Wan says pearl farms are returning to full capacity after successful Hong Kong auction

Robert Wan, the world’s biggest producer of Tahitian cultured pearls, said that all work had resumed on his seven pearl farms. The complete resumption of work came six months after Wan announced last December that he was setting an example by reducing pearl farm activity in the face of lower Tahitian pearl prices.

So far this month, Wan said in a press statement, 120 employees have rejoined the 70 employees who remained at the pearl farms to handle maintenance and take care of pearl oysters that had already been grafted or were ready for grafting. By the end of July, employment at the farms is scheduled to total 246 persons, he said.

Wan said he hoped that his emphasis on quality over quantity will be followed by Tahiti’s other pearl producers. “A production of very top quality pearls is the only way our cultured pearl can become the queen of all pearls, the ambassador of our islands,” he said.

This approach is positive, the resumption of work at the farms is complete and the price of Tahitian pearls is rising again, Wan said. “This resumption of pearl farm work is, of course, due to the current world situation, but also, in particular, to our buyers’ confidence in the quality of our pearls. The market is looking for the exceptional rather than quantity,” he said.

Wan’s announcement came following what he described as “very satisfying” results at the 11th Robert Wan Auction in Hong Kong in late June during the Hong Kong Jewellery & Watch Fair. International buyers bought 97% of the lots offered, resulting in sales totaling more than US$7 million.

The average overbidding among buyers was 46% above the offered price, Wan said. That was much higher than the overbidding at Wan’s Hong Kong auctions during the past two years. “We can interpret the success of this auction as a very good sign for the Tahitian cultured pearl market in general,” he said.

The auction attracted 74 of the biggest international buyers, the statement said. They came from Japan, Australia, Europe, India, Canada, and the U.S. And they all said they made very good purchases, Wan said.

The auction’s success, he said, can be explained by the current economic situation, a strong Japanese yen and the efforts by French Polynesia’s government to guarantee good quality Tahitian cultured pearls. Enforced government controls aimed at eliminating inferior quality Tahitian pearls continued to have a positive impact on loose pearl exports during the first three months of 2002. The main result was a steady increase in the average price per gram of pearl exports, Perles de Tahiti reported in its July newsletter. That price increased 22% between December 2001 and the end of March 2002, the trade association’s newsletter stated. For Wan, the Hong Kong auction results are particularly explained by the rarity and quality of the Tahitian pearls offered. “Buyers are looking for what is new and remarkable. This year they found magnificent colors, exceptional sizes and unequaled quality.

“We decided to change our method of presenting pearls at the auction by proposing smaller lots of selected pearls,” Wan said. “Japanese buyers were particularly very enthusiastic, accounting for the top three biggest buyers.”

The interest among Japanese buyers confirmed Japan’s return to the world’s top export market for Tahitian pearls. During the first quarter of 2002, Tahitian pearl exports to Japan increased 40% in value and 35% in volume compared to a year ago, the Perles de Tahiti newsletter reported. That dropped Hong Kong to the second spot while the U.S.A. remained third.

Baroque and circled Tahitian pearls enjoyed a surprising success at Wan’s auction due to their quality and size, he said. Pearl colors also played a key role, with Wan offering new shades very much in demand.

Exceptional lots of impressive color contrasts were lovingly created. One lot was named “Zen”, and featured black and white Tahitian pearls. Other popular lots featured Tahitian Gold, Tahitian Silver and Tahitian Copper pearls, all coming from Wan’s pearl farm atoll of Marutea in French Polynesia’s Tuamotu-Gambier Archipelago.

The auction also produced some exceptional overbidding, Wan said. For example, one lot of 72 Dark Cherry pearls offered for $3,600 ended up selling for $23,000. “The exceptional colors found their audience,” he said. “This reflects the buyers’ willingness to accept something new and different as offered by the colors of my pearls.”