Since my early days as a journalist, I’ve loved cultured pearls. Something about them spoke to me, including their rich colors and exotic overtones (such as peacock in Tahitians), their luster, and their variety of shapes. Baroque or circle shapes were easy to afford and that’s how I started collecting: I bought what I thought was pretty and could afford.
Today, both my personal acquisitions and my taste for more exotic types have grown—so much so I was tapped by the board of directors of the Cultured Pearl Association of America to take this role of both writing about cultured pearls and promoting them to grow the universe of pearl lovers.
Without a doubt, my own inner passion for the product started my pearl journey, but increased exposure to different types combined with education about pearls shaped my ongoing love affair with them. Over the years, I’ve lost count of the number of people who didn’t love pearls who fell hard for them once I got on my soapbox.
“Have you seen the tiny Tahitians? Do you know about natural-color blue akoyas? How are you not obsessed with the natural colors of freshwater Edisons? You know farmers are growing bead-nucleated 3 mm ones now, right?”
To me, pearls are anything but boring, and once I share that excitement with others, it’s infectious. And when coupled with layers of the product—I’m not a dealer or retailer but, boy, am I wearing them, which I know has led to lots of pearl sales—this move drives people to trade show booths and store counters eager to buy.
In Asia, buyers jam-pack the aisles of pearl sections and absolutely clean out their inventories. I’m not joking. That doesn’t happen here—yet—but it’s shocking to me that pearls remain a niche of just 2–3% of sales in jewelry-only stores. Here's why I think that’s happening: lack of education and not wearing fun pearl creations.
Bizarrely, misinformation is also derailing appreciation, understanding, and sales. In a Facebook forum this spring, a retailer with a jewelry store in south Florida called cultured akoya pearls a “manufactured product.” Composite or lead-glass-filled rubies are manufactured products, lab-grown diamonds are manufactured products, but cultured pearls are created through an organic process with human intervention.
Cultured pearls aren’t being stamped out by robots on an assembly line in a factory—cultured pearls, particularly akoyas and South Seas, are hand-nucleated with polished shell beads in oysters one at a time. Then the oyster coats the bead with layers of nacre over a roughly two-year time frame in a protected body of saltwater. Somebody tell me how that is manufacturing.
This misguided merchant was likely thinking of the old way of tissue-nucleating freshwater pearls, which created dozens of misshapen ones in a single mollusk. Tens of pearls in one shell does smack of commercialism, but the process is still far from manufacturing. Newer South Sea–inspired, one-bead-at-a-time methods create one freshwater pearl per mollusk called an Edison type. That’s the bulk of what’s being produced today because they’re more desirable to the market.
I challenge you to let me change your mind about pearls. Text me at 267-481-4120 and I’ll meet you in Las Vegas and take you to dealers with pearls that will blow your mind. I’ll be wearing combinations of pearls that you’ve never seen before—which is an easy way to pique someone’s interest. Just wear interesting pearl designs! They’re beads—mix them into funky strands with colored gemstones and layer away. Wear ropes of ombre varieties and punctuate finished looks with shorter one-of-a-kind baroque or keshi pendants. Find me on the floor—I’m always wearing something fun, I’ll show you how much you’re missing in pearls, and I’ll supply you with a guide of who to buy them from. Wear comfy shoes, though, because we will have lots of ground to cover.
Hope to hear from you!Continue reading