Gem News International Gems & Gemology, Spring 2014, Vol. 50, No. 1

Cultured Pearl Market Update – Tucson 2014

Cultured pearl jewelry
Cultured pearls shine

Fran Mastoloni (Mastoloni Pearls, New York City) updated us on the cultured pearl market during the AGTA show. He explained that for the past two years, the emphasis has been on long necklaces, double strands, and mixing different sizes, colors, and types of cultured pearls. These trends have reenergized the market, making pearls “fun to wear again.” While weddings and graduations are still occasions for classic akoya-type necklaces and studs, there are now more opportunities to sell innovative blends of color and shape. Typical of this approach is the striking necklace with 15–17 mm Tahitian baroque cultured pearls shown in figure 1 (left). Such a piece might take three years to make and could retail for tens of thousands of dollars.

With production of Tahitian cultured pearls down, Mastoloni has been using smaller off-round, pastel-colored pearls to create distinctive, competitively priced necklaces. These styles offer a “big” look for a relatively low price. The colors, including a subtle silvery gray, are all natural. Mastoloni stressed the importance of luster as a selling point.

South Sea cultured pearl production has been reliable and consistent in quality, but prices have fluctuated. While lower-quality specimens are inexpensive and readily available, high-quality pearls are expensive and difficult to obtain. Due to improvements in culturing processes—including the X-ray inspection of mollusks—baroque-shaped cultured pearls have become increasingly rare. When X-ray operators detect a non-round pearl, Mastoloni noted, they will restart the culturing process. As a result, fewer non-round shapes are available for baroque necklaces (figure 1, center).

Demand for fine cultured pearls from China has outstripped supply, with fine examples of all pearl types showing surges in price. Golden cultured pearls from the Philippines (figure 1, right) have become increasingly costly and difficult to obtain, Mastoloni noted.

Multicolor cultured pearl necklace
Cultured beauty

This scarcity of cultured pearls made the necklaces exhibited by Mastoloni all the more remarkable. They included an exceptional strand of multicolor specimens from Australia, the Philippines, and Tahiti (figure 2), as well as a truly remarkable Burmese cultured pearl necklace that was the product of decades of labor (figure 3).

Mastoloni added that the cultured pearl industry has become much more competitive. Dealers require much more breadth of inventory: Simply having akoya or Chinese freshwater material is no longer enough. Customers are more educated and driven to seek out unique, striking pieces of different colors, shapes, or lengths—and want to see new variations and combinations every time they look to make a purchase.

Duncan Pay is editor-in-chief of Gems & Gemology.