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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Blue Nile CEO Resigns; Q3 Sales Up 11%

Diane Irvine

Diane Irvine, Blue Nile CEO, president and director, who has been with the diamond and fine jewelry online retailer since the company was founded in 1999, has resigned, effective November 11. The announcement came just minutes before the Seattle-based company reported that third quarter sales increased 11.2 percent to $75 million. Operating income for the quarter totaled $2.9 million, representing an operating margin of 3.8 percent of net sales.

Vijay Talwar, senior VP and general manager of the company’s international business, has been appointed interim CEO. During the transition period, chairman Mark Vadon, who founded the company, said in a conference call that he will take an active role in the leadership of the company, working closely with Talwar. With the support of the Board, Vadon said he will lead the search for a permanent CEO.

“Diane has been with Blue Nile since its formation and we wish her well in her future endeavors,” Vadon said. “Diane has worked with me on the business since 1999. She has been a tremendous business partner, making countless contributions in her 12 years at Blue Nile. During Diane's tenure as CFO and CEO, the company has grown sales from $14 million to over $300 million and has become one of the world's largest fine jewelers.”

Talwar joined Blue Nile in August 2010. From November 2010 to August 2011, Talwar also served as Blue Nile's CFO. Prior to Blue Nile, he served as CEO of the William J. Clinton Foundation in India, where he provided strategic, financial and operational leadership across health care and sustainability programs in India and South Asia. Before joining the Clinton Foundation, he was at Nike, where he held a number of executive leadership positions, including COO for Nike CEMEA (Central Europe, Middle East and Africa) based in Amsterdam.

“Serving both as the head of international operations and as the company's Chief Financial Officer, Vijay has developed a deep understanding of the Blue Nile business,” Vadon said. “Further, his strong branding experience makes him ideally suited to lead the company's daily operations during this transition period.”

Blue Nile Highlights for the third quarter, ended October 3, include:

* International sales grew 54.8 percent in the quarter to $14.4 million, a record level for any third quarter in Blue Nile's history. Excluding the impact from changes in foreign exchange rates, international sales increased 46.2 percent.

* Gross profit for the quarter totaled $14.8 million, an increase of 1.4 percent from the prior year. As a percentage of net sales, gross profit was 19.8 percent compared to 21.7 percent for the third quarter of 2010.

* Selling, general and administrative expenses for the quarter were $12 million, compared to $10.4 million in the third quarter of 2010. Selling, general and administrative expenses included stock-based compensation expense of $1.6 million in the third quarter.

* At the end of the third quarter, cash and cash equivalents totaled $40.2 million.

* During the third quarter, Blue Nile repurchased 880,300 shares of its common stock for $30.9 million.

“Our record third quarter sales exceeded the high end of our guidance and was driven by solid growth in our engagement and non-engagement businesses,” Talwar said. “We also continue to experience exceptional growth in our international business, validating the value proposition we have for our consumers abroad. Overall, engagement sales growth at the high-end continues to perform very well, showcasing the depth of selection we have in the luxury category. Key to our strategy, we will continue to aggressively invest in our brand and business through marketing programs and additional merchandising assortments. “During the quarter, we repurchased $30.9 million of stock, underscoring the confidence we have in the long-term potential of our business.”

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