The jewellery retailer Signet, owner of the H Samuel and Ernest Jones chains, has been shifting more of its UK head office work to its base in Birmingham.

More than 80 jobs were moved last year from London to Birmingham, where much of the store planning real estate, accountancy and insurance work is now done, said Tim Jackson, Signet's investor relations officer.

He was speaking after the jeweller raised its total dividend by 20 per cent for a third year with a final pay-out of 2.625p.

The shares rose 41/4p to 1143/4p, equivalent to 14 times the year's earnings, where the shares yield 2.6 per cent.

The headline profit for the year to January was five per cent ahead at £210.3 million on sales of £1.614 billion.

Some 70 per cent of Signet's sales are in the US, and results were depressed by the dollar's fall. At constant exchange rates, earnings per share was 16 per cent ahead, sales by eight per cent and profits by 12 per cent.

A sustained marketing drive to increase the element of diamonds in the overall sales mix has yielded results on both sides of the Atlantic.

In America, the Jared chain now offers its customers loose diamonds which they can buy separately from the settings. The jewel is then assembled in a workshop within the shop.

There are no plans to offer a similar service in Britain, but diamonds now account for 28 per cent of sales in H Samuel and Ernest Jones, up from 22 per cent five years ago, boosting the value of the average purchase by 42 per cent in H Samuel and 29 per cent in Ernest Jones.

The average selling price was £37 at H Samuel and £141 at Earnest Jones.

Last year, the combined UK operations contributed operating profits 2.1 per cent higher at £78.2 million on sales 2.7 per cent up at £514.4 million.

Terry Burman, chief executive, said that in Signet's new year since the end of January like-for-like sales growth has been in "low single digits" after taking into account the change in the timing of Easter.

He added "This reflects a US like for like increase a little ahead of the fourth quarter of last year, partly offset by negative mid single digit like for like in the UK following a marked deterioration in the general trading environment."