The Pearls Next Door

Funky colors and shapes are giving new life to an old standby.

There is always room in a retailer’s display case—and a woman’s ­jewelry box!—for the classic strand of round white pearls. But to generate sales beyond that traditional first piece, retailers need to feature designs set with distinctive pearl shapes, color varieties that match the wearer’s other accessories, and necklace lengths that allow for versatility in wearability. 

Staying on trend is critical to selling more pearls or generating greater interest in the natural gemstone. The latest pearl styles focus on unique shapes with jewelry designers employing keshis, mabes, buttons, rondelles, and baroque pearls to create one-of-a-kind jewelry that appeals to the customization-crazed, ­personalization-obsessed younger demographic. For retailers looking to bring on the latest pearl designs, Kathy Grenier of Imperial-Deltah suggests: “Whether it’s a well-known designer or a brand-new talent, select product and create a complete story with it, including visual support, such as a lifestyle display.”   

Variations on the traditional strand are also appealing to younger pearl buyers. On the high end, many pearl ­jewelry designers have been mixing gold links, set with small brilliant diamonds, between larger pearls (9 mm–12 mm). Freshwater pearl rope necklaces of 36-, 48-, 54- and 60-inch lengths have now become more affordable: Longer necklaces can be worn as double and triple strands or at varying lengths (such as choker/opera length). It’s all about ­getting the most jewelry value for the money.

“Retailers should know that women want nontraditional colors,” says Honora president Ralph Rossini. Above left: 18k yellow and white gold pearl necklace with 33.29 cts. t.w. rose-cut diamonds; $487,200; pearl earrings with 6.38 cts. t.w. diamonds; $85,100; Buccellati, New York City; 212-308-2900,

And don’t be afraid of color. South Seas and freshwater pearls are also coming to the market in a variety of subtle natural and striking dyed colors. “Even black Tahitian pearls are considered somewhat of a mainstay these days,” says Ralph Rossini, president of Honora, which provides consumers with a number of fashion-friendly freshwater color options. “Retailers should know that women want nontraditional colors to tailor a look by coordinating their pearl jewelry with handbags and shoe colors.” ­Currently, red is a top color for Honora; the warm color goes well with white and basic black. Blues, teals, and indigos can complement gray and black clothing. And those cool hues make pearls more of a daywear item, since they coordinate so well with denim. 

The color varieties and price points have generated new demand for pearl purchases, while also changing the buying dynamics for women. “Pearls have gone from a gift item to a self-purchase item,” says Laura Elizabeth Verses, manager of Craig’s Fine ­Jewelry in Ridgefield, Conn. “And freshwater pearls have made pearls one of the few product categories a mother and daughter can go into together.” Rossini agrees: “We’re finding that women who buy a fine South Seas pearl necklace for themselves, for example, often buy a less-expensive freshwater necklace for their daughter. This is a good add-on sales opportunity for retailers.”

Colored pearls have definitely helped ring in more pearl sales at Craig’s. Verses has seen freshwater pearl purchases explode, with customers showing a particular interest in bronze, chocolate, and grey strands. Yet she says there’s still a strong market for traditional white rounds: “Pearl stud earrings and bracelets are strong sellers for us in bridal.” Never underestimate the need for affordable yet elegant bridesmaid gifts.

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