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Pearl Market Report: Fine Goods Avoid Hong Kong Blues
Jewelry Scene


The general economic upheaval is affecting the pearl supply, but the impact has hit the high and low parts of the market differently. While prices have softened for most of the market, top quality goods remain in short supply, keeping prices firm.

Inexpensive pearls are the most likely to become a bit more so. Freshwater pearls were plentiful at the recent Hong Kong show, even in relatively large sizes. The slow show meant a buyer’s market and suppliers that were more willing to negotiate.

Dyed freshwater colors like chocolate and mixtures of other shades remain very popular. Long freshwater strands that can wrap several times are expected to be in demand this holiday season, since retail prices start under $100. (For more on market trends, see “Pearl Season” on page 44.)

Lower-end Tahitian pearls should be more available and affordable. The Tahitian government has announced a tax holiday on exports of Tahitian cultured pearls that will start on October 1, 2008, and last until the end of the year. Recent policy shifts in Tahiti make it difficult to predict if the tax will return next year.

“Because the tax is assessed by weight rather than by value, the tax holiday has the most effect on prices of inexpensive pearls,” says Peter Bazar of Imperial, who exports loose pearls from Tahiti. “A tax of $3 per pearl, for example, would be significant on an inexpensive strand but not noticeable on an expensive strand.”

One immediate effect of the tax holiday will be to discourage pearl processing in Tahiti, Bazar says. Many inexpensive pearls were drilled and strung in Tahiti to avoid the tax on loose pearl exports. The tax holiday should result in a surge in exports of affordable Tahitian loose pearls. Those pearls will start being seen in the U.S. market by Tucson in 2009.

AUCTIONS DISAPPOINT

Top quality pearls are sold primarily through grower auctions in Hong Kong, generally scheduled around the Hong Kong show. Due to the turmoil in the financial markets, the auctions held in September by Paspaley Pearls and Robert Wan were disappointing, with many lots not meeting the minimums. Half of the pearls offered did not sell, with many dealers unwilling to invest significant capital in inventory ahead of an uncertain holiday season.

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earrings in 14k gold with 10mm freshwater pearls and diamonds
“Shining Star” earrings in 14k gold with 10mm freshwater pearls and diamonds by Astrik Couture for Super Bell Jewelry, suggested retail $1,248, (800) 884-3888.