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Why Luxury Brands Are Celebrating Chinese New Year

Tuesday, 12 Feb 2013 | 9:30 AM ET
The Year of the Snake.
Matt McClain | Washington Post | Getty Images
The Year of the Snake.

What does Chinese New Year have to do with luxury sales in the United States?

Potentially, a lot. This week, throngs of Chinese tourists will travel abroad to celebrate the Chinese New Year. And many of them will be spending their travel money on luxury goods.

According to Bain & Co., Chinese shoppers make 60 percent of their luxury purchases abroad. The impact of Chinese spending in global markets now makes the Chinese consumer the top spender in luxury worldwide, according to Bain. Fully 25 percent of luxury purchases globally are now made by Chinese shoppers.

Last year, wealthy Chinese spent an estimated $7.2 billion on luxuries overseas during the New Year celebrations, according to the World Luxury Association.That was up 29 percent from 20011.

(Read more: What Do Wealthy Chinese Women Want?)

While affluent Chinese have been paring back spending on some luxury goods, many high-end retailers are betting that Chinese New Year sales could create a mini-Christmas in sales. Along New York's Madison Avenue and Fifth Avenue, several store windows are featuring Chinese themes and images of snakes, to honor the New Year and attract consumers.

Luxury jeweler Harry Winston and Cartier have both decorated their New York stores with snakes and Asian decor. Chinese tour groups are planning stops along the city's main luxury shopping streets. And some retailers are launching special snake-themed products to better appeal to Chinese holiday shoppers.

Bulgari's Fifth Avenue store has been transformed into a virtual shrine to snakes, playing off both the New Year celebration and the company's decades-long tradition of snake-themed jewelry.

(Read more: Rich Chinese Flee, Bringing Their Wealth With Them)

The store's exterior is wrapped in a two-story, lighted snake. Inside, the store is featuring historic pieces from its snake collection as part of a Serpenti Collection exhibit. It's also rolled out new products for sale, including a snake bracelet, in white gold with two pear-shaped diamonds for eyes, that sells for around $275,000. It's also offering a $9.5 million snake diamond necklace.

The store's facade is already attracting Chinese tourists and luxury buyers.

"It's been a beacon for Chinese consumers who seem to just walk right in afterwards and buy beautiful snake pieces," said Marion Fasel, a jewelry historian who helped put together the Serpenti exhibit.

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  • A reporter and editor, Robert Frank is a leading authority on the American wealthy for CNBC.