Angling for Pearls

May 1998

Gemstones & Pearls:Gemology

Angling for Pearls

Some say they look like chrysanthemums, others say golf balls. Whatever they resemble, faceted pearls are selling briskly as a novelty item

There's a new word in the pearl lexicon: faceting. The technique of cutting angles into a material to increase its beauty and value is a staple of the diamond and colored gemstone worlds. But now a family in Kofu, Japan, has learned to use the technique on pearls.

Pearls are a somewhat unlikely subject for faceting, given their relative softness (2.5-4 on the Mohs Hardness Scale) and the propensity of their outer layer of nacre to flake. U.S. dealers say it has taken the family almost a decade to perfect the technique. But the result is a unique product that has been likened to chrysanthemums in Japan (where the flowers are prized) and to golf balls in America (where sports are prized).

The comparison to golf balls actually delights promoters. "I'm thinking of marketing the loose pearls on golden golf tees," says Edward Boehm of JOEB Enterprises. He and Bill Larson of Pala International are the only distributors of the faceted pearls in the U.S.


A closeup of the faceted pearls and bronze colored mabés shows how precise, unblemished and spherical the pearls must be for the flat facets to show up evenly. Gems courtesy JOEB Enterprises and Pala International both of Fallbrook, CA.

Not All Pearls Can Be Faceted
Details of the process are proprietary. But Boehm says for the faceting to work properly and for the facets to be proportionate to one another, the pearls have to be perfectly round and the nacre has to be thicker than normal, with at least two years of growth. Tahitian cultured pearls are ideal, as are Chinese freshwater pearls, which he says have thicker nacre.

Larson says the pearls are one of his best-sellers at shows. "The reception the pearls have had since we introduced them last year has been astounding," he says. "Everyone wants to hold them and inspect them."

Boehm says some people, including pearl dealers, find it hard to understand the pearls. They've never experienced facets and angles in the transparent layers of nacre that form the surface of the pearls. "Some people believe the nucleus is faceted," he says. "But of course it is not."

Demand vs. Supply
The demand for faceted pearls in the U.S. alone far outstrips the family's ability to facet them (an individual can produce about six faceted pearl beads per day.)

Because the pearls need to be perfectly spherical and have a thick coat of nacre, availability and cost are factors also. "Prices are about double that of similar-quality uncut pearls," says Boehm. "We are trying to reduce costs by teaming up with a volume supplier of pearls with consistent, unblemished quality. We also want to get more people trained to cut them in Japan."

Pala International, Fallbrook, CA; (800) 854-1598.

by Robert Weldon, G.G.

Copyright © 1998 by Bond Communications.


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