Flash is out for wealthy on Valentine's Day

Thu Feb 5, 2009 9:59am EST
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By Walker Simon

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Flashiness is out and subdued celebration is in among wealthy Americans on Valentine's Day.

As the economic crisis spreads and conspicuous consumption loses its luster, hedge fund millionaires and oil barons are shunning eye-catching items like yellow, red and blue diamonds in favor of lower-key gifts, luxury industry watchers say.

In Hollywood, it is easier to book reservations at marquee restaurants than last year for the romantic day on February 14, a restaurant publicist said, noting entertainment big shots now tend to favor eateries that have cut their entree prices.

Among U.S. households earning at least $150,000 per year, Valentine's Day spending will fall by nearly one quarter, data showed from a survey for the National Retail Federation.

Anecdotally, those with investment portfolios worth more than $10 million are shunning flamboyant gifts that could be seen as out of step with the somber economic mood.

"You have a level of social opprobrium," said Richard Baker, chief of luxury marketing researcher Premium Knowledge, adding the super-wealthy were anxious about "being labeled as ostentatious" and were "pulling back substantially."

In recent years, he said, Valentine's Day spending among the $10-million-plus crowd rose by 8-10 percent a year.

Common were gifts costing tens of thousands of dollars, Baker said, such as yellow diamonds and luxury time pieces from companies like Cartier, whose corporate parent Richemont posted a 12 percent drop in sales in the fourth quarter of 2008.   Continued...

<p>An $18,000 ring and a $42,000 bracelet with Australian argyle chocolate diamonds from Le Vian corp. are displayed during the 7th Annual awards season diamond fashion show preview in Beverly Hills in this January 10, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok</p>