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Iridesse, Tiffany & Co.’s new pearl retail venture, is breaking out on its own with the debut of its first store near Washington.

Seeking to establish a foothold in the cultured pearl market, Tiffany has created a store concept with its wholly owned Iridesse subsidiary. The shops will focus solely on the cultured pearl market and offer an array of pearls and cultured pearl jewelry ranging from traditional to edgier designs with prices from $100 to $40,000.

Iridesse opened the first unit — 1,300 square feet — on Friday at Tysons Galleria Mall in McLean, Va. The space established the subsidiary’s distinct image and aesthetic, sans the ubiquitous blue boxes, white ribbons and solitaire engagement rings associated with its parent company. Tiffany plans to open 20 Iridesse stores in the next five years, including a second shop on Nov. 12 at the Mall at Short Hills in Short Hills, N.J.

“Iridesse will explore the full breadth of cultured pearl jewelry,” said Robert L. Cepek, president of Iridesse. “We feel the look of the brand should be conveyed through a stand-alone concept.”

Cepek said the rollout is starting in the Washington area, which encompasses several counties in Virginia and Maryland, because of its international ties and diversity.

“We certainly looked to open our first Iridesse store in major U.S. markets that in some respect reflect many of the values we hold dear at Iridesse — a high regard for fine, quality jewelry and a market that recognizes and appreciates diversity in today’s fashion,” he said.

“Washington is truly an international marketplace that recognizes good design, and we are very hopeful the Washington customer will enjoy the exciting new jewelry design we are bringing to this city,” Cepek said.

The company also wants to capitalize on the affluent customers who shop at Tysons Galleria. The average household income in the McLean area is $150,000 a year.

Iridesse is a stand-alone concept awash in allusions to the sea. The boutique’s interior, created by designer Randall Ridless, evokes the essence of the ocean. An etched glass partition featuring a design of a sea fan provides a dramatic backdrop in the center of the store, while the showcases fan out in front and behind it. The walls are painted a subtle natural color with wave-like designs and the showcases are low and unassuming. Built-in vitrines ring the walls and contain some of the more dominant necklaces and strands.

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One of the boutique’s focal points is a pearl bar, which highlights displays of strands and apothecary-style drawers of pearl jewelry, from Akoya to South Seas to Tahitian and freshwater pearls. Sales associates provide one-on-one consultations and educate customers on the quality and styles of pearls.

“One thing we learned from our focus groups was people don’t understand the value of pearls,” said Karen Anathan, marketing and communications manager at Iridesse. “People love pearl jewelry but they don’t understand it — like the way there are four Cs for diamonds, there are five virtues for pearls: color, shape, size, luster and surface quality.”

She said the store will have a DVD presentation on the middle of the pearl bar to further educate the customer and booklets for consumers on each specific pearl type.

Iridesse also unveiled its ad campaign, themed “Find Yourself in Pearls,” on Friday, consisting of print ads in a variety of regional publications.

“The whole idea behind the ad campaign is to showcase pearls in a new light, aside from the traditional manner, and yet also still appeal to the traditional strand wearer,” Anathan said. The image unveiled last week under the theme Simply Stylish features a Tahitian triple-strand necklace in an “everyday scenario,” she said.

Cepek said Iridesse will launch a Web site this month, which will begin as informational and transition into an e-commerce site in the next 12 months.

In an effort to diversify the Iridesse collection, the company has enlisted six jewelers to create exclusive cultured pearl designs. The designers are Erica Courtney, Christian Tse, Gabrielle Sanchez, Anthony Camargo and David Nakard Armstrong of Anthony Nak and Chrissie Coleman Douglas of Coleman Douglas Pearls.

“We are very excited about our design team, not only those who design the Iridesse collection but also the other five branded designers who we work with contractually,” Cepek said. “Each has different design points of view, and it is wonderful to see such a breadth of design influence under one roof.”

Armstrong said he and his partner, Camargo, do not use pearls in their own collection and see their collaboration with Iridesse as a “new opportunity to expand our vocabulary in jewelry.”

“Pearl jewelry has always been associated as something that is conservative with references to Jackie O., which is great but it limits pearls to one idea or look,” Armstrong said. “It’s the idea of taking pearls and expanding upon them for a much edgier, fresh way of looking at them.”

Iridesse’s focus on pearls is intended to set it apart from other jewelers.

“In most stores, there is pearl jewelry but it is just a side note and one class among many,” Armstrong said. “They [Iridesse] will focus on it as an authority on pearls and nobody else has done that.”

The duo used a combination of pearls and precious and semi-precious stones in their exclusive collection for Iridesse. One of Armstrong’s favorite designs is a Tahitian pearl ring with a signature chain encasement of the pearl combined with a four-point flower diamond that holds the chain onto the pearl.

“We are established as a couture jewelry designer, but to have this relationship with Tiffany, one of the oldest houses in the world, is a phenomenal thing that allows us to do cross-branding and infiltrate a more conservative market,” said Camargo.

Tse, who also is creating pearl jewelry for Iridesse, said the partnership with the company is a “natural.”

“My designs are more organic, and I had never worked with pearls before,” Tse said. “Every design out there has been done with pearls and I asked myself, ‘How do I re-create something that has been around for so long?’”

To that end, Tse took as one of his exclusive Iridesse designs an 8-mm. cultured pearl necklace and stylized it with his signature look by weaving beads in the strand of pearls.

Tse has designed 12 to 15 pieces of jewelry for Iridesse, including strands, necklaces, earrings and bracelets, and plans to make one-of-a-kind pieces as well.

“My philosophy is not to design conservative pieces, but to design more edgy, eye-popping pieces,” Tse said. “They’ve encouraged me to do things like that.”