Did Pearl Report Mislead? An Exchange of Views

In his report “Chinese Pearls a Hit in Tucson” (JCK, April 1999, p. 28), Gary Roskin presents a picture of a large black strand of freshwater pearls, implying they could someday be a threat to the Tahitian pearl market. What he fails to report is that the freshwater pearls are color-dyed. I consulted with several experts to confirm that freshwater pearls do not exist in a natural dark black color. Nevertheless, Roskin implies again that these are natural in color when he states, “Now the Tahitians are beginning to worry too, after this year’s Chinese production saw 9- to 13-mm blacks as well as white South Seas-appearing freshwaters.” Not to report that these pearls are dyed is irresponsible and misleading. There’s no way one can begin to compare them with the natural-colored black Tahitian South Seas pearls. They are different products that carry and deserve two very different price tags.

Also, when Roskin refers to the photograph of the cross-sectioned akoya and Tahitian pearls, it’s as if he’s promoting the agenda of a freshwater pearl dealer, who provided the photo, while trying to discredit the integrity of the akoya and the South Seas pearls. The picture suits no purpose other than to illustrate that young, thin-nacred, poorly cultivated akoya pearls exist. To use an akoya pearl of this quality in a comparison study with freshwaters is both misleading and inappropriate. A mature, well-cultivated akoya pearl would have at least .5 mm nacre thickness. It is true that minimum nacre thickness is required to reflect light rays from the pearl surface to establish the iridescent characteristic of the pearl. There are plenty of nacre-only freshwater pearls that reflect little or no light and appear to be dull in luster and appearance.

My final comment is in reference to the percentages of the future of the Chinese freshwater pearl market. Roskin quotes figures he obtained from a pearl company, as if these numbers are facts. They’re merely the personal opinion of one freshwater pearl dealer and should not be interpreted as a forecast of the akoya pearl market.

Avi Raz, President, A&Z Pearls, Inc., Los Angeles

Gary Roskin responds:

Avi Raz is partially correct: The freshwater black strand is enhanced— by irradiation, not dye. There are naturally colored blacks that I will show in a future issue. I apologize for the oversight.

While it’s true that the strand of black Chinese freshwater mantle-tissue-nucleated pearls is not in the same league as the Tahitian blacks, the fact that the Chinese are able to create a 13-mm near-round, almost-all-nacreous pearl is astounding. It would have been irresponsible of JCK not to report this news.

I should also point out that nacre thickness is not all that makes a pearl beautiful. The colder waters of the Japanese isles creates thin nacreous layers that produce the high luster consumers desire. But it’s total nacre thickness that provides durability. With the Japanese akoya pearl farming industry claiming 70% mortality due to virus and/or pollution, few pearls are left in the waters for the three years necessary to achieve even this growth. It is important to retail jewelers to know that there are other alternatives when they cannot order or afford the Japanese akoya bead-nucleated pearls that are still available.

Japanese cultured pearl specialists should not yet feel threatened by the Chinese products, which aren’t naturally as lustrous as the akoya. But with the akoya mortality rate increasing, alternatives should be considered.

Corrections and Clarifications

On p. 26 of the April 1999 edition of Open to Buy, the description of jewelry by Finkelstein Bros. Co. Inc. included incorrect pricing information. All-diamond and diamond-with-emerald bracelets are $1,600 keystone. Diamond-and-sapphire and diamond-and-ruby bracelets are $1,300 keystone.

On p. 64 of Open to Buy, the description of jewelry by Aaura Inc. also included incorrect pricing information. Suggested retail prices for the jewelry shown are $145 to $2,100.

Incorrect author information accompanied the Heritage article “Identifying the Materials in Antique Jewelry” in the April 1999 edition of JCK (p. 120). Author Sheryl Gross Shatz received her gemology training and certificate from Santiago Canyon College in Orange, Calif., but does not teach there. Christie Romero, author of Warman’s Jewelry, the source of the photos that accompanied the article, teaches at the college.

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