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Downturn sucks the luster off Valentine's

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 such as 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 United States households earning at least US$150,000 a 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 US$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."

Common were gifts costing tens of thousands of dollars, Baker said, such as yellow diamonds and luxury time pieces from companies such as Cartier.

In the hedge fund epicenter of Greenwich, Connecticut, buyers are looking at traditional white diamonds that are easier to match with clothes, said John Green, of jewelry store Lux Bond & Green.

"It's back to basics," said Green.


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