The Golden Rule

April 1998

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 estimated value.

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

Golden South 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.


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