Staff members of the new Gucci flagship store in Shanghai chat as they wait for customers on its opening day June 6, 2009. REUTERS/Nir Elias

BEIJING (Reuters Life!) - Luxury retailers, rejoice: the global economic downturn hasn't dented demand for pricey designer goods in China, where a study shows the affluent are buying handbags, watches and jewelry in force.

The study, by New York-based market research firm Pao Principle, found that almost 90 percent of well-heeled Chinese surveyed had purchased a designer handbag over the past year.

Nearly two-thirds of men, and a third of women, also bought a luxury watch over the same period, while another 30 percent said they had gone home with one of the signature blue boxes of high-end jeweler Tiffany.

The one-child policy has spawned a generation of more self-centered individuals whose primary goal is to differentiate themselves from their peers, the marketing firm said in a statement. No longer content to be one of the crowd, this group looks to luxury goods to help achieve this goal.

A government stimulus package worth nearly $600 billion and record lending by the country's state-owned banks have helped put China on track to achieve 8 percent growth this year, by far the fastest rate of any major economy.

This has offset a slump in export demand and sustained a rise in incomes, easing the impact of the global economic crisis on the majority of rich Chinese.

As the economies of Europe and the United States recover at a slower pace, several luxury retailers are looking eastwards for growth, with LVMH, the world's biggest luxury group, and rival Richemont both counting China as one of their main markets.

For its study, the Pao Principle recruited and tracked the buying habits of 448 affluent individuals from mainland China.

Panelists were predominantly highly educated females, aged between 20 and 40. Most of them also owned a home.

The study showed that Tiffany was the most popular fine jeweler for most Chinese, with necklaces in white metal -- gold, silver or platinum -- their top choice.

And while the Chinese love discounts, improved quality, better selection and brand education are equally important purchase motivators, the study said.

(Writing by Miral Fahmy; Editing by Alex Richardson)