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Kate Middleton's Engagement Ring Fuels Replica Firestorm

VERENA DOBNIK   11/16/10 07:39 PM ET  AP

NEW YORK — Minutes after the world first glimpsed the sapphire-and-diamond engagement ring Prince William gave his fiancee – the same one Princess Diana once wore – phones started ringing madly at a Manhattan jewelry maker.

Its Web site crashed as customers swamped it with online orders. Then the craftsmen at New York's Natural Sapphire Co. got busy Tuesday, producing the first of dozens of orders for replicas of Kate Middleton's ring.

"I called my wife and said, 'Honey, I'm not coming home tonight!" said Michael Arnstein, the CEO of the jewelry company his grandfather started in 1939. "We're in a frenzy. This is changing our business overnight."

Across the country, major jewelry stores also registered an increase in calls from clients interested in the brilliant blue gem that suddenly appeared in breaking news stories.

The photo of the sapphire-graced, beaming Middleton was released at noon Tuesday, and within 10 minutes, Natural's computer server crashed. An hour later, it was up and running again. And by late Tuesday afternoon, the company that normally makes five to 10 high-end engagement rings daily was starting production on about 30 – and counting, as calls came in.

In a room filled with computer terminals 20 floors above Fifth Avenue in midtown Manhattan, a half dozen sales people took calls from Great Britain, Canada, the United States and elsewhere for replicas of the oval, 18-carat sapphire ring set amid diamonds and 18-carat white gold that William's father, Prince Charles, had given to Lady Diana Spencer three decades ago.

"It's the biggest news for our company since Princess Diana received her sapphire," said Arnstein, adding that after Diana's engagement to Charles, the same ring also was responsible for a surge in business.

"Now, it's turned into a legacy," he said.

He planned to work into the night, asking his employees to stay as long as possible. Accounting for international time differences, more calls from Asia were likely to follow.

Most customers couldn't afford an exact copy of the royal ring. The sapphire alone is worth about $300,000 retail, and the whole ring about a half-million dollars, Arnstein estimated. Using high-tech, 3D computer software and modeling machines, he's producing replicas costing mostly $1,000 to $2,500 using 1- or 2-carat certified sapphires surrounded by tiny diamonds also set in 18-carat white gold.

"They're just as beautiful," said Arnstein, who's so immersed in the specialty gems that he even stocks his company bathrooms with bottles of the Elizabeth Taylor-tagged perfume Diamonds & Sapphires.

He also sells sapphires to other jewelers – including a 69-carat one worth over $1 million the size of a quail's egg.

Sapphires are rarer than diamonds but less expensive because demand for them is lower. They're especially beloved in Britain and its former colonies, including Sri Lanka, which Arnstein plans to visit soon to buy more of the sapphires mined there – expecting an uptick in demand through the holidays.

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Online:

The Natural Sapphire Co.: http://www.thenaturalsapphirecompany.com

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Filed by Hilary Moss  |