Increasing Demand for Natural Pearls

Natural Bahrain Pearl with Sapphires

Natural Bahrain Pearl with Sapphires

Increasing Demand for Natural Pearls

In 1937, Louis Kornitzer, a prominent London gem merchant, published The Pearl Trader, a passionate treatise on the natural pearl set against the backdrop of a brave new world in pearling.

In The Pearl Trader, Kornitzer decried a future in which cultured pearls, which he called ‘cuckoo pearls’, ruled the marketplace. “I cannot see how mankind would be the gainer if fine pearls were as plentiful as blackberries and as cheap,” he wrote. Today, Kornitzer’s words ring with prescience. “In Hong Kong, you literally see sacks of pearls and people sitting on top of them,” said Kenneth Scarratt, managing director of the Gemological Institute of America’s Southeast Asia division.

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,” Fisher said.

Only a handful of contemporary designers insist on using natural pearls, but they are noteworthy. In Paris, Joel Arthur Rosenthal, known as JAR, is one. A pair of his natural pearl, ruby, diamond, silver and gold ear clips went on the block at a two-day Christie’s Paris sale recently, for an estimated €80,000, or $105,000.

Viren Bhagat, a jeweller based in Mumbai, who channels Mughal-era style in one-off designs sought by collectors, is another. “You see a strand of cultured pearls and they all look so perfect,” Mr Bhagat said. “Natural pearls have a much quieter luster, which is really appealing.”

As demand for rare pearls has risen, so, too has interest in conch and melo pearls, two natural yet little known varieties of non-nacreous pearl born to the sea conch and sea snail, respectively. Conch pearls range in colour from white to pink; the finest specimens possess a telltale ‘flame’ structure and are found off the coast of the Bahamas.

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