estate, as well as a fabulous contemporary art collection.

Family-owned Chatila, one of the world's oldest jewellery houses which is celebrated for its coloured gemstones, has seen buoyant sales for its jewellery on Bond Street despite the tough global economic climate. Its expectations of an economic slowdown failed to materialise.


However, some jewellers have noted a drop in numbers of American customers this year, possibly due to the much tougher times the U.S. economy is facing these days, and the slide in the dollar. However, the very wealthiest of Americans do keep coming to Bond Street, as they are impervious to the hard times that afflict most other people.

RUSSIANS BUY BACK HERITAGE

One cluster of customers on Bond Street who seem unaffected by the credit crunch are the Russians. The barons of their commodity-based industries, encompassing metals and oil, are flush with cash - and their families are reaping the benefit.

Bentley & Skinner's Faberge collection is very sought after by increasing numbers of Russian buyers. Just a little further along Bond Street from Bentley & Skinner resides another jeweller with a distinguished history, Van Cleef & Arpels, dating from 1906, one of the most famous French jewellery houses, known for its feminine, sophisticated, supremely crafted designs, using the highest quality gemstones.

The influence of Art Deco, arguably the design heyday of Van Cleef & Arpels, is still present in many of its pieces in the Bond Street store today. A contemporary diamond zipper, a remarkable feat of design and engineering, which can be used alternately as a necklace and bracelet, was displayed prominently in the window of Van Cleef & Arpel's Bond Street store recently.

The zippers can vary enormously in terms of their content of precious material, and prices could be anywhere from 150,000 pounds ($300,000) to 500,000 pounds ($1,000,000.).

Van Cleef and Arpel's most exquisite pieces never really stop selling because they are seen as investments.