Rapaport Magazine

Fantasy Comes True

Brazil’s diamond diggers are facing a changing environment.

By Nancy Pier Sindt
RAPAPORT... We’re a destination,” explains Eileen Alexanian about Diamonds ’n Dunes, her two-year-old fantasy jewelry store located on a state highway on the Outer Banks of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. This is not a typical jewelry store by anyone’s standards. “I incorporate my personality into the store,” she says. “It has an energy, a pulse.” The decor, says the owner, is “Versace meets the Outer Banks.”

The main floor is reflected by a large mirror topped with a mural of mermaids and mermen. There are sea-theme sculptures and paintings on the walls and selling floor, along with blue and gold nautical accents. The upstairs mezzanine has a vaulted ceiling, a life-size mannequin in an elaborate wedding gown, a sitting area and a white baby grand piano, where the owner is known to entertain. Overall, the 4,000-square-foot space is invitingly light and airy with an aura of playfulness.

After even a brief conversation with the owner, one understands how she has imbued this boutique with her own outsize personality. The original store she and her husband Ken Kelley opened in 1992 was located about 20 miles away in their hometown of Manteo. They loved the store, but had “hit the wall as much as the business could grow.” The goal for the new store was to make it “more fabulous than the last one.”

Their location search yielded a unique property the couple redesigned into a two-level fantasy shop. The low-key, beachy location attracts a healthy share of tourists as well as established local customers. “We’re located on a beach bypass area with lots of automobile traffic,” she explains. “We looked for a location with the ability to have a store that’s memorable.” The couple’s travels inspired the style of the store, blending the opulence and exoticism of Versailles and Venice with the lure of the beach. “We wanted something sophisticated and welcoming, which is hard to do because people are intimidated by jewelry.”


Alexanian enlisted the help of a floral designer friend and gave him open-ended instructions: “It has to have a feeling, a vibe. Colors that make people feel good. Bring it on, experiment and go over the top.” Creating the new store meant spending money but they “didn’t go crazy.” The goal was to create a “fun atmosphere,” she says.

The result is a distinctive, yet elegant, space with sharply edited, handpicked merchandise. There are designer jewelry collections, but not from the biggest names; the owner says she “cherry-picks” the styles she wants. Diamonds and colored gemstones are important elements of the business; the former contribute an estimated 35 percent to total sales. “Our local customers buy mostly diamonds and diamond-oriented styles,” Alexanian says.

With the opening of the new store, however, some merchandise categories
have grown.

“We never had a big bridal business before, but it has risen recently,” she says. The best-selling sizes are generally not large diamonds — the biggest are usually about 1 ½ carats. Qualities range from SI1 to SI2 and F to H color and the emphasis is on cut and color, with clarity a third consideration. Unmounted diamonds are available, but not emphasized; instead, each size and shape is paired with an appropriate mounting.

“The mounting sells the diamond,” Alexanian says. “We have no Blue Nile customers.” Certs are not a big consideration either, unless the customer asks for one. As an Independent Jewelers Organization (IJO) member, Diamonds ’n Dunes offers the Eternal Diamond Guarantee, as well as upgrade policies. Alexanian herself is a graduate gemologist and Kelley a skilled bench jeweler who does custom work and repairs.


When selling a diamond engagement ring, buyers are typically given two choices — good and better — and prices are discussed freely. Alexanian is a firm believer in posting prices on all of her jewelry. “I ask specifically what they want to spend. If they are hesitant to say, I show them some items and ask, ‘Are you comfortable in this range?’” The most popular retail range is $2,500 to $7,500.

Building her business from a woman’s point of view, Alexanian says it’s important to love the product, romance it to the customer, show the prices and to be open and friendly. As she tells her salespeople, “We jewelers all sell the same stuff. What makes a difference is you. Be passionate. We want people to be okay with themselves.” Her enthusiasm extends to her customers as well. “We make people comfortable to be themselves. Jewelry makes people’s lives better. We encourage them to wear it and show it in a style that’s their own.”

She is also a firm believer in wearing her products. “I walk the walk and talk the talk,” she says. A number of years ago, Alexanian met a well-known diamond dealer at a symposium and admired a large diamond he had for sale. When she returned home, she told her husband she wanted a big diamond for herself. “I wanted to create the desire among my established clients to buy bigger diamonds.”

Apparently, her approach works. Recently, a walk-in customer spent $30,000 on a yellow diamond ring. Before visiting Diamonds ’n Dunes, the woman said she had shopped at a big-name jewelry store and had been ignored by the sales staff. “It’s all about the connection you make,” maintains Alexanian.


Speaking of connections, did we mention the jeweler is a female Elvis impersonator? Her ride as Elvis on a Harley-Davidson float in a local parade and her post-Thanksgiving “Elvis” concert from the store — carried by live remote on the local radio station — have attracted considerable attention, as well as new customers. Another in-store event was a “Chamber Mixer,” in which members of the local Chamber of Commerce gathered for cocktails and networking. After the party, each attendee was sent a $50 gift certificate redeemable at Diamonds ’n Dunes. Only a handful took advantage of the offer, but it served as an invitation to new shoppers.

Alexanian radiates contagious enthusiasm for her store, her staff and her customers, but she takes umbrage with the idea that a jewelry purchase has to be occasion-driven. “Why do you give her jewelry?’ asks her radio commercial. No one should wait for a special occasion to buy or give a gift of jewelry because “Jewelry is an accessory that lasts forever.”

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - August 2008. To subscribe click here.

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