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Playing Tennis
Bread & Butter

You can’t get more upscale in the D.C. area than Charleston Alexander Fine Diamond Importers of Bethesda, Maryland. It’s one of those impressive stand-alone doors that emerges from its strip-mall environs like Fort Knox out of the Kentucky bluegrass. This early May morning, however, president John Sabet isn’t talking designers, brands, differentiation, keystone-plus, or any of our usual conversations. He’s talking tennis bracelets.

Not the premium ones he’s carried for years, like his 7 carat total weight four-prong bracelet, retailing at $11,000. That’s a staple sweet-spot at Alexander, and roughly mid-range of the two dozen or so tennis bracelets in stock. We’re discussing a new line that’s a huge departure: H/I colors, SI2/SI3, 2 to 8 carat total weights, $950 to $1,250 per carat. “There will be some four-prong and three-prong settings,” he says, “but this is all about value, with bar and channel settings we’ve never had. We’re manufacturing ourselves in India, and it’s been a revelation.

Not just the quality of the labor—huge when it comes to a piece like a tennis bracelet—but the diamonds. Utterly consistent tables, which is the key for tennis bracelets.” More to the point, the new line retails at keystone to 2.2 markup. Industry-wide percentages for tennis bracelets, for manufacturers and retailers alike, tend toward 40 to 50 percent.

Aren’t you worried they’ll bring the look of the store down? “Absolutely not,” Sabet says immediately. “What I’m worried about is servicing the guy I sold the $50,000 engagement ring to last year. He’s back: ‘I have $3,000, $4,000 to spend.’ He still wants the big diamond look, but this time he wants a no-brainer, the ‘please don’t make me go back on-line for another two days’ piece of jewelry for the first anniversary. I’m not bringing the store down by showing him four carats of beautifully cut diamonds in a classic bracelet that’s right at budget. It’s a no-brainer sale. Every woman wants it, and the only question he has to answer is which setting?”

I ask if he’d consider downselling in his other diamond categories. “Absolutely not,” he says. “Except studs.”

Or if he thought of going the other way: moving up the 25 percent (by way of designers, and brands) from the $1,200 to $1,750 per carat bracelets he’s long stocked, rather than down.

“Didn’t just think about it. Did it, a few years back, the right way, too, with a close-out,” he says, asking that the name of a well-known brander be kept off-record. “Funny you should mention 25 percent, because that was the price I got from the liquidator. Took me a year and a half to unload them, and after all that time I had to take the shortest margins. And we’re talking beautiful ideals, the best constructions.” It was an eye-opener for Sabet, who built his business around three dozen household-name branded jewelry designers and premium loose programs like Isee2 from Antwerp’s Overseas Diamonds.

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