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Abalone Mabe Pearl
Gem Profile

Innovation makes recall of the time before it a nearly impossible feat. Try to remember pre-fax and pre-cell phone living. Similarly, jeweler Bob Fisher has a difficult time recalling his professional life before revolutionary changes in April 2001. That's when he became the first jeweler in the U.S. to stock cultured abalone pearls from New Zealand.

That's also when he became living proof that in a Wal-Mart world big things can still happen to very small businesses. For the past 20 years, Fisher has run a tiny 700-square-foot store in Hendersonville, North Carolina, all by his skillful lonesome.

Without intending to do so, Fisher launched the American market for farm-raised abalone pearls. "I never dreamed I'd be getting e-mail inquiries from as far away as California and Arizona," he says.

If you lived in the continental U.S. or Canada and you somehow found out about these newcomers and went to the web site of their sole producer, Eyris Blue Pearls, you were sent to Fisher. This is why 60 percent of his abalone pearl sales are made over the Internet. Many other customers are web walk-ins who decide to drive to the southern end of North Carolina for live rather than screen viewings of the pearls.

"From the moment I put them out, I knew I had something that set me apart from every store in my state, if not the nation," Fisher says proudly. And with prices for most of his custom-design abalone earrings and pendants between $600 and $1,200, he knew he had an exclusive that combined his customer's intense desire for rarity and beauty with their pronounced need for budget pricing. "I had the best of both worlds: an affordable gem that looked like it cost a bundle."

That Fisher remained king of the abalone pearl market for nearly five years is almost as great a marvel as the still little-known South Sea marvels that he sells. Now he will have to share his once-exclusive domain with other jewelers. Eyris Pearls, the abalone pearl producer headquartered at Whangamoe Inlet, on New Zealand's Chatham Islands, recently named Imperial-Deltah, East Providence, Rhode Island, its sole U.S. distributor. Company head Peter Bazar intends to make Eyris Blue Pearls a thriving pearl brand. Already Bazar has invited noted designers to create pieces for an abalone pearl line.


There's something I neglected to tell you about New Zealand cultured abalone pearls. They're mabes, a pearl grown affixed to the inside of a shell and not completely enclosed in nacre. Because they usually form as nacre domes, they were victimized with the name of half-pearls. Unfortunately, such bad-taste semantics conjures up an image of a pearl that is incomplete.

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Abalone Mabe Pearl