Demand for Natural Pearls on the Rise

by NYTimes

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Natural Persian Gulf Graduated Necklace

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Demand for Natural Pearls on the Rise

Dwarfing that figure, however, is the volume of freshwater pearls cultured in China, which totaled 1,200 metric tons in 2009, Mr. Shor said.

Faced with the ubiquity of these so-called common pearls, which can sell for as little as $20 a strand, connoisseurs are turning their backs. As a result, demand for natural pearls is on the rise.

“It was a small market until five years ago,” said Paul Fisher, a London dealer whose great-great-grandfather began trading in natural pearls in Vienna in 1850. “The big buyers became the Indians, and they want Basra pearls.”

Prized for their incomparable luster, Basra, or “Oriental,” pearls from the Gulf are almost exclusively sourced today from “old inventory and old families,” Mr. Fisher said.

Collectors are willing to pay hefty premiums for such rare gems. On Oct. 20 at Christie’s New York, a Tiffany & Co. necklace featuring 69 graduated natural pearls sold for $434,500, more than seven times the $60,000 presale estimate.

“It goes to show the appreciation buyers have for things that are no longer produced,” said Rahul Kadakia, Christie’s head of jewelry for the Americas of the sale in April 2007 of a suite of natural pearls owned by the Maharajah of Baroda that fetched $7.1 million.

Gem dealers in the Gulf hope the market’s newfound mania for natural pearls will usher in a commercial renaissance for their historical trading hub.

“The growing economies and spending power of India, China and the Middle East — all cultures with historical and mythological connections to natural pearls — will continue to greatly influence market demand,” said Khaled al-Sayegh, chairman of the Pearl Revival Committee, a six-year-old organization based in Abu Dhabi and dedicated to making the Gulf “once again the center of the pearl universe.”

Only a handful of contemporary designers insist on using natural pearls, but they are noteworthy.

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