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Friday, 22 November, 2002, 14:13 GMT
Protests mar glitzy diamond launch
Iman advertising the new store
Iman is the face of the new diamond store

"We want to try and bring some trendiness into the world of diamond jewellery," Alain Lorenzo told BBC News Online ahead of the glitzy launch of his swanky De Beers store in London.

"The vision is to transform the jewellery shopping experience from something that can be quite intimidating into something that is welcoming and warm," he explained.

Protesters at the store
Protesters will target the store every Wednesday
But as glamorous socialites arrived, the welcome was far from warm and the scene far from trendy.

Groups of policemen held back a placard-waving crowd shouting for the rights of Botswana's bushmen and urging the guests not to cross their picket line.

"We want to draw the attention of the company and the public to the forced evictions of the bushmen in the central Kalahari," said Stephen Corry, director of Survival International, who organised the protest.

"The company itself has not carried out the evictions, the government carries out the evictions but De Beers and the government act as Siamese twins," he told BBC News Online.

Added sparkle

De Beers, the South African mining firm, is trying to create an established brand for its diamonds.

To most jewellery shoppers, diamonds are a fairly generic sort of purchase, albeit a pricey one.

Iman advertising De Beers' millennium star diamond
De Beers' high profile advertising campaign has been marred
But Mr Lorenzo thinks it should be otherwise.

"There's no question that when you see a De Beers diamond it sparkles more than any other diamond you've seen," he claims.

"We have been screening more than 130,000 diamonds in the last 12 months to sell in just that one store" he said, explaining that De Beers is aiming to create a whole new quality standard for diamonds.

Each new branded diamond is marked with a microscopic serial number so that it can be traced.

And De Beers says that each gem carries the guarantee that it has not come from a war zone and that its sale has not been used to finance combat.

Taken hostage

The London store is De Beers' first foray into direct retailing and branding, and it hopes to expand into Japan next year and European capital cities after that.

Protesters
Bushmen are allegedly being evicted in order to mine diamonds
But the allegations, which De Beers vehemently denies, are casting a cloud over the whole experience.

"I'm afraid Survival has chosen the De Beers store as a high profile target to get publicity for their cause, but we have absolutely nothing to do with this," Mr Lorenzo said.

"The De Beers store has been taken hostage to gain publicity, which is very unfortunate."

Unwanted publicity

Mr Lorenzo tells me valiantly that the protests won't spoil the show.

"Protesters won't be able to get into the store and guests will be explained all the facts that are frankly unquestionable," he said.

The protesters, however, are planning to be outside the store every Wednesday, demanding that De Beers takes action in Botswana.

"I'm sure we've made an impression on international opinion already" said Mr Corry.

And there's no doubt that De Beers' glitzy launch did not create the impression it intended.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Stephen Corry, Survival director
""We have made a big impression on international opinion already."
Alain Lorenzo, head of De Beers LV
"Survival has chosen the De Beers store as a high profile target to get publicity for their cause"
See also:

01 Nov 02 | Business
15 Feb 02 | Business
18 May 01 | Business
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