Professional Jeweler Archive:

May 2001

For Your Staff/Pearls


Pearls 101

The Gemological Institute of America offers product knowledge and concepts in its pearl course


An enduring symbol of prestige, the pearl has financed conquests, inspired lovers and been used as medicine. Now you can take a stroll through the history, beauty and elegance of pearls; learn how these glowing objects are formed; and read about the man who figured out the natural process behind it. The Gemological Institute of America’s pearl education course can teach you, within two to three weeks, what you need to know to sell pearls ethically and effectively.

What to Expect

“Pearls,” which costs $495, consists of 11 reading assignments. A videotape introduces the course and provides visual reinforcement of each printed assignment. Six assignments have questionnaires you answer and send to GIA (via fax, e-mail or regular mail). Here’s a quick look at each lesson:

1. The Product

The first lesson introduces the terms and ideas used throughout the course. You’ll learn how pearls are different from other gems, how nacre is formed and the names of the main mollusks used in pearl culturing. By the end of the lesson, you will be able to explain the delicate culturing process to your customers.

2. From Natural to Cultured Pearls

This assignment traces the pearl’s rise to prominence from ancient civilizations to the present, including the role of natural and cultured pearls in the modern marketplace. Understanding what pearls have meant to civilizations throughout the ages will give you a sense of the traditions behind the popularity of pearls. Knowing the history of pearls will help you understand the pearl market and add excitement to your sales presentation.

3. Value Factors

Value factors are features used to judge the beauty and value of a pearl. Studying and understanding these factors will give you the language to discuss the feature of any pearl. The seven value factors introduced in this assignment are size, shape, color, luster, surface quality, nacre quality and matching.

4. Pearl Farming

Learn about the many steps involved before beautiful strands of cultured pearls can adorn your customers. Not everything in this overview of the pearl farming business applies to every pearl farm – some enterprises are large and use advanced technology; some are small and relatively primitive. But every pearl farmer must follow certain procedures to increase the likelihood of a good harvest. In this lesson you’ll learn about the general requirements for operating a pearl farm, including equipment, facilities and labor.

5. The Akoya Cultured Pearl

Here you’ll learn about akoya cultured pearls, with specific information about oysters, pearl farms, farming and the how they are cultured. The lesson also tells the akoya pearl’s history and about its place in the modern jewelry market.

6 & 7. Tahitian & South Sea & Cultured Pearls

These two assignments are devoted to Tahitian and South Sea cultured pearls, following each from their natural origins through early attempts at culturing to current farming and marketing techniques. You’ll also gain an understanding of their characteristics and their uses in jewelry.

8. Freshwater Cultured Pearls

This assignment focuses on three important freshwater cultured pearl producing countries: China, Japan and the U.S. You’ll learn a little about the history of freshwater pearl culturing in each country and about the development of modern culturing methods and marketing. This assignment will complete your knowledge of the four main types of cultured pearls.

9. Post-Harvest Treatments, Pearl Imitations & Pearl Testing

In this assignment, you’ll learn about ways to detect treatments and to determine whether a pearl is natural, cultured or imitation. You’ll also learn how to perform simple detection and identification procedures and about some more comlicated procedures that require the equipment and expertise of a professional testing facility.

10. The Business of Pearls

Learn about the development of the international cultured pearl market by following cultured pearls from the farm to the jewelry store. You’ll also learn about the role of everyone involved in the pearling industry – from the nucleation process to harvesting to the sales process. Then you’ll read about some of the decisions retailers make about where to buy cultured pearls, what kinds of cultured pearls to buy and how to merchandise them.

11. Selling Pearls

Refine your selling techniques for presenting cultured pearls to customers. Understanding the right balance between product knowledge and sales technique will help you to select the right piece of cultured pearl jewelry for your customers, answer questions, offer care and cleaning advice and close more sales.

Visual Aids

As you make your way through this latest GIA course, you’ll see photographs of such famous pearls as La Peregrina, a 203.84-grain drop pearl that actor Richard Burton bought for wife Elizabeth Taylor in 1969, and the Hope Pearl, the world’s largest known natural pearl, boasting a circumference of 4.5 inches and a weight of 1,800 grains.

You’ll also learn about entrepreneurs such as Kokichi Mikimoto of Japan and Robert Wan of Tahiti and their roles in the success of the pearling industry. Excerpts from the Federal Trade Commission Guides for the Jewelry, Precious Metals and Pewter Industries relating to pearls are sprinkled throughout the course.

Test Your Knowledge

Like GIA’s “Essentials” courses, you’ll need to score 75% or better on the questionnaires to take the final exam. The final exam is offered at GIA offices in Carlsbad and Los Angeles, CA, and New York City or by proctor at other locations.

– by Lorraine M. O’Donnell, A.J.P


Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications