Gemstones & Pearls:News
The Golden Rule
U.S. retailers are starting to take chances with golden South Sea
pearls, traditionally Asian favorites. But American consumers have been
slow to catch on
A casual glance at the cultured pearl market these days seemingly reveals
golden South Sea pearls achieving an enjoyable approval rating. Mikimoto
advertises luscious strands in high-brow fashion magazines. High-quality
strands take places of honor in dealers' showcases at trade shows. And at
the recent Hong Kong auction of strands from the Paspaley Pearling Co.'s
South Sea pearl harvest, a single golden strand brought three times its
When dealers began actively promoting this rare variety 11/2 years ago
in the U.S., they broke some long-standing market barriers. Golden pearls
had long been coveted in Asia and Latin America, where the color nicely
complements most skin tones. In the U.S., however, it's generally accepted
that no matter what fashion dictates, consumers prefer their cultured pearls
decidedly pink- and silver-white. Decades of promotion by Japanese producers
have made consumers suspicious of creamier hues in akoya and South Sea strands.
Even the more exotic colors, snapped up quickly by Asian and European markets,
until recently sold slowly in the U.S.
Though black pearls have officially "made it," many say the
golden pearls are slower to catch on. First, because they're very rare (produced
by the golden-lipped oyster of Indonesia, they're usually a byproduct of
white South Sea pearl farming), they cost 30% to 50% more than their white
South Sea counterparts. Second, they're unfortunate enough to share a family
tree with yellow, a less-desirable color for Americans.
"People are just now getting comfortable with South Sea pearls in
general, but they're not yet comfortable enough with golden pearls to keep
them in inventory," says Raymond Mastoloni Sr. of Mastoloni & Sons,
New York City. "The demand is not so high yet that people are running
out and paying the price for them."
Last year, D'Elia & Tasaki of New York City sold all of the 30 to
40 golden pearl necklaces it received from Japan, where sister company Tasaki
Shinju cultivates the pearls on southern islands. U.S. consumers have been
tentative though. "Some people haven't seen them yet and they're wary,"
says President Terry D'Elia. "Most people are scared to be the first
to try it."
Some retailers who have stocked the pearls have seen no consumer interest,
while others report moderate results. "'We've carried them in the past,
and we've sold the ones we had," says Brian Schubot of Jules R. Schubot
Jewellers and Gemologists in Troy, MI. "But they don't sell like the
white and black South Seas."
by Stacey King
Sea pearls may still be a trend-in-waiting while consumers adjust to big
sizes and exotic colors.
Photo courtesy of the
South Sea Pearl Consortium
Copyright © 1998 by Bond Communications.