PARIS — Costume jewelry appears to be coming into its own.
Along with strong sales of diamonds and high jewelry, costume jewelry has been impressive, with growing demand for designer lines.
The stigma of the category as inferior either in price or design has been largely wiped away, with more prevalence in high-end collections and stores.
Some 17 percent of luxury jewelry consumers in the U.S. had purchased costume jewelry by the third quarter of this year, ahead of pearls, semiprecious gems and precious gems other than diamonds, according to a study by Unity Marketing.
"Costume jewelry is [fashion's] next horizon," said Ann Watson, vice president and fashion director of Henri Bendel.
Retailers estimated that costume jewelry business has grown 20 percent compared with last year, and lauded a varied offering for spring 2008.
"[The sector] is...at an all-time high," said Tania Wicklow, jewelry buyer for Harvey Nichols. "I don't think it's reached its peak."
Nicole Fischelis, vice president and fashion director of women's at Macy's, said, "It's going to be even stronger with the new spring season as it was a major element of the collections. There was a focus on pieces for the wrist and the neck, and even brooches."
Fischelis said the sector works as a complement — rather than competitor — for other accessories categories, such as bags, with considerably lower price points.
Stores are carving out more floor space for costume jewelry. Harvey Nichols plans to expand and Henri Bendel added independent designers to its designer space on the third floor, including Tom Binns, Diana Broussard, Legge & Braine and Puerta Del Sol.
The costume jewelry sector began to rise about three seasons ago with the arrival of softer and more bohemian silhouettes on the catwalk, retailers said. In the spirit of its pioneer, Coco Chanel, costume jewelry indulges fashion's enduring high-low craze: women blending fine jewelry with fake pieces and mirroring the trend for mixing luxury apparel with high street pieces.
Retailers said the costume jewelry category often flirts with fine jewelry. Louis Vuitton, for example, used setting techniques of its fine jewelry line to fit fake stones in its costume jewelry collection designed by Camille Miceli.
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