Cultivating a Profitable Pearl Business
Pearls have it all: selection, tradition, trends, uniqueness, beauty, versatility, and rarity coupled with margin, profit, turn, and distinction for your market. Jewelers who carve out a pearl department can cultivate the category in so many ways—promoted for weddings and seasonal fashions to the perfect gifts for birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, milestones, and more.
Sure, it’ll take a bit of time and effort, and, to do it right, you’ll need to invest in more than just a few studs and some strands. But you’re starting with a proven business builder that will set your store apart from the competition. “The product is already vetted—well developed in knowledge, heritage, margin,” explains Kathy Grenier, marketing director, Imperial Pearl, Providence, Rhode Island, and CPAA spokesperson.
People are talking about pearls, too, from red carpet to runway. At this year’s Academy Awards, the fashion police gave a thumbs up to Lupita Nyongo in a custom Calvin Klein dress made with more than 6,000 pearls and Felicity Jones in Alexander McQueen pearl studded halter-top gown, as well as other A-listers in Oscar-worthy pearl jewels. Pearls also rock the runways every season, from Chanel to Valentino, embellished fashions or bold, long and layered accessories. You’d be hard pressed to open a style magazine and not see pearls in the layout.
Classic & Chic
Pearl experts identify two distinct directions in pearl trends: updated classics and fashion forward designs.Pearl’s classic stance makes styles like studs, solitaire pendants and strands always a favorite. But these value driven basics work best with a twist, describes Joel Schechter, CEO for Honora, New York. “We’re always looking for new ways to beef up the elements (i.e. adding diamonds, gems, and chain to the mix) make the jewelry more special.”
Bestselling examples have been pearl halo styles, cites Alix Gonsoulin, fine jewelry director for Stuller, Lafayette, Louisiana. “It’s an updated, refreshing spin on a timeless look.” She also notes that everyone has a strand of pearls that is classic and simple enough to update by layering with other looks.“ Just show your customers how.”
Schechter notes that there’s a lot going on in strands, especially due to the variety that exists in pearls, with Chinese freshwater offering lots of affordable options. “You can put together a layered wardrobe in different shapes, everything from round and oval to button and coin and it all works together.”
Mixing colors in strands is popular, too, especially in South Sea and Tahitian pearls, says Fran Mastoloni of Mastoloni, New York. He also cites the continued popularity of baroque shapes in strands. “You can’t wear a Riviera diamond necklace or chunky gold chain in most scenarios like you can a pearl necklace.”
In pearl jewelry, designs are fresh and exciting—be it organic, geometric, hard-edged with soft lines, or wearable in interesting new ways, hails Grenier, “The landscape of design options has grown along with a new pearl jewelry profile and audience.” She cites layered pearl strands mixed with chain; front-back earrings—in the same color or two tone; ear climbers; bracelets—all pearl, pearl/leather, and with chain and gemstones, and clustered on cuffs; and natural color pearls and one-of-a-kind baroque shapes in demand.
Jewelry designers enamored with dreamy natural colors, funky baroque shapes and big sizes in affordable pearls are pushing the envelope in pearl jewelry design, credits Grenier. In fact, new freshwater pearls from China in bigger sizes, round and baroque, white and natural colors like rose, mauve, and bronze, have got Imperial’s creative mojo on overdrive, with new ring designs in warm rose gold that make a big impression for a great value! This pearl is selling in everything from cool fashion to classic looks. The affordable price points are allowing jewelers to offer big statement pieces that won’t break the bank.”
This newest evolution of the Chinese freshwater pearl, hails Schechter, is a game changer. “This bead nucleated freshwater cultured pearl from China is so large, and of such fine quality, it’s unprecedented.” Honora is calling these pearls Ming, while Imperial brands it as Windsor. Schechter says the few farmers producing them grow one pearl in one shell, like the South Sea process, focusing on better quality and bigger sizes. Recent harvests are producing clean, bright goods in sizes from 11mm to 18mm and skin friendly colors, as well as classic white. About half of the production is now round, the other baroque.”
Keep in mind your client base when creating building pearl inventory, advises Gonsoulin. “Just like with any product, there’s a variety of styling available. What will your customers be looking for? Classic pearl jewelry with a twist or a trendy bypass style with lots of negative space? You need to know your consumers and then provide them with options in type, style and price point.”
When partnering with a trusted pearl house, their expertise is yours for the taking. No need to reinvent the wheel when good pearl suppliers can help with merchandising, marketing and sales training. Brands like Imperial, Honora and Mastoloni have all the bells and whistles, from branded displays and packaging to a library of high-resolution images and custom advertising material for print and online campaigns. They’re also available to conduct in house sales training and trunk shows.
Storytelling, says Grenier, is top of the list in effective visal from Site 1ual merchandising to draw customers in. I invite retailers to take note of our displays and how we present our products and the impact they make. Merchandising is an evolution, an intentional exercise of subtle nuances. We research how our products move. It’s never perfect, and we’re always challenging ourselves.” While some believe in putting everything out on the sales floor, consumers want options that don’t overwhelm. She advocates keeping it simple, creating more vignettes.
Schechter advocates displays that allow consumers to touch the pearls. “We feel that the faster you get pearls into a customers hands the better. Pearl is a tactile gem that warms to body temperature and has a silky feel. Displaying pearl ropes creates a great visual and it gets people touching the product.” He also recommends using videos available through resources like the CPAA that show where pearls come from to help tell the story.
Sales associates should always wear pearls on the show floor, adds Mastoloni. “It’s a great conversation starter, when people see them on. Wearability is the best talking point for pearls; they effortlessly go from day to night. Get some pearls on your customers and they’ll see how they can transform their look.”
To get and stay in the conversation, Grenier advises that jewelers stay tuned in to trends. “This doesn’t require spending hours following every runway show and fashion blogger. Press like JCK provides overviews of fashion trends; as does most mainstream news media. Read those reports and bring that knowledge into online and in-store conversations with customers.”
The key talking points jewelers should consider, says Ashley Corely, Stuller’s gemstone product manager: “Let the customer know what type of pearls they’re getting, natural, cultured, or imitation and the meaning behind each of those types. Also explaining the different price points for these items by the quality of the pearls such as luster and make, as well as origin. The more information the customer has on what makes a pearl, a pearl, the more comfortable they’ll be with purchasing them.”