Gemstones & Pearls: News
Pearl Sources Broaden and Change
Chinese freshwater cultured pearls are creating a new pearl
order. Among saltwater pearls, there's a declining number of
Japanese akoyas and more South Sea and Tahitian pearls
There will be a "new pearl order" in the new millennium,
said James Peach, president and CEO of American Shell Co., Camden,
TN, a speaker at the Gemological Institute of America's International
Gemological Symposium in June. This will be particularly evident
in the increasing production of Chinese freshwater pearls.
Among the advantages of Chinese pearls: a wide range of shapes,
colors and sizes. They're also often 100% nacre while Japanese
akoyas are 3%-5% nacre, so the resulting durability will appeal
to consumers, Peach said.
Peach encouraged attendees to be objective and open-minded about
China's future in the cultured pearl industry, saying the country
already produces 800-900 metrics tons of pearls per year and
aims for 1,500 metric tons per year in the future.
In another session on marketing pearl jewelry, Ralph Rossini
of Honora, New York City, spoke of his recent trip to Chinese
pearl farms, where Honora buys pearls that are 70% nacre and
30% mantle tissue. Initially, Honora's retail clients were against
selling Chinese freshwater pearls because of their lower prices
and off-round shapes, Rossini said. But strong acceptance by
consumers and the quality and durability of the pearls gradually
convinced retailers the pearls are viable for fine jewelers.
Rossini said freshwater pearls sell for such low prices because
one mollusk produces 40 pearls, there's no expensive mother-of-pearl
bead to start the culturing process and the Chinese have low
Explain to Customers
Devin Macnow of the Cultured Pearl Information Center, New York
City, and several pearl dealers who sell primarily saltwater
pearls, sounded a note of caution concerning the way retailers
identify Chinese freshwater cultured pearls to consumers. They
advised jewelers to make it clear when they sell Chinese or other
freshwater pearls, especially now that they are so close to round
they could be mistaken for saltwater pearls. This is important
because freshwater pearls are more plentiful and often less expensive
than many saltwater pearls.
Part of the reason for the ascendance of Chinese pearls is a
vacuum in the supply of traditionally popular Japanese akoyas
because of massive deaths of akoya oysters. During a session
on pearl sourcing, Shigeru Akamatsu, general manager of K. Mikimoto
& Co., Tokyo, Japan, discussed steps the Japanese are taking
to remedy the situation. They're selecting healthy oysters at
of hatching; keeping them in virus-free, environmentally safe
tanks; killing infected oysters; and avoiding stressing the oysters
during the culturing process.
The decline in production of Japanese akoyas and an increase
in production of South Sea and Tahitian black pearls have significantly
altered the world's saltwater pearl population percentages, said
Andy W. Müller, president of Golay Buchel, Kobe, Japan,
who also spoke during the pearl sourcing seminar. In 1994, akoyas
accounted for 66% of the saltwater cultured pearl industry, white
South Sea pearls made up almost 20% and Tahitian black pearls
filled in the other 14% of the total world production. By 1999,
the numbers had shifted to 27% Japanese akoya, nearly 45% white
South Sea and nearly 29% Tahitian.
by Robert Weldon, G.G. and Peggy Jo Donahue
|| Chinese freshwater cultured pearls have
exploded onto the pearl scene. These 18k gold earrings with freshwater
pearls are $700 keystone. Conni Mainne Designs, El Cerrito, CA;
Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.