New York, NY – Oct. 10, 2018. Over the summer, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) revised its Guides for the Jewelry, Precious Metals, and Pewter Industries, a two-year-long effort that many in the industry weighed in on. The Guides exist to safeguard consumers and give marketers instructions on how to make truthful claims about fine jewelry. Some updates were made in the early 00s, but one specific and current change directly affects anyone dealing in pearl sales. The ruling? The FTC clearly outlined that individuals who sell pearls must disclose pearl treatments that affect value and ones that are not permanent.
“The previous Guides had a gem treatment disclosure section, but the FTC wanted to make it clear that it applied to pearls as well,” explains Sara Yood, senior counsel at the Jewelers Vigilance Committee in New York City. “Not everyone understood that.”
Members of the Cultured Pearl Association of America (CPAA) already know that full disclosure is the only option to inspire trust. While uncommon hues of freshwater pearls typically indicate dye, routine enhancement for both white to near-white akoya and freshwater pearls involve a bleaching, polishing, and heat treatment process dubbed “maeshori,” according to CPAA’s Pearls As One education course.
“‘Maeshori’ translates to ‘pre-treatment’,” states chapter two on akoya pearls. “The quality of the raw pearls determines the level of processing received, but nearly 100 percent of the pearls brought to the factory will go through some form of it.… Some pearls selected from the maeshori process receive no additional treatment other than drilling and polishing.… Next, pearls are drilled, then put into a hydrogen peroxide solution that gently bleaches them to an even white tone. Bleaching is followed by pinking—treating the pearls with an organic red dye, which gives akoya pearls their characteristic pink overtone.”
As for freshwater pearls, virtually all on the international market have undergone some form of treatment.
Meanwhile, fine Australian South Sea pearls need no enhancements on top of their traditional processing routine: “a wash and a tumble in walnut husks with a touch of beeswax to remove the salt and organic coating with which they are coated when they are harvested,” states PAO’s chapter five on South Sea pearls.
According to course creator and PearlParadise.com founder Jeremy Shepherd, treatments to Tahitian pearls seldom occur.
“While Tahitian pearl treatments occasionally do occur in Asia, they are quite rare,” he explains. “This is due in part to laws in French Polynesia prohibiting treatments of any kind. Tahitian pearls are never treated before leaving French Polynesia.”
All treatments create more aesthetically pleasing end products, and these must be disclosed at the time of sale—from dealer to retailer and from merchant to consumer.