Asda takes on high street jewellers

Shoppers accustomed to televisions and designer jeans at knockdown prices alongside their fruit and veg can now look forward to a sparkling new line as Asda plans to take on the high street jewellery trade as well.

It has started selling top-of-the-range diamond engagement rings for £499. A sterling silver and diamond necklace will set shoppers back just £12.

The supermarket chain, owned by the American cut-price giant Wal-Mart, began selling jewellery a year ago in 10 stores. The pilot scheme was so successful it is being rolled out in 107 of the firm's 260 shops. It is also selling designer watches from companies such as DKNY and Timberland at low prices, having bought them on the grey market.

According to market analyst Mintel, jewellery is now the fastest-growing retail sector. Between 1995 and 2001, sales rose by 35 per cent to £3bn a year. But some established jewellers are distinctly sniffy. A spokeswoman for Cartier said: "Their success reflects a huge trend in the market at the moment. Asda will be using low-grade gold and cheap diamonds, but the high end where we sell quality, real jewellery is also buoyant."

In Asda's Wembley store the jewellery section is placed in the middle of its George clothing range, but is easily visible from the meat counter.

Ivelana Sveteva, a cleaner in her 20s, came specifically to buy a pair of cubic zirconium earrings for £10 for a party. "I like it here because you can find everything: boots, jewellery, food."