Anglo-American jeweller Signet, owner of chains including H Samuel, reported a better than expected performance in its second quarter despite the “challenging” consumer environment.

Like-for-like sales in the UK were down 0.5% in the period to August 1 and 0.4% in the first half - an improvement on a 4.3% drop for the same quarter last year.

First-half sales across the UK business fell 3.8% to $284.9m (£183.3m). Signet said the impact of the pound’s weakness against the dollar, the rising price of gold and higher VAT rates had been partly offset by some price rises.

Ernest Jones was the best performing UK fascia with second- quarter like-for-likes up 0.2% compared with a 1.2% fall at H Samuel.

The group’s total like-for-like sales in the second quarter rose 4.5% and pre-tax profits climbed 48.8% to $57.3m (£36.8m).

Investec analyst David Jeary said the performance was “predictably strong” with “better than expected like-for-likes in both key markets”.

“The stand-out element was the degree of cash generation, which increases the chances of a near-term dividend restoration,” he said.

Signet chief executive Terry Burman said: “The outlook for the rest of fiscal 2011 is uncertain. However, we will continue to invest in the business, increase advertising during the holiday season and further the availability of differentiated merchandise in an effort to continue to gain profitable market share.”