Professional Jeweler Archive: Piles of Pearls in Tuscon

April 2000

Gemstones & Pearls/News

Piles of Pearls in Tuscon

Chinese freshwater and black Tahitian cultured pearls are abundant

Buyers may very well have seen more cultured pearls than colored gems in Tucson this year. In particular, Chinese freshwater and Tahitian black cultured pearls were available in a variety of qualities, sizes, shapes and colors. Even gem dealers who normally don’t carry pearls had some, mainly the better-quality Chinese variety.

This helped to feed the hunger for Chinese among retailers. “The Chinese freshwater pearl is a gift to us to make our margins and sell something that is not treated,” said Ravi Sidhu of Heritage Jewelers, Corpus Christi, TX. “You can find a big look in natural colors for not a lot of money.”

High-end semiround to round Chinese freshwaters were in limited supply, but medium to commercial grades were abundant. Low-end goods were even marked up to 60% off at many booths. Depending on size, shape and quality, the Chinese pearls ranged from $35 to $4,000 wholesale.

Natural fleshy peach and rosy pink were the most popular colors among buyers, though bleached white goods in smaller sizes (5mm-6.5mm) were in demand also. Many dealers, even those carrying better-quality merchandise, offered inexpensive promotional pearls that sold like hotcakes, including bracelets of small off-round, white pearls on elastic bands for under $10 wholesale. “They make great gifts with purchase or even bridal party accessories,” said Lucinda Rogers of Gold n Carats in Irving, TX. Multiple-strand Chinese fresh-water floater necklaces were prevalent, as were Victorian-style necklaces with bezel-set draped pearl tiers.

Rogers also snatched up Chinese freshwater pearl balls for 60 cents each to string on a chain, cord or wire for a twist on the favorite floater style. In addition, she bought Chinese blisters, coins and twins to make unusual pearl jewelry.

Tahitian Bargains

Prices for low-end to commercial-grade Tahitian natural black cultured pearls have dropped at least 10%-15% in the past year. Many dealers in Tucson sold them for up to 80% off. According to Fabrice Dessaint of Golay Buchel in New York City, the Tahitian government recently passed a law restricting the export of certain sizes and qualities to stop a flood of lower-end goods that weakened prices. However, some in the trade point out the situation has made Tahitian black pearls more accessible to the masses and that the market will level off.

Meanwhile, better-quality pearls have remained fairly stable in price. In general, strands of black Tahitian cultured pearls ranged from $2,000 to $50,000, depending on size, shape and quality. Multicolor strands of bronze, pistachio and gray sold very well in Tucson, said Dessaint. He also said uniform sizes are more prevalent than graduated sizes these days.

According to Dessaint, almost 70% of his customers want black pearls rather than white and golden South Sea pearls, a trend that other dealers echoed. “In Australian goods, it’s difficult to get the right merchandise and quite impossible at the right price,” he said. However, 8.5mm to 9mm South Sea cultured white pearls from Indonesia were popular, selling for $200 a pair vs. $300 a pair for akoyas in the same range, said Dessaint.

It appears larger, better-quality Chinese freshwater and smaller Indonesian South Sea cultured pearls are giving Japanese akoyas a run for their money, said many dealers. Still, akoyas have their supporters. According to Avi Raz of A&Z Pearls in Los Ang-eles, CA, some of the larger, rounder, better-quality Chinese freshwaters are priced higher than comparable akoyas. “To say people stood in line at the show for akoyas would be a lie,” said Raz. “But there is still a healthy market for this product, which is truly the backbone of the pearl industry.”

– by Deborah Yonick

Bags of Chinese freshwater cultured pearls were common in Tucson.

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications