Professional Jeweler Archive: Pearls of Wisdom

September 2001


Pearls of Wisdom

From simple black or white strands to the most avant-garde combinations of colors and shapes, pearls are Everywoman's wearable art

Pearls have been coveted for their beauty and value for centuries. Natural pearls were named in Arabian legends, found on the arms of American Indians and treasured in the jewels of royal families.

But as demand grew at the dawn of the 1900s, the number of natural pearls dwindled. Pearling experts developed ways to culture pearls by inserting an irritant into a mollusk, which then coated it with iridescent layers called nacre, replicating Mother Nature’s process.
Today, cultured pearls are grown and harvested in many parts of the world and come in many shapes, sizes and colors, from the palest cream and white to rose, lilac, green, gold, gray and the dramatic Tahitian black. They’re available in almost every jewelry category, including graduated and uniform strands, pendants, earrings, bracelets, rings and pins. Here’s a look at the variety of cultured pearl types, how designers use them and what consumers clamor for.


In the past two years, Chinese freshwater cultured pearls have taken off, thanks to affordable prices and improvements in size, quality, luster and shape. Strands of 6.5mm-7mm almost round white, peach, lavender and apricot pearls have captured the admiration of designers, manufacturers and consumers. As higher-quality pearls become more available and consumer awareness increases, sales should continue to soar.

South Seas and Tahitians

Exquisite quality, color, luster and size (the average is 15mm) make these pearls well-suited to customers interested in the highest levels of luxury jewelry. But they don’t have to be super-wealthy to own them. “A beautiful pendant with one South Sea or Tahitian cultured pearl offers customers who can’t afford to spend thousands on a strand the opportunity to own a piece of luxury,” says Molly Hollingsworth, designer/owner of Clauss-Hollingsworth Studios, Youngsville, NC.

A strand of South Sea or Tahitian cultured pearls starts around $20,000 retail and rises based on size and length, says Devin Macnow, executive director of the Cultured Pearl Information Center, New York City.


Akoyas, the most widely known cultured pearls, face increasing competition from less-expensive freshwater cultured pearls that look nearly as good, though many pearl experts argue a fine akoya has better luster. So unless, or until, freshwater luster increases, akoya cultured pearls should remain more expensive, says Krikor Krikorian, designer for K&K Jewelry Inc., Los Angeles, CA.

Unusually Shaped Pearls

The enormous variety of cultured pearls gives designers a chance to create classic styles as well as modern or abstract wearable art. “Unusually shaped pearls such as mabé, baroque, coin, rice or buttons give texture and a sense of nature,” says goldsmith Joyce Goodman of Jewelry by Joyce Goodman, New York City. It’s a break from rigid sensibility.” Even faceted pearls are becoming popular with designers and consumers.

Pearls and Color

Pearls play well with many other gems. Mixed with emeralds, blue topaz or greenish apatite, they convey a shimmery sense of water. Tanzanite, grape garnet and pink tourmaline, meanwhile, highlight a pearl’s luster. “Pearls complement most colored gemstone jewelry, as long as the colors blend,” says Patrick T. Murphy of Murphy Design, Minneapolis, MN.

Our Experts Name the Trends

  • Drop-style pearl earrings that are long and have movement.
  • Necklaces featuring an odd number of pearls, such as a single pearl pendant or pearls grouped in threes.
  • Long or short lariats.
  • High-neck chokers (a simple strand worn in the middle of the neck like a dog collar for a young, sexy look).
  • Solitaire “illusion” necklaces with a platinum wire, a South Sea cultured pearl and diamond accents.
  • Rings with plain settings so the pearl is the focus.
  • Bracelets featuring pearls with interesting links between them.
  • Free-form brooches that embrace unusual pearl shapes or combine pearls with unusual gem shapes.

Beyond Today

In the future, look for freshwater cultured pearls to continue strong-arming akoya pearls for price-conscious buyers. Golden pearls will grow more popular as consumers look for something new and different.

– by Lorraine M. O’Donnell, A.J.P

18k yellow, rose, peach and green gold beads with G/VS diamond accents sparkle among 14mm multihued Tahitian cultured pearls. Suggested retail, $13,900., Camden, ME; (877) ETIENNE, fax (207) 236-9698.

Sunburst earrings are crafted in 22k gold and feature mabé and freshwater cultured pearls. Suggested retail, $3,600.

Jewelry by Joyce Goodman, New York City; (212) 860-8439,\

Photo by Ralph Gabriner.

18k gold earrings are set with black Tahitian cultured pearls measuring 10.3mm by 10.5mm and 13.6mm by 11.6mm with 1.32 carats of diamonds. Suggested retail, $14,450. Assael International Inc., New York City; (212) 819-0060, fax (212) 764-1965.
18k gold necklace features a golden cultured pearl cradled by 1.30 carats of diamonds. Suggested retail, $6,550.

K&K Jewelry Inc., Los Angeles, CA; (213) 627-4207, fax (213) 627-2603.

18k gold and platinum necklace features cultured pearls and pansies made of rubies, blue and yellow sapphires, canary diamonds and amethysts. Suggested retail, $300,000.

Oscar Heyman & Bros. Inc., New York City; (212) 593-0400, fax (212) 759-8612.

14k gold open-link chain bracelet has three 6mm-by-7mm freshwater cultured pearl stations and a heart toggle closure. Suggested retail, $210.

Imperial-Deltah Inc., East Providence, RI; (401) 434-2597, fax (401) 434-0814,

14k gold bracelets with cultured pearl accents nestle together. Suggested retail, $420-$650.

Murphy Design, Minneapolis, MN; (800) 998-8883 or (612) 333-0144, fax (612) 344-1640,,

Pendants feature 18k gold with a Sabi finish and Perle Utopia South Sea cultured pearls.

Henry Dunay, New York City; (800) 888-2525 or (212) 768-9700, fax (212) 944-0308.

Faceted South Sea cultured pearl tops this 18k gold ring. Suggested retail, $2,150.

Sasha Samuels, Portland, OR; (503) 232-5422, fax (503) 232-4965.

Photo by Ralph Gabriner.

Black Tahitian cultured pearls in yellow gold feature diamond accents.

Tuamotu Pearls & Gems Inc., Honolulu, HI; (808) 924-9923, fax (808) 924-9928,

18k white gold pendants are available with a gold, black or white cultured pearl and 0.22 carat of diamonds. Retail, $1,400-$2,200.

Tara & Sons Inc., New York City; (212) 575-8191, fax (212) 869-9332.

Sterling silver and 18k gold hoop earrings feature white cultured pearl dangles.

David Yurman, New York City; (212) 896-1550, fax (212) 896-1592.

14k gold hand-forged earrings are set with black freshwater cultured pearls. The design integrates the earring post.

Clauss-Hollingsworth Studios, Youngsville, NC; (919) 562-5195.

Photo by Ralph Gabriner.

Multicolored cultured pearls are separated with diamond beads.

ProVockative Gems Inc., New York City; (212) 980-4249, fax (212) 355-4282,

14k gold pea pod can be customized with blue freshwater cultured pearls for boys and pink for girls. White freshwaters represent mom and dad. Suggested retail, $355. In sterling silver, $160.

Lugosch Designs, Round Pond, ME; (207) 529-6050.

Chinese freshwater cultured pearl necklace is capped with peridot and aquamarine briolettes.

Designs by Joi, New York City; (212) 869-GOLD, fax (212) 869-8588.

Talisman pendant in 18k gold features cultured freshwater pearls, a 0.08-ct. ruby and 22k granulation. Suggested retail, $3,650.

Zaffiro, Portland, OR; (503) 236-6735.

18k gold flower brooch is centered with a white cultured pearl and has 0.53 carat of diamonds on its leaves, stems and petals. Suggested retail, $1,430.

Art Import Inc., New York City; (212) 840-3995, fax (212) 768-7395.

14k gold bracelet is set with 12 black cultured pearls and 0.78 carat of diamonds. Suggested retail, $3,092.

The Touch, Waltham, MA; (800) 556-0041 or (781) 894-8133, fax (781) 894-7821.

Photo by Robert Weldon.

Platinum and 18k gold pendant with black cultured pearl is $4,377 suggested retail.

Oro Diamante Inc.,Los Angeles, CA; (800) 647-0675, fax (213) 489-3439.

18k gold brooch features a white cultured pearl and diamond accents.

Aya Azrielant, New York City; (212) 886-6000, fax (212) 886-6325.

South Sea cultured pearl bracelet is a classic.

Schoeffel/KWM Exclusives, New York City; (212) 570-6065, fax (212) 570-6720,,

18k white gold pendant cradles an 8.5mm-9mm white cultured pearl. Suggested retail, $2,210. In platinum, $2,530.

JFA Designs, Irvine, CA; (800) 621-7082, fax (949) 263-9909.

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications