Some retailers this holiday season have noted that the kitschy Here-Comes-2000 T-shirts, coffee mugs and other bric-a-brac have hardly been flying off the shelves.
But Ronnie Mervis, the voice on all those radio ads for Mervis Diamond Importers, says sales of at least one high-end millennium bauble -- DeBeers Millennium diamonds -- have done quite well.
DeBeers, the most significant name in the world of diamonds, mined and shined 20,000 high-quality diamonds. And, with microscopic etching on the 1- to 1.5-carat stones, it wrote the DeBeers name, the year 2000 and Antares, after the brightest star in the constellation Scorpio, and depicted the sun rising over the horizon. None of this is visible to the naked eye, but all of it can be seen clearly with a powerful enough microscope.
Mervis said it bought 30 of the DeBeers Millennium diamonds, and as of last week had sold 26 of them, at $8,000 to $15,000 apiece, for use in engagement rings and pendants and as keepsakes. Ronnie Mervis said he has no doubt that the other four will be sold as well.
Mervis said his business this Christmas shopping season "has not been good, it's been excellent."
Throughout most of the year, Mervis said, his three stores in Washington, Rockville and at the company headquarters in Tysons Corner do about $100,000 a day in business. But in the past month, he said, the figure has ballooned to about $400,000 a day.
"People are shopping for the millennium," Mervis said.
"DeBeers has done an excellent job, in many languages, stimulating demand" with its advertisements, he added.
Mervis explained his robust sales by noting, "It's a unique time. It's the economy. It's the mood. It's Christmas. It's the stock market and the profits people are making."
DeBeers says the U.S. market accounted for 46 percent of the $49 billion global diamond jewelry market in 1998, compared with 36 percent in 1996. Mervis acknowledged that the masses, of course, are not buying $10,000 diamonds.
"Yes, it's a certain segment of society," he said, "but there's a good part of that segment in the Washington area and certainly in Northern Virginia."