While a diamond-and-Tahitian pearl design set in platinum may claim pride of place as the ultimate luxury, the fine jewelry industry is increasingly turning to less-expensive materials to cater to a new generation of consumers. In response to women who want accessories that qualify as fine jewelry but who don't want to break their budgets to purchase them, suppliers are creating pieces that are high on style but lower in price.
The use of freshwater pearls is a prime example. As their quality improves (and the rounds become rounder), freshwater pearls fit consumers' image of traditional pearls. As a result, freshwater designs are filling a specific niche in the market-they're allowing fine jewelry to become more fashion-oriented.
Though a fraction of the price of traditional pearls, freshwaters are much more than fodder for low-end suppliers. Pearl giant Mikimoto has embraced freshwater pearls in recent designs, and designers like Lugosch, based in Round Pond, Maine, are testifying to the gems' fine jewelry status by using them in 18k gold.
Other suppliers are following the fashion parade by incorporating sterling silver or less-expensive colored stones into their lines. Kevork, Los Angeles, for example, is producing more colored gem designs.
The trend ties in nicely with fashion's turn toward color. With lower retail price points, freshwater pearl designs not only lure female self-purchasers into retail jewelry stores but also attract a younger generation of shoppers who are looking for high quality but who don't have excess disposable income-yet.