Fashion, Frugality Build Bridges to New Customers

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 freshwa

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