Are you buying pearls in a Department Store? Do you want to know what type of pearls you are buying?
Your Questions Answered
Thanks so much to Lorraine who reached out and asked me to help her understand how The Pearl Girls pearls differ from department store pearls. Lorraine is shopping for pearls for a graduation gift and she wanted to get the low down on our pearls. This is such a great question. So, what is the difference in the Pearl Girls pearls? Or better yet, why buy your pearls from The Pearl Girls? Are our pearls the same as pearls in a Department Store?
My last post explains my experience of trying to buy cheap pearls from a Department Store. Hopefully this post will begin to help you understand the pearl offerings in many department store chains. I have a lot more to say but here is a start!
Pearls in Department Stores
Let’s first make a quick distinction, it seems to me that department stores sell two different types of jewelry, their department store brand and jewelry by other independent designers or jewelry companies. Obviously, artists work with a wide variety of pearls and I am not familiar with all the different artists and their medium of choice. So, if you are shopping in a department store and interested in a specific designer, and you want to know more about their pearls, I would encourage you to reach out to them directly! Some artists do not specialize in pearls and they may not know the provenance of their pearls. Others might! But, if you care where your pearls come from, don’t be afraid to ask!
So many things are produced in China these days and many people are divided on that. Many years ago I chose to move The Pearl Girls jewelry production from China to the U.S. And guess what? I lost money doing it! So, I understand the motivation to manufacture jewelry, or anything else, overseas. The labor costs less. I am super proud of our amazing staff of artists and jewelry makers at The Pearl Girls and I love the haven we have created here in Athens, GA. So, I would not have it any other way! However I recognize that most jewelry companies knot their pearls and create their jewelry overseas. This includes pearls in a Department Store. So, what does this mean to you? This means that when your jewelry breaks, no one is around to fix it. We have repaired countless items that people purchased in a department store or through online jewelry programs and these pieces cannot be repaired by the company they bought it from. Now, it is not a mark of poor customer service but merely a limit to what they can offer. Many companies will replace the broken item but they cannot fix it because they are not jewelry makers, they are simply selling jewelry they had made overseas. So keep this in mind if you are purchasing a piece you are hoping to have for the long haul.
Recently we repaired a piece of jewelry from John Hardy. He manufactures his jewelry in Bali. The representative at John Hardy offered to repair the piece for their customer but the time, distance and money involved caused the customer to decide to hire us instead. It is truly a matter of personal preference!
Personally, although I love to make jewelry here in the U.S.A., I know that most pearls are now cultured in China. And I say, “don’t be afraid of China!” There are many beautiful pearls originating there. Although many of The Pearl Girls customers like Made in the U.S.A. jewelry, we understand that most pearls come from China and other international locations. Many years ago I created a line of jewelry with USA pearls that was made in the USA. It was my all-American pearl line! But there is no active pearl farm in the U.S. and the availability of U.S. natural pearls can be sporadic and expensive.
So, you walk into a Department store and you see some pearl jewelry, what are you looking at? Most likely you are looking at what I call the walk through life pearls. Classic white pearls, 7mm-8mm in diameter. They will be knotted on a medium of silk or nylon and have a sterling silver or gold clasp. These are very popular pearls. What kind of pearls are they?
Types of Pearls
These round white pearls will be either freshwater pearls or saltwater pearls. The main difference in freshwater and saltwater pearls are the way they are cultured. In freshwater productions, like the ones based in China, a piece of tissue is inserted into a freshwater mollusk. The tissue forms an irritation in the mollusk and it begins forming a pearl. In saltwater productions a piece of tissue and a round mother of pearl bead are inserted into the saltwater mollusk. And the oyster forms a pearl around the bead, using it as a template.
So, things to look for! If they are saltwater pearls, you want to make sure the nacre is thick enough on the mother of pearl bead. If it is not, you can see the bead under the surface of the pearl. This is the mark of a lower quality pearl that will not stand the test of time. Roll the pearls around. Do some of the pearls seem to wink at you. Sounds funny, but it is true. If you have places where you can see the bead beneath the nacre, it will wink (or blink!) at you! This is actually called blinking! In the freshwater pearls, make sure they don’t look chalky! Do you know how when you drive a new car off the car lot, they say it immediately decreases in value? When you buy pearls, think in terms of this is the best they are going to look! Once you drive off in your new pearls, you cannot make them shinier, rounder or more to your liking. At The Pearl Girls we do a lot of reknot and repair work and we can reinvigorate a dated design. We can even clean pearls, which can really help them pop. Even new silk thread tend to improve the overall appearance of a pearl however we cannot make a pearl shinier or rounder than it originally was. So you are purchasing the best that pearl is going to look. Look over my Pearl Buying Guide and empower yourself to select your own pearls!
Maybe you like them big, maybe you like them shiny! Buy the pearls that you are drawn to. Buy from someone who knows what you are buying, someone you can trust. Finally, know there is only so much of a deal that you can get. If it seems too good to be true, guess what? It might be too good to be true!
Now, if you read my last post, you know that I bought discount pearls that looked like discount pearls. So, I sent them back. And this is something I think is very important in pearls and with many fine gems. You really do get what you pay for. I know companies run specials and go out of business and get really great deals that they pass on to their customers. I like to introduce new designs and offer them at a discount the first week (sign up for my newsletter if you want to know more about that!) but, in the end, pearls are a commodity. And if they were truly undersold, the business would not exist.
Is it a Deal?
Think of pearls in the way you think of farming. A farmer gets a market rate for their crops. If he sells his corn before the harvest he might get a certain rate and if he sells it after the harvest the rate may have fluctuated but he cannot beat the system. The market value is the market value and a consumer if always going to be subjected to those market forces.
There is a certain amount of money invested into the creation of pearls. A lot of money is invested up front to the growth and care of the mollusk before and after it is nucleated and to the entire production of creating pearls… the staffing, the nucleaters, harvesters and more. And pearl farms are not trying to lose money. They are trying to get the most they can for their harvest of pearls. Therefore, there is a limit to the “deal” you can get on pearls. I learned this when I bought the Tahitian pearls for $400 and I repeatedly learn this when I travel overseas to buy pearls. If I find pearls slightly bigger, shinier and prettier, the price is more. If I say I want to pay less. Guess what? I am offered pearls smaller and not as shiny! The differences may be subtle but they exist! Overall, the big deal is usually featuring a lower quality pearl. And this is true for anyone who sells pearls.
Paying for a Name
Or maybe it has to do with the box. The opposite can be true, too. Typically Department stores may not carry a high price pearl name but we all know the stores that carry the same product with a certain color box and suddenly they are able to charge five times more. How wonderful! And if you want that colored box, you have to pay more too!
More to Come
So, this was my installment on buying pearls in a department store today! More to come! The more I seem to type, the more I have to say, so I will keep filling you in on all your pearl buying options so you can make the most informed decision you can when it comes to buying pearls. And if there is anything I can help you with, I would love for you to shop with The Pearl Girls!
All the Best,
I am a modern day treasure hunter who travels the world for gorgeous pearls and amazing adventures. I own a pearl jewelry and jewelry repair business, ThePearlGirls.com, with a cute retail store in Athens, GA. I also have a Pearl Travel business and travel blog at TheWorldofPearl.com.