By Michelle Graff
New York--Signet Jewelers Ltd. executives said Thursday that it plans to open more Zales and Piercing Pagoda stores this year than it closes, marking the first time in years that Zale Corp.’s physical footprint won’t shrink.

The announcement came Thursday as Signet reported its fourth quarter and full-year results for the fiscal year ended Jan. 31. Signet owns Zale Corp. as well as Sterling Jewelers, operator of Kay Jewelers and Jared the Galleria of Jewelers.

Both Sterling and Zale recorded a 4 percent increase in comps in the fourth quarter, boosted by strong sales of both bridal and fashion diamond jewelry.

CEO Mark Light said during the company’s quarterly earnings call that bridal performed well for Sterling as did Le Vian and Diamonds in Rhythm. For Zale, it was Vera Wang Love, the Celebration diamond collection and Unstoppable Love.

Both Diamonds in Rhythm and Unstoppable Love are fashion diamond jewelry lines with center stones set at an angle so they are always moving and, thereby, catching the light.

Light also mentioned that the company plans to open about 25 new Zales stores this fiscal year and 10 Piercing Pagoda stores. It will be the first time in years that the chain’s physical footprint hasn’t shrunk.

“We think there’s tremendous opportunity to continue to grow the Zale brand,” he said, noting that there are more than 1,000 Kay Jewelers stores while Zale’s store count remains in the “700 zone.”

Including its U.K. operations, Signet recorded a 4 percent increase in same-store fourth quarter sales while total sales climbed 46 percent to $2.28 billion, primarily driven by the Zale acquisition completed in May.

For the full year, same-store sales were up 4 percent for Signet and total sales climbed 36 percent from $4.21 billion to $5.74 billion.

Light called it an “absolutely incredible year for Signet.”

The company became a De Beers sightholder, opened outlet stores for both Jared and Ernest Jones in the U.K. and acquired Zale Corp., a transaction that Light, quite accurately, called the “most significant M&A transaction in the history of jewelry retail.”

“Rarely in retail does No. 1 acquire No. 2 and still have significant runway for opportunity,” he said, noting that this is due to the “highly fragmented nature of our marketplace.”

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