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Shell Chic
Buyer's Choice

Once simply a classic strand and studs business, the pearl category has exploded into a whole fashion jewelry department. Retailers report a surge in self-purchase of stylish pearl jewelry on top of the classic gift pearl business.

Women who buy pearls for themselves are creating wardrobes of pearls for every outfit. Long and even longer necklaces, baroques and keshis, goldens, multicolors, pearls and gemstones are all categories that retailers report are strong. There’s also been an uptick in bigger sizes in every pearl category, including freshwater and South Seas.

With ready-to-wear trends taking a more classic, somewhat preppy approach to spring, don’t be surprised to see some turnaround in basic strands that have a classic look with an updated twist.

One theme echoed in all our conversations. People who are passionate about pearls and carry a wide variety say that pearls make up a significant portion of their overall sales. In this case, to love pearls is to sell them. If pearls are less than five percent of your sales, there’s room to grow that business if you make your store a pearl destination.

pearls in an 18k gold lariat necklace
Warm tones of pearls in an 18k gold lariat necklace by Yvel, (866) YVEL-LTD.
freshwater pearls

Confidence in Pearls

“We are doing really well with freshwater pearls because of the variety of colors and shapes. We have all colors from copper and chocolate to blue and green. Mastoloni is our best brand because they have pieces that are stylish, are good quality, and are marketed very well so everyone that comes into our store knows about them. People are starting to gain confidence in wearing pearls for fashion rather than only wearing pearls at funerals or weddings. Awareness of pearls is getting better because of television and magazine promotions. The technology of today is also helping a lot in the coloration and making of the pearls, helping to make them in an array of colors. Pearls are much more affordable than they used to be.”
— Cassandra McCall, Mitchell’s Jewelry, Norman, Oklahoma

Golden and white South Sea cultured pearl rings by Mastoloni, (212) 757-7278

pearl strands, bracelets, studs, and sterling silver

The Classic Pearl

“Imperial-Deltah has been a solid staple in our company for the past 15 years. They have diverse designer product, and they excel in design and pricing. For us, the classics do best; pearl strands, bracelets, studs, and sterling silver accented with gold and pearls. Freshwater pearls are starting to take off. Another great collection from Imperial is the Eyris pearl, which is a New Zealand pearl.”
— Chris Cervini, Christopher’s, Pawleys Island, South Carolina

Classic akoya strands from the “Crown Select” collection by Imperial-Deltah, (800) 556-7738.

Baroque pearl necklaces with gemstones

Stylish Combinations

“We sell a lot of pearls in our store and a lot from the Naz Collection because her stuff is just so different than anything else we carry. She uses a great combination of color with very nice designs. She makes tassels and long strands and uses semiprecious and precious stones, which is just amazing. It’s surprising how big the interest in pearls is here. I keep selling pearls to the same people and they never get tired of it and just keep buying more. Many affluent customers come to our store and they love the higher priced pieces of the Naz Collection, with the big pearls, diamonds, and other precious stones.”
— Bill Evans, Jewels of Aspen, Aspen, Colorado

Baroque pearl necklaces with gemstones from Naz Collection, (212) 768-2530.

keshi South Sea strands

Beautiful and Practical

“The 64-inch keshi South Sea strands from Baggins are to die for—big, bold, and mixed with color. The length is really versatile so it is as practical as it is beautiful. Our customers are now better educated and they know pearls. There is a lot more interest in fine Tahitian, South Seas, and fancy pearls. I have a mixed strand of Tahitians in the window and women come in asking about the pearl sizes and the luster. They recognize quality. I have one strand of mixed South Seas that is the best I’ve ever seen. The luster is so good you could almost use it to put your make-up on. Even men notice it.”
— Barbie Solley, Bulfer’s Fine Jewelry,
La Jolla, California

Necklaces with Tahitian and South Sea baroque pearls and Tahitian keshi pearls, 33.5 inches, from Baggins, suggested retail $2,800, (877) 33-PEARL. Photo by Ross Eliot.

abalone pearl jewelry

Blue-Eyed Pearls

“The Eyris pearls are doing very well in our store. It’s an iridescent pearl found only in New Zealand, and is usually set in gold and accented with diamonds. One type of piece we do well with is a single pearl drop with diamond accents, used either in a necklace or earrings. The traditional pearl strand business has really died off and now fashion pearl jewelry is doing really well.”
— David West Nytch, West & Company, Webster, New York

Eyris abalone pearl jewelry from Imperial-Deltah, (800) 556-7738.

pearls, from Chinese freshwater to South Seas

Pearls for a New Generation

“We carry a full range of pearls, from Chinese freshwater to South Seas. A good part of our store is pearls. I have standard akoya strands but I do better with big baroques. Goldens always do well, especially earrings and pendants. Big is definitely in, from nucleated freshwater to South Seas. We sell pearls to a full range of ages, younger people are catching on. You learn, if you’re in our store! We have pearl belly rings and pearl belts, pearl lariats. I make a tin cup necklace with Tahitians that’s eight feet long that can be worn as a belt. We do well with big funky keshi rings with 10-14mm pearls. Japanese keshi from Pearl Export Co. are phenomenal. Women who are 40 and up have traditional strands already. They want to make a statement. You have to see jewelry as an accessory.”
— Sam Hill, Rohr Jewelers, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Japanese akoya keshi necklace with 35 carats of sapphire by Pearl Exporting Company, suggested retail $7,500, (866) 6-PEARLS.

freshwater pearl necklaces and bracelets

Pearl Education

“We carry three great brands of pearls, all unique in their own respect: Mikimoto, which is the pinnacle of pearl jewelry; Mastoloni, which has a great collection with depth and is a company that is very easy to deal with; and Honora, which carries freshwater pearls that are cheaper and offer a quick turn. We’ve noticed that many customers are uneducated about pearls and don’t really know the difference between freshwater and akoya pearls so we try to do our best to educate them as much as we can. Over the years there really hasn’t been much of a change in the pearl business.”
— Louis Michelson, Michelson Jewelers, Paducah, Kentucky

Multicolor freshwater pearl necklaces and bracelets by Honora, (800) 223-0440.

pearl jewelry

Branding in Style

“We carry mostly akoya pearls in our store, including brands like Mikimoto and our own brand that we have had for over 25 years. Mikimoto uses blue sapphires in contrast with the pearls, creating a beautiful look. Another great collection from Mikimoto is ‘Pearls in Motion,’ which is doing really well. Although pearls have been around for ages, they are starting to become more popular because it’s pearl jewelry now, not just strands. The customer base has remained constant, mostly wedding gifts and older women.”
— Jay Holtorf, I.W. Marks, Houston, Texas

“Lace” collection drop earrings and “Frost” collection ring by Mikimoto, (212) 457-4500.

Baroque pearl necklaces with sapphires

Fashionable Mix

“Regular cultured pearl strands are completely dead in our store. Fashion pearl jewelry, though, is doing great. When we have pieces that are mixed with semiprecious beads and pieces of gold, the customer really responds well, and the Naz Collection really does a good job of doing that. Naz is able to predict what look and combination will be the next hottest trend and the customers really love it.”
— Jim Wallach, Wallach Jewelers, Manhasset, New York

Baroque pearl necklaces with sapphires and other gemstones from Naz Collection, (212) 768-2530.

pearl necklace

Pearl by Pearl

“We developed a great concept in our store for pearls. Begin with a starter necklace of one or more pearls. Customers can start off with one to five pearls. Each year thereafter they can add one either on her birthday, or Christmas. By the time she turns 18 years old, she would have a full necklace or bracelet. This also has been a popular concept with mothers, and even grandmothers, who get new pearls with each baby.”
— David Cameron, Broer-Freeman, Toledo, Ohio

Many pearl vendors, including Imperial-Deltah, White Isle by Stanley Robin, and Juergens & Andersen, offer pearl add-on programs with marketing materials.

South Sea cultured pearls

Fine Classics

“South Sea pearls do very well, especially white and golden classic strands and pendants. We have sold Tahitian but right now white is what’s in demand. I expect to sell a lot of pearl pendants and earrings for the holidays. Prices for fine pearls have gone up and the chunky baroques have become much more difficult to get. I’m a GG and a CG and I spend a tremendous amount of time educating people about pearls. I show the shell so they can understand the size of South Sea pearls. We did a pearl show in August with Hodel and sold two significant strands. Hodel has great pieces.”
— Karen Adler, Gems of the Past, East Hampton, New York

South Sea cultured pearls with pavé sapphire flowers by Hodel, (800) 817-6623.

Tahitian cultured pearl brooches

“Everyone in our store has a passion for pearls so we do a great job of educating and exciting the customers about pearls. Alishan is just amazing to work with, as we have been working with them for years. The way they design the pieces really helps showcase the pearl. They have great golden, South Sea, and black Tahitian pearls. One piece that really amazes me is the dragonfly piece. It has ruby eyes, gold wings, and a feather pearl body. Over the years, the consumer has become more educated about pearls and that really helps.”
— Barbara Johnson, Jewelry Art, Hudson, Ohio

Tahitian cultured pearl brooches by Alishan, (888) 756-1312.