The gloves are off at Blue Nile (Nasdaq: NILE), allowing it to wave in the economic recovery with its ring-bearing hand.

The high-end online jeweler posted respectable first-quarter results last night. Net sales climbed 19% to $74.1 million, as net income surged 23% to hit $0.16 a share. It was pretty much what the market was expecting, but it's always refreshing to see a big-ticket retailer grow to signal the return of consumer discretionary income.

International sales are still a small part of the story, but they rose a robust 72% to $9.6 million (even if nearly a third of that spurt was the result of favorable currency translations). Back out the international component of Blue Nile's business, and net sales would have risen by only 14%. It's still decent, though cynics will point out that bricks-and-mortar rival Tiffany (NYSE: TIF) is projected to post a 17% top-line boost for its fiscal quarter that overlaps two of the three months in Blue Nile's reporting period.

Tiffany and global giant Signet (NYSE: SIG) are unlikely peers to tech-savvy Blue Nile, but it's just not fair to pit it against other e-tailers who peddle shiny things. Bidz.com (Nasdaq: BIDZ), Overstock.com (Nasdaq: OSTK), and even Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN) move a fair deal of jewelry, but it's usually discounted, entry level bling.

Blue Nile specializes in diamonds and fine jewelry, particularly engagement rings.

It's on the engagement ring front where an end to this brutal recession can be huge. Logical spouse-seekers may be waiting for the economy to improve before finding themselves on bended knee. Wedding-planning site The Knot (Nasdaq: KNOT) has meandered through the economic downturn, and Blue Nile delivered six consecutive quarters of year-over-year earnings declines before turning itself around two quarters ago.

The outlook is a lot cheerier now. Blue Nile sees net sales growing by at least 15% this year. The e-tailer projects profitability to grow at a healthy 20% clip. The shares may be trading at a lofty multiple of more than 50 times this year's projected earnings, but Blue Nile -- like its signature jewelry -- has never been a magnet for cheapskates.

Does Blue Nile's strength bode well for other big-ticket discretionary purchases or is this an isolated success story? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Blue Nile and The Knot are Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendations. Amazon.com is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz wonders if gold bugs will get bitten over the apparent apathy for jewelry as a fashion accessory. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.