Pearl Quality Is a Concern

Many retail jewelers attending the Pearl Market Panel at The JCK Show in Las Vegas expressed concerns about the enhancement of a pearl’s luster. Enhancements such as bleaching and dyeing are considered a fairly common practice among pearl producers, but the seller should always disclose any enhancement. That was the opinion of Gina Latendresse, president of the American Pearl Company, producers of American freshwater cultured pearls, and Avi Raz, president of A&Z Pearls, the Los Angeles-based wholesale pearl company known for its high-quality Japanese akoya cultured pearls.

The suggestion that pearls are or can be polished opened up a number of topics, including repair of scratched pearls, replacement of damaged pearls in heavily worn estate jewelry, and the probable cause for the new high-luster Chinese freshwater cultured pearls. Raz points out that polishing is probably not a factor in the Chinese freshwater production. “It’s just not economically feasible,” he says, noting that polishing would only drive up the cost. Latendresse agrees, adding that even repolishing damaged pearls takes too long. “Every pearl has to be hand polished [and it] can take a half-day or even longer.” Of course, there are times when an important pearl is repolished, but the polishing process is a trade secret.

Prices on high-quality Japanese akoyas remain strong, as demand still exceeds production, says Raz, and some reports from Japan indicate that production numbers are improving. According to Raz, Japanese pearl farmers now realize that they have to take care of their “farms,” which include the waters in which the pearls are grown. Mortality rates are apparently down to less than a third of all mollusks—a vast improvement over the past few years, when estimates of oyster mortality ran as high as 70%.

But Andy Muller, pearl expert and representative for the Golay Group in Japan, warned Pearl World that these reports are not necessarily fact. According to Muller, the reason prices have remained steady has more to do with economics than with an alleged increase in product.