March 1998

At Press Time


Dealers question reports of undisclosed treatments of South Sea and Tahitian pearls

Dealers of South Sea and Tahitian cultured pearls reacted to industry concern early this year following published reports about undisclosed enhancements. The reports brought up charges of bleaching, dying and an undetectable "luster enhancement" polymer treatment in the white, golden and black cultured pearls from the South Pacific. This followed the South Sea Pearl Consortium's announcement that its 1998 ad campaign will encourage consumers to focus on "natural" color. While treatments of South Sea pearls aren't as uniform as those of their akoya counterparts in Japan and China (where 99.9% of all cultured pearls are bleached for uniformity), many are commonplace and widely recognized. For example:

  • Some pearls are dyed black and golden colors and sold as enhanced; most of these dyes are easily detectable and permanent. However, sometimes golden pearls are colored by unknown organic substances that aren't detectable yet, says Tom Moses of the GIA Gem Trade Laboratory in New York City.
  • All white South Sea pearls "go through a process," says Raymond Mastoloni Sr. of Frank Mastoloni & Sons, New York City. This is not bleaching, rather washing with a peroxide solution "to bring out the natural color."
  • Bleaching of white pearls is harder to detect, says Moses, but dealers say they import most loose pearls undrilled. "You have to drill them at least halfway to treat them," says Terry D'Elia of D'Elia &Tasaki, New York City. "Unless they're using some kind of light treatment, I'm not aware of any treatment."

Question of Coating The hot button in the enhancement discussion is the allegation of a polymer coating that changes color and luster. The GIA Lab can detect such treatments easily under a microscope, says Moses. He confirms that such treatments are being done, but he rarely sees them in the lab. "I've seen it most often at trade shows," he says. In the meantime, until all treatments are definitely detectable, it's difficult to demand a natural color certificate for each pearl you buy. "Every loose pearl would have to have a GIA certificate, and it's hard to do that without destroying some of the pearls to prove they're natural," says D'Elia. He suggests jewelers talk with their suppliers if they are concerned about treatments. "We'll give assurances that our pearls aren't treated without batting an eye," he says. "But that's up to each wholesaler."

- by Stacey King

Copyright © 1998 by Bond Communications.


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