These lustrous gifts from Mother Nature with a helping
human hand come in an array of types, shapes and colors
to suit any customer.
The latest waves in the rising tide of pearl popularity are
the improving quality of freshwater cultured pearls from China
and the growing consumer interest in colored pearls. Both offer
sales opportunities for jewelers.
When China began commercial production of freshwater pearls
in the 1970s, the market quickly flooded with tiny "rice
krispie" pearls that sold for pennies apiece. Predictions
quickly filtered through the trade that one day China would produce
larger, rounder and better-quality freshwater pearls. These predictions
have come true so true, in fact, they're now challenging
traditional Japanese akoya cultured pearls in many consumers'
minds, especially since their abundance and minimal production
costs allow for lower prices.
The Chinese pearls also are available in a range of colors
popular with consumers, including pink, lavender, peach, apricot
and beige in addition to white. What's more, thick nacre makes
But be sure not to confuse cultured pearls with natural pearls,
or freshwater pearls with saltwater pearls.
Sorting It Out
"The FTC Guides for the Jewelry Industry require that if
a pearl is cultured, it must be described as such," says
Cecilia Gardner, executive director of the Jewelers Vigilance
Committee. This can confuse customers interested in Chinese freshwater
cultured pearls because they've come to associate cultured pearls
with the saltwater variety from Japan and the South Seas. Here
on a very simple level is how you can explain the
differences to customers:
- Natural pearls form around an irritant that enters a mollusk
on its own and are extremely rare today. Cultured pearls form
around an irritant or nucleus inserted
into the mollusk by a human; these comprise almost all pearls
- Saltwater pearls grow in mollusks in oceans, gulfs and tidal
bays. Freshwater pearls grow in mollusks in rivers and lakes.
There are some visual clues to these differences. "Chinese
freshwater cultured pearls are slightly off-round," says
Devin Macnow, executive director of the Cultured Pearl Information
Center, New York City. While Japanese cultured akoya pearls are
formed with 0.5mm or less of nacre (the lustrous, protective
material on the surface of a pearl) around a perfectly rounded
mother-of-pearl shell bead, freshwater cultured pearls are largely
nacre and rarely completely round. So it's harder to build well-matched
strands with freshwater pearls.
There has been some argument about the content of Chinese
freshwater cultured pearls. Some say the product is 100% nacre,
nucleated with a bit of mantle tissue (which secretes the nacre
and lines the inner shell of mollusks) that dissolves as the
pearl develops. Others argue this is misleading, confusing consumers
into believing the pearl is natural. To achieve rounder shapes,
some Chinese farmers round off tiny "rice krispies"
and other commercial pearls and reuse them as nuclei for rounder
pearls. Macnow says he's heard some Chinese freshwater pearls
are cultured with shell nuclei, like Japanese pearls, creating
cultured freshwater pearls that are 60% to 70% nacre. "This
will show up if the pearls are X-rayed," he says.
Along with the technical knowledge, you should be current with
pearl jewelry trends:
- Focus on the neck For South Sea cultured pearls,
the latest looks are pendants with a single pearl, chain interspersed
with pearls, minichandelier necklaces, station necklaces and
solitaire necklaces with chain or wire through the pearl. For
black Tahitian cultured pearls, a possible trend-in-the-making
is a single pearl on a black choker for men, a casual athletic
look geared toward Gen Xers with retail prices around $300. For
Chinese freshwater pearls, the lower prices have made the dog
collar (multiple rows that fit close against the neck), chokers
and bibs popular again. Also look for pearls cut in half and
used in invisibly set looks.
- Size Bracelets will look bigger this fall thanks
to more use of white or black South Sea cultured pearls. Speaking
of size, consumers are leaning toward bigger jewelry, so single
13mm to 15mm baroque or circle pearl (with ring-like formations
around it) pendants are expected to sell well.
- Metal White is dominant. "But there is a
significant movement into yellow gold with matte or textured
surfaces," says Macnow.
- Shape For customers with flare, offer drop pearls
(often but not always pear-shaped) and circle pearls, which should
put you slightly ahead of the curve. (Mikimoto recently introduced
an ad featuring a woman wearing a strand of black circle pearls.)
"High-quality mabé pearls are really moving also,"
adds Joe Nakamura, president of Shogun Trading, New York City.
by Lorraine M. Suermann
||26 South Sea pearls perch on 8.56 carats of F/VS1
or better round and princess-cut diamonds in this platinum necklace
($90,000 suggested retail). Matching ring has one South Sea pearl
and 2.45 carats of round diamonds in platinum ($20,000). Earrings
consist of two South Sea pearls and 0.45 carat of round and princess-cut
diamonds in platinum ($7,500). Sahara Gem Inc., Los Angeles,
CA; (213) 623-9129 or (213) 623-9154, fax (213) 623-3329.
|Bug pin has 18k white gold wings and legs and
a black Tahitian pearl body. Prestige Pearl & Stone Co.,
New York City; (800) 729-7440 or (212) 398-0277, fax (212) 840-1803.
||17-in. Tin Cup-inspired necklace features 8mm
white freshwater cultured pearls in 14k yellow or white gold.
Also available with black pearls. Suggested retail, $150. Jewelmak,
New York City; (212) 398-2999.
|Natural color golden South Sea cultured pearls
are surrounded by diamonds. The earrings are $27,000 keystone,
the ring is $14,000. Albert Asher South Sea Pearl Co., New York
City; (212) 944-7230, fax (212) 921-1079.
||Crafted in 18k gold, this pendant necklace features
two 9mm-10mm drop Tahitian cultured pearls and 0.40 carat of
diamonds. Suggested retail, $3,300. Earrings also feature Tahitian
pearls and sprinkles of diamonds. Suggested retail, $3,000 (left)
and $1,600 (right). Luna Jewels, Honolulu, HI; (888) 591-LUNA.
|14k white gold teardrop pendant has a 10mm cultured
pearl and 0.07 carat of diamonds. Skalet Gold, Chicago, IL; (800)
621-6017, fax (773) 477-6293.
||18k bracelets with white or black cultured pearls
are from the Milan collection by Greta Garbo Designs Inc. Each
piece is stamped with the Greta Garbo signature and is numbered
to verify its authenticity. The black pearl bracelet is $7,750
suggested retail; the white pearl bracelet is $7,350. The collection
includes earrings, rings, brooches and pendants. Greta Garbo
Designs Inc., San Francisco, CA; (415) 392-5676.
|Set in white gold, this pin/pendant features
14.40-17.80mm Australian cultured pearls, onyx disks and baguette,
round and oval diamonds. The chain glistens with 1.40 carats
of diamonds. Ella Gafter for Ellagem, New York City; (212) 398-0101,
fax (212) 302-0153.
||South Sea cultured pearl necklaces feature natural
colored pearls ranging from 8mm to 15mm. Suggested retail, $9,000-$45,000.
Golay Buchel USA, New York City; (800) 223-6753 or (212) 869-9090,
fax (212) 221-5876.
|Airy platinum ring is crowned with a South Sea
cultured pearl. Alix & Co., Mill Valley, CA; (415) 383-9164.
||Diva link bracelet features 12mm cultured mabé
pearls and 3.5mm blue sapphires in 18k gold links with engraved
designs. Suggested retail, $5,681. Klass Designs Inc., Elko,
NV; (775) 753-4262.
|Grapevine necklace features cultured freshwater
pearls fastened together by 18k gold wire handwoven into each
pearl to form a chain. The clasp is made of 18k yellow and rose
gold beads. Suggested retail, $9,891. Aaron Henry, Los Angeles,
CA; (213) 623-4191, fax (213) 623-7891.
||Three-strand illusion necklace with cultured
freshwater pearls and 14k gold clasp is $120 suggested retail.
Imperial Deltah Inc., East Providence, RI; (800) 556-7738 or
(401)434-2597, fax (401) 434-0814.
|Two South Sea cultured pearls hang from a generous
length of supple platinum chain to form this bolero. Atelier
Marisa, Beverly Hills, CA; (310) 275-7926.
||Cultured pearl strands (from top) comprise natural
black Tahitian ($52,000 suggested retail), natural gray Tahitian
($27,000) and white South Sea ($90,000) pearls. Earrings feature
black Tahitian cultured pearls surrounded by diamonds in 18k
gold ($11,800). Shogun Trading Co. Inc., Harrison, NY; (800)
458-8004 or (914) 381-1414, fax (914) 381-7235.
|Cultured pearl ring is crafted in 18k yellow
gold. Also available in pink or white gold or with a black Tahitian
pearl. Suggested retail, $1,550-$1,910. William Richey Designs,
Camden, ME; (207) 236-4731.
||A Tahitian cultured gray pearl and the fire of
diamonds make a charming necklace. Cotogno Gioielli, Borgomanero,
Italy; (39-032) 284-3184.
|Handcrafted in 22k gold, these stud
earrings feature 11mm cultured mabé pearls and granulation.
Panos & Co., Edmonton, Canada; (403) 463-2883, fax (403)
||Volo 18k white gold rings are handmade with the
lost-wax casting technique. They feature a Nativo finish and
are each set with one natural black Tahitian cultured pearl and
brilliant-cut diamonds. Suggested retail, $4,972 (left) and $6,875
(right). IJG for Torrini, Beverly Hills, CA; (800) 443-1479 or
(323) 653-4705, fax (323) 653-1768, firstname.lastname@example.org.
|The swirl pin features a black Tahitian pearl
and 1.30 carats of diamond pavé ($2,960 suggested retail).
The stick pin holds a black Tahitian cultured pearl with 0.80
carat of diamonds and a pink tourmaline ($2,110). Susan Michel
Ltd., Flushing, NY; (718) 591-3722, fax (718) 380-3835.
||From the Fanfare collection come these 18k gold
earrings and enhancer with removable Tahitian cultured pearls.
The earrings are $2,200 suggested retail, the enhancer is $1,000.
Conni Mainne Designs Fine Jewelry, El Cerrito, CA; (510) 559-7823.
|From the Oceanic Collection, the 14k gold suite
has 13 10mm-11mm black Tahitian cultured pearls. Discover Jewelry,
Los Angeles, CA; (877) 4-KAZKAZ, fax (213) 891-0613.
||Earrings feature diamonds on three sides of the
18k white gold hoops and 9mm South Sea cultured pearl drops.
The ring has an 8mm South Sea pearl surrounded by diamonds in
white and yellow gold. All are available also with cultured Tahitian
black pearls. Frank Mastoloni & Sons, New York City; (800)
347-3275, fax (212) 582-0884.
|Ring features a black Tahitian cultured pearl
in a platinum mounting with a 0.03-ct. diamond at the bottom
of the shank. Suggested retail, $3,300. Jeffery Pratt Fine Jewelry
Inc., Dallas, TX; (800) 606-9764.
||Chinese freshwater cultured pearl strands have
natural white, pink and apricot pearls and irradiated blue and
gold pearls. Suggested retail, $20-$500. New York Pearls &
Jewelry Collection, New York City; (212) 268-8866, fax (212)
|18k white or yellow gold "Tahitian Moon"
or "South Sea Moon" necklaces each feature a 3mm Tahitian
cultured pearl and 0.20 carat of G-H/VS diamonds. Available in
16.5 inches ($4,600 suggested retail) or 17.5 inches ($4,920).
Deborah M. Blohm Designs, New York City; (212) 371-7875, fax
||Cultured pearl necklace features a double drop
clasp crafted in 18k gold. KWM Exclusives for Tamara Comolli
Fine Jewelry Collection, New York City; (212) 398-8662, fax (212)
|Black Tahitian cultured pearl hangs from an 18k
gold and platinum pendant, invoking light and airy images of
medieval architecture. Christie Frantz, Berkeley, CA; (800) 468-8900,
fax (510) 525-7782, email@example.com.
||18k and sterling silver bracelet is set with
24 American cultured freshwater pearls. Suggested retail, $3,520.
Kim Koch Designs, Mequon, WI; (414) 241-8244, fax (414) 241-1360.
Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.