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The World of Pearls

Published Date : Nov 5, 2018

"Yet pearls are what they most esteem, and their value surpasses that of all other Jewels" –  Abbé Ensèbe Renaudot, 1733, on the tastes of Indian Maharadjahs.

White, Black, Gold, Cream, colored, but also Natural, Cultured, Freshwater, Saltwater, South Seas, Basra, Tahitian, Fidjian, Cortez, Akoya… There are so many ways to characterise pearls! And then, so many criteria by which to evaluate them ! How can one be sure one is choosing pearls that represent the best quality-price  ratio?

Nowadays, the global Pearl Industry represents approximately 5% of worldwide jewelry business, and it is growing. In September 2011, during a pearl meeting in Hong Kong, pearl proponents stressed the importance of working together in developing demand for pearls instead of competing with each other.

The Pearl industry marketshare is as follows :

- Natural Pearls: around 3 % of sales

 

 - Cultured Pearls:  95%

 

 -The rest (imitation pearls and others): 2 %

 

 

In a little over 100 years, cultured pearls have completely changed the face of the pearl industry. Freshwater Pearls constitute about 60 % of Cultured Pearls production. But 80 % of Cultured Pearl Market sales are of Saltwater Pearls. This mainly constitutes: Akoya, South Seas (White, Gold, Black or Tahitian).

So, the question that arises is: Where are those pearls sold?

The most important retail market for cultured pearls is USA (around 50 % of sales). But Europe  is still looking for good quality  and Chinese consumers are also developing high-end demand.

China and Japan, are historically the biggest Pearl Traders. Their wholesalers have a reputation of trading various types of Pearls and they have the retailers’ confidence. Hong Kong is known as the main Pearl trading spot.

Regarding Natural pearls, also for historical and cultural reasons the primary market is still some of the Arabian countries. But since the last few years, some Arab traders have developed the production of pearls in the Persian Gulf and organise cultured pearl auctions there. This trend is likely to continue and to increase in the years to come. Indeed, more and more countries are developing cultured Pearls. For in Kerala, South India, production of Akoya pearls are now in process.

The development of new cultured pearl production places is favourable for consumers as they now enjoy a wide selection of various types of cultured pearls. However, if they are not supplied with adequate information on the kind of pearls, their quality and treatments, they will inevitably be confused, which may result in a distrust in this gem. In this scenario, a unified cultured pearl grading system designed with consumer protection in mind, is needed more than ever. In reality, there are 4 different grading systems. This does not make it easy for new traders and pearl producers to estimate a pearl price. For example, pearl auctions in Japan, Tahiti, Myanmar or Hong Kong don't use same appraisal criteria.

So, the challenge for the “World of Pearls” today is to present a regulated framework for new players, assist them in the development of quality production to ensure the confidence of buyers and implement a new concept such as the notion of “Sustainable Pearl”. This is with the understanding that “sustainability”  could be applied only for high quality cultured Pearls.

- By Jeanne LECOURT