Pearl Panel Discusses Trends, Prices, Detection

My customers don’t want their mothers’ classic look,” said Eve Alfillé, an award-winning designer and the owner of Eve Alfillé Gallery & Studio in Evanston, Ill. Alfillé, participating in a panel discussion about the pearl market held during The JCK Show ~ Las Vegas, said her customers want unique designs, including multicolor black Tahitians, South Sea golds, Chinese freshwater pinks, and unusual shapes such as Australian keshi pearls. She also uses Kasumiga pearls, large round Japanese bead-nucleated freshwaters with unusual surface features. She compared the surface to the look of a peony bud.

“Mabes are dead,” Alfillé insisted, but she made an exception for cultured blister Domé Pearls from American Pearl Co. in Nashville, Tenn. With the Domé Pearl, a portion of the shell comes with the blister pearl, offering a more casual look. Alfillé said this look appeals to her upper-income clients, who want cutting-edge, novel products. She also said that baroque pearls in general appeal mainly to very sophisticated buyers.

Panelist Armand Asher, Albert Asher South Sea Pearl Co., New York, and president of the Cultured Pearl Association of America, speculated that shapes might be the biggest pearl trend, and he cited colors as another major trend.

Styles run in cycles, Asher noted. Once pearl jewelry hits the fashion runways, it takes six more months before the new designs are available in retail jewelry stores. He noted three styles that retail jewelers should take note of: large unusual shapes, “a return to the past,” and a chance to “mix it all up.”

Large brooches with floral motifs and a large stone or pearl center fit the first style category, as do drop earrings with a baroque pearl dangle.

In the second category are pearl bracelets with thick, heavy links between pearls; Y necklaces; and long rope strands (36 inches or longer), which can be affordable (especially with freshwaters) as well as versatile. Some women wrap a rope strand around their wrists three or four times to make a bracelet, while others wrap it around their necks to make a dog collar.

The mix-it-up trend is the result of jewelers’ paying less attention to the old unwritten rule that said an item of jewelry should be created using only pearls from one locality. Jewelers today are more willing to mix Tahitians with Philippines, South Seas, or Chinese freshwaters.

Richard “Bo” Torrey, editor and publisher of Pearl World: The International Pearling Journal, said golden pearls are hot. Torrey recently returned from the Philippines where he saw the results of breeding mussels for their color. He said he saw shells whose insides were once completely white that now have a huge amount of gold.

Torrey also offered some current numbers. South Sea pearl production is up 14 percent in value from six years ago. Akoya farms are producing only 25 percent of what they were creating some 10 years ago, which means akoyas are even more difficult to find in top qualities.

Among the main concerns of the retailers in attendance was identification. “Just how do you identify a dyed pearl?” asked one. The answer: through experience, and by sending the pearl to a laboratory. This is especially true of gold pearls, since the enhanced golds look very much like natural-color golds.

Attendees also expressed concerns about nacre thicknesses, and some had questions about nucleation, including, “How do you measure the thickness?” and, “How do you determine whether or not a bead or another pearl was used as a nucleus?” Send it to a professional lab, was the consensus among the panel. Looking for nacre thickness by looking down the drill hole is difficult, noted Asher. However, Torrey added, “We at Pearl World do it a little differently. We cut the pearl in half.”

The panel was moderated by Gary Roskin, G.G., senior editor, gemstones, of JCK.