By  on November 20, 2007

New York's Rockefeller Center lures tourists from around the world, particularly during the holiday season, with its towering Christmas tree and festive shop windows.

On Saturday, Japanese retailer Niwaka opened as the newest jewelry store in the area, at Fifth Avenue and 49th Street. The $36 million, Kyoto-based fine jewelry house operates 12 shops in its home country, two in South Korea and one in Shanghai.

Company founder and president Toshikazu Aoki is focused on bringing the 28-year-old brand's sleek and small jewelry to the bigger-is-better American customer.

"There is a mature market with rich capital in the U.S. and people tend to purchase bigger diamonds," Aoki said through an interpreter. "We can cater to this customer while still keeping our intricate design style. I firmly believe there are opportunities for Japanese designers in this market."

Niwaka's Manhattan store marks the firm's reentry to New York — the company opened a unit in SoHo in 2000 that closed six years later. Aoki decided this time he would create a flagship that would take the brand "to the next level."

Inspired by the streets of Kyoto, the bilevel 2,670-square-foot store maintains a clean, Zen-like appeal and features traditional Japanese design elements. Panes of glass are suspended on the front wall and lined with Japanese calligraphy. Other areas feature Karakami Japanese wallpaper, the same print used 400 years ago to decorate ancient Japanese tearooms and temples. Furniture is sparse: Only one long mahogany table greets customers in the back of the store's lower level.

Unlike the plush, salon-like setting of many fine jewelry stores, Niwaka leans toward the minimal.

"When we started to think of the design of our store, we wanted to use the same concept that is used to create our jewelry, to be modern while staying true to the traditional Japanese design aesthetic," Aoki said.

The jewelry is also austere. The bridal collection, which accounts for 50 percent of Niwaka's business, features platinum wedding bands and engagement rings mainly in the one-carat range. Prices for the collection run from $1,000 to $76,000 for bigger stones. The rings have names like Water Mirror, Nightdew and Afresh, and each one comes with a poem.Niwaka's fashion jewelry component also relies on tradition, creating collections based on the ancient Karahana flower and Kanji symbols and scripts. Prices range from $260 to $73,500.

Some Eastern-inspired home goods and accessories line the shelves toward the back of the store. Colorful, hand-painted tea caddies are available for $89. A brown bamboo box with a $173 price tag sits next to an incense bag for $184.

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