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Pearls 101
Essential product knowledge and top selling tips from the pearl pros.

When Jorge Adeler found out that his Great Falls, Virginia-based store, Adeler Jewelers, had won a 2004 Washingtonian magazine award for “Top Choice for Pearl Jewelry,” he was pleasantly surprised—but not at all shocked. After all, pearls are a tenderly tended-to category at this high-end retailer specializing in custom design, which regularly welcomes well-known shoppers from all points on Washington D.C.’s political and social spectrum. Three of 11 cases in his store are devoted to pearls, which include a dizzying array of white and golden South Seas, black Tahitians, Japanese akoyas, Chinese akoyas, keshis, kasumigas (a rare Japanese freshwater variety), biwas, mabes, and creative freshwater shapes such as petals, butterflies, and crosses.
The reason for his success, says Adeler, is no hush-hush secret. It is his love and commitment to these lustrous, organic, beautiful gems that makes his sales soar. In fact, he is so devoted, that a member of his staff travels every three months to top pearl farming centers such as Tahiti and Malaysia to purchase pearls on site. “I really love pearls. They are seductive, elegant jewels that are very versatile,” he says. “Wherever a diamond goes, a pearl can go, and people can switch to pearl jewelry for a fraction of the cost but the same elegant presentation.”
Of course, you needn’t hop on a plane and set foot on a pearl farm to show your commitment to pearls. But if you’re looking to take your pearl sales to the next level, retailers and manufacturers say you need to take the category seriously—both in terms of your monetary investment as well as your attention to education and presentation. Once you do, you’ll see sales increase. “Pearls are actually pretty easy to sell because most women like pearls, as long as you are consistent with the quality you offer, have a variety of pieces, and can explain to customers the difference between your product and a lesser item,” says Greg Knox of Knox Jewelers in Atlanta, who estimates that 20 percent of his inventory is pearls, retailing anywhere from $105 to $51,000.
And there are two great reasons to go full-throttle into the pearl game. One is to differentiate yourself from your competition. “Not everyone in town sells a lot of pearls, and since pearls are organic they’re not identical to anything else on the market,” says Elizabeth Parker of Curt Parker Jewelers, St. Louis, Missouri. You’ll also find good profitability in the pearl category. “If you’re looking at the return on your investment, you can assuredly get the traditional full markup with pearls, unlike other products,” says Kathy Grenier, marketing and public relations manager for the Cultured Pearl Association of America. Knox agrees: “Our profit margins are strong with pearls unless it’s a super-expensive piece. That’s because it’s not anything that someone can just go and shop for, such as on-line, because you’d have to have the pearls side by side.”
But many jewelers persist in a narrow perception of pearls, which translates into a minimal presentation in a small department, says Grenier. That does their business a disservice, she insists: “When many retailers think about pearls they just consider the basics, a department consisting of studs, bracelets, and a few strands. You need to open your eyes a little wider and consider the wide variety of new pearl jewelry, everything from Tahitian pearls combined with platinum-wrapped sterling to baroque pearls and high-end fashion pieces.”
For Parker, pearls have long served as a way to differentiate her store from the competition. “About 20 years ago, when we moved from being a trade jeweler to a retail situation, we looked around and said where is the niche that we can fill?” she recalls. “Nobody in our area had more than five strands of pearls. Everyone loves to sell diamonds and their custom designs. Since I’ve always loved pearls, we decided to invest to fill that niche.” Today, Curt Parker Jewelers boasts a million-dollar (at retail) inventory and the store is well-known for its pearl selection.
Many retailers find selling pearls to be challenging because of stereotypical perceptions (pearls as “grandma’s jewelry”) as well as a general lack of knowledge of pearls versus diamonds. “The challenge about pearls is that people have always known them to be so formal, so I needed to broaden that horizon for my customers with a great representation of other kinds of pearls,” says Amy Dudzik, assistant jewelry buyer at Borsheim’s, Omaha, Nebraska. “Pearls were also originally my biggest struggle as a buyer because at first I wasn’t educated enough in everything there was to understand about them.”

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South Sea pearl necklace with diamond
South Sea pearl necklace with diamond and granulated gold caps from Zeira, suggested retail $32,600, (212) 395-9707.
Golden South Sea pearl bracelet
Golden South Sea pearl bracelet from Autore, (310) 860-2680.
Tahitian keshi pearl bracelet
Tahitian keshi pearl bracelet from Baggins, (877) 33-PEARL.
Tahitian pearl and diamond earrings
Tahitian pearl and diamond earrings from Gellner, (610) 272-6494.
Chinese freshwater pearls in 18k gold rings
Chinese freshwater pearls in 18k gold rings by Jane Taylor, suggested retail $1,450 and $2,150 with diamond pavé, (800) 240-2282.
baroque pearl and gemstone brooch
“Bird of Paradise” baroque pearl and gemstone brooch from Christie Frantz, (800) 444-5517.
Three strand South Sea multicolor pearl necklace
Three strand South Sea multicolor pearl necklace from Mastoloni, (212) 757-7278.
Baroque pearl drop earrings
Baroque pearl drop earrings from King Plutarco, (213) 624-3077.