Professional Jeweler Archive: Growing the Market for Pearls

March 2004


Growing the Market for Pearls

The Cultured Pearl Association of America aims for a double-digit share of jewelry store sales

Pearls are consistently in the news, featured in fashion articles and ads in magazines such as Vogue and Departures. They’re also front and center in movies such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Girl With the Pearl Earring.

The fuss about pearls is not coincidental, says Armand Asher of Albert Asher South Sea Pearl Co., New York City, the new president of the Cultured Pearl Association of America. “There’s been a focus on pearls for six or seven years, mainly because they’re so widely available and diverse,” he says. CPAA’s goal is to intensify this demand. “We haven’t yet reached our zenith because there are still comparatively few pearl sales at the retail level,” he says. “On average, pearl sales account for single-digit percentages [of jewelry store sales] in the United States, compared with double-digit diamond sales. That needs to change in favor of pearls.”

Asher wants CPAA members to learn from retailers whose pearl sales account for 20% or more of their business. He outlines CPAA plans and talks about the pearl market:

More for Retailers

“Many retailers don’t realize profit margins can be very high for pearls. We want more retailers to participate in selling pearls successfully,” says Asher. With that notion in mind, CPAA has booths at all the major U.S. trade shows this year. Plans to be rolled out this spring include:

  • Getting more retail associate members to join CPAA. “Retail members often are the jewelers with double-digit sales in pearls. We’d like to see and understand what it is they do well, then pass those tips on to other retailer members.”
  • Developing sales material. “This includes educational brochures for retail staff, CDs and an interactive Web site. We want to convey to our retailer members what trends are developing. This spring we’re printing a brochure that describes pearls from A to Z. Retailers can participate at a minimal cost and recoup some of this expense from subsequent purchases.”
  • Raising money for advertising and promotion. “We want to drive consumers into stores asking for pearl jewelry,” says Asher. CPAA is starting to raise money for trade and consumer ad programs to meet this challenge, including fund-raising among pearl farmers. “We also want to develop strategic relationships with fashion houses, have selections of pearl jewelry on loan for special celebrity events and maybe even have a spokesperson for pearls,” he says.
  • Increase consumer awareness of CPAA. “We want people to think they should buy pearls from a CPAA member,” he says. “To do this effectively, our members need to think as a group, sharing and exchanging information.”

Stabilizing Market

The pearl market is stabilizing after a tumultuous turn of the century, aided by global economic recovery, he says. Here’s a look at what’s going on in various source countries:

  • Chinese freshwater cultured pearls. “Farmers are beginning to realize they cannot constantly overproduce and face flat demand,” he says. They’ve cut back production and are striving for larger, rounder goods (7mm-8mm). As a result, prices have stabilized. The farmers also are organizing associations to protect their products, he adds.
  • Tahitian cultured pearls. Tahiti faced some of the same challenges: overproduction and declining quality that led to lower prices. “Tahiti effectively nixed gluts at the lower levels when the government stepped in and made examples of a few rogue farmers,” he says. “Now qualities and prices are on the rise.”
  • Akoya cultured pearls. Asher says the akoya market is on the mend after years of low production and low quality. “We’re seeing larger sizes [8mm] and better quality. I understand [the cultivators] are letting oysters in the water longer. We’re also seeing cross-breeding experiments and pearl growing in non-traditional areas. This will be very interesting to watch.”
  • Australian South Sea cultured pearls. “Australian South Sea pearls have weathered market fluctuations and remained the most stable among the pearl categories in price and quality,” he says. Still some market watchers have noted price declines in lesser qualities [Professional Jeweler, August 2003, p. 37].

• Cultured Pearl Association of America, New York City; (212) 255-6875.

– by Robert Weldon, G.G.

Retailers will get CPAA training to sell more pearls. Golden pearls are courtesy of Baumell Pearl Co.,San Francisco, CA. Photo by Robert Weldon.

Copyright © 2004 by Bond Communications