Over the past 8 months, the price of cultured pearls (as distinct from natural or fine pearls) has skyrocketed. Let’s explore this sudden and unprecedented phenomenon.
Par Sandrine Merle.
Last October at Sotheby’s, three cultured pearl necklaces exceeded their estimates: more than a little surprising for Magali Teisseire, head of the jewelry department, who almost never accepted them in her sales, due to a lack of buyers. A necklace estimated at 5-7,000 euros even fetched 16,500 euros thanks to a Chinese buyer. At the same time, at the major Hong Kong fair, Céline Rose David (Million Belgique’s expert) was astonished by the phenomenal expansion of the space dedicated to pearls.
Asia, a historic market
Historically, Asia is the leading market for cultured pearls, since it was in Japan that the technique was perfected in the 1920s,” recalls Parisian pearl trader Christine Seitz representative of the third generation of the Porchet trading house. There has always been a gap with Europe, and especially with France, where the collective memory associates pearls with traditional drop necklaces”. Nevertheless, in Asia, the scale of this craze is unprecedented. Unprecedented in the memory of any trader: since March, prices have jumped by +30% every quarter,” explains Pierre Boite (Paris). You can now expect to pay more than 1,000 euros for a beautiful 12mm white pearl, well rounded and spotless.
Chronicle of a phenomenon
Chinese buyers raid the market for Australian pearls (gold or white) and Akoya pearls (white) from Japan. These are the most beautiful pearls, the most prized in fine jewelry. Now they’re flocking to Tahitian pearls (ranging from light gray to black) for more affordable jewelry. “Prices are skyrocketing: in 8 months, an 8-9mm diameter (commonly used for earrings) has tripled,” notes Christine Seitz. They are snapping up absolutely everything, with no regard for quality. “The day before his auction, a Tahitian producer cancelled everything after a Chinese buyer paid 6 million for all the lots, which had a reserve price of 3 million”, says Pierre Boite.
This is due to increased demand. Buyer’s fever, after 3 years of confinement, doesn’t explain everything. “The phenomenon was triggered by the appearance of a few social networking stars (WeChat and The Little Red Book) wearing pearl necklaces,” says Brenda Kang, head of Revival, a vintage jewelry store in Singapore. At the Hong Kong fair, female influencers sold pearls to their followers, live via their smartphones. This disruption is also due to a crisis in production. “For 3 years, confinement prevented Chinese grafters from visiting the island, and they were replaced by locals who don’t have the same dexterity in this process (consisting of introducing a nucleus into the oyster to trigger mother-of-pearl production)”, explains Pierre Boite. As a direct consequence, quality pearls are in short supply. The fear of contamination of Akoya pearls by polluted Fukushima water discharged into the sea also looms large…
The market is completely out of whack, and nobody knows how it will evolve.