Profiting from Pearls

A pearl renaissance is underway and consumer preferences for pearls show no signs of waning anytime soon.

The Cultured Pearl Association of America (CPAA) sponsored the study of more than 1,000 U.S. jewelry consumers last July, conducted by MVI Marketing, to identify consumer-shopping behaviors related to cultured pearls and pearl jewelry. Of the respondents, 73% were female, 27% male, ages 25-55.

Key findings reveal that pearls are among consumers’ favorite gems; pearls are viewed as timeless, classic, and elegant, and there’s great potential to further drive home pearl’s sustainability story, especially among younger consumers. In fact, 22% of 25-35-year-olds pick pearls as their gem-of-choice, compared to 13% of 36-45 year olds, and 10% of consumers ages 46-55. 

Pearls rank among the top gems that consumers, across demographics, have purchased and would purchase as a gift for someone or themselves — in good company with sapphire, ruby and emerald, after diamond.

Pearl ownership is strong across demographics, as most jewelry consumers surveyed (66%) own at least one pearl jewel, with 69% owning a stand, 62% pearl earrings. Moreover, 65% of pearl jewelry owners have at least one family heirloom among their pearl pieces.

“If there’s one thing that’s very clear in the results of this study, it’s that pearls are already a consumer favorite, so promote your pearls,” encourages Kathy Grenier, vice president of business development for the pearl house Imperial, and marketing director for CPAA.

Jewelers don’t have to sell consumers on cultured pearls, because they already like, have and desire them, the survey finds. But retailers do have to invest in the product, carry a wider selection, and talk up pearls.

Show Pearls Prominently
Fundamental to success in the pearl category is always having pearl basics in stock, says third generation pearl trader Josh Bazar for Imperial. “Pearl strands and stud earrings are the engine the drives the pearl jewelry business. Classic pearl jewelry is a go-to gift for marking pivotal life moments and it always moves.”

Then, surround your pearl basics with incredible fashion. “Fashion drives a strong portion of the independent business,” says Moss Makhoulian senior vice president of merchandising for Richline, New York, parent company of the Honora pearl brand. “We’re looking to maximize the fashion and classic pearl business with our partners, reinvigorating their cases with additional offerings.”

Retailers with under or non-performing pearl cases are often outdated and lack cohesive collections, says Jessica Zerega, director of merchandising gems and pearls for Richline. “By merchandising and telling a story, it creates an attractive aesthetic, and draws attention to the variety of product offerings in the case. Mixing fashion with classics creates case appeal and stronger turn for retailers.”

Pearls are no different than other gem category, says Grenier. “Use good display elements, like a ramp for stud earrings, a small footprint that is user-friendly for sale associates at the counter. Clear, concise merchandising makes it easy to tell the story and brings clarity to the pearl case.”

Talking PearlsKeep pearls front and center with other jewelry to remind customers they are an option, advocates Sarah Cuidon, marketing, production and sales assistant for the New York pearl house, Mastoloni. “It’s an opportunity to educate customers, if they express interest in pearls. There’s a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to what cultured pearls are or how to evaluate their quality that makes customers feel confused and unsure about pearls.”

Education is key to confidence and confidence is key to sales, advocates Grenier. “Know your pearl virtues (luster, surface, shape, size, and color); the different pearl varieties; and where pearls come from and their journey to market.” CPAA offers a free online education course at pearlsasone.org.

As revealed in CPAA’s survey, consumer awareness of the term “cultured pearl” is high at 81%, but only 34% say they know exactly what that means. Awareness is highest at 66% for freshwater pearls, the most plentiful variety on the market. But drops by more than half to 32% who know about Akoya and Tahitian pearls, and 20% who aware of South Sea pearl. The majority at 60% did not know that cultured pearls are sustainable.

The data reveals that the youngest demographic — pearls’ biggest fan base and the ones who care most about sustainable practices — is the least educated about pearls, with 21% believing a cultured pearl is man-made and 9% thinking it refers to pearls that are worn by royalty or high society.   

Grenier notes that pearls’ sustainable story holds the key to cultivation education. The story of responsibly cultured pearls is one of a renewable resource that contributes to the health of the marine environment, and also helps to provide sustainable income for families in remote communities.

Promote Purchase Occasions
Pearls are a popular self-purchase, as 46% of jewelry consumers surveyed by CPAA self-gift pearls, and that’s across demographics. All age groups embrace buying fine jewelry for oneself, with younger consumers the most enthusiastic. 

Pearls are popular birthday and anniversary gifts, as 52% of consumers say they have either received or purchased pearls for a birthday, 46% for an anniversary — two occasions that someone is celebrating every day of the year.

Pearl remains the popular June birthstone and traditional favorite for brides to wear on their wedding day and gift to their entourage. New opportunities for pearls also present themselves as an engagement ring, as well as an accessory for men to wear, expanding the market for pearls even further.

Pearl is a cherished gift for a child for a birthday, holiday, graduation, or as part of a wedding party, reminds Barbara Barry, Marathon Company of Attleboro, Massachusetts. She mentions its signature brand, Kiddie Kraft, with pearl stud earrings a bestseller, well known for its safety lock back. The brand also offers mother-of-pearl stud earrings in simple designs like heart, flower, and clover; and pearl stud crosses that are popular for religious occasions.

“I like pearl jewelry because of its price point,” says Barry. “It’s much less expensive than diamonds, but pearls have the same traditional, elegant design as diamond stud earrings or a diamond cross. They’re both special pieces!

Social Media Marketing
 Close to half (46%) of jewelry consumers surveyed say they look for new cultured pearl designs and jewelry inspirations on websites and ezines, while 29% cite Instagram, 23% consumer magazines, and 20% other social media.

Instagram is especially popular with consumers, ages 25-35 (42%) compared to 28% of 36-45-year-olds, and 11% of those aged 46-55. More men (55%) than women (43%) search for new pearl jewelry on websites and ezines. In fact, more men (32%) than women (28%) look for what’s new on Instagram, as well as consumer magazines, 29% versus 21%. Slightly more women (21%) than men (18%) also use other social media platforms to scope out pearl jewelry trends.

Makhoulian advocates jewelers piggyback on the current media frenzy over pearls, sharing images and news of celebrities and influential people wearing pearl jewelry. He also encourages jewelers use social media to educate consumers about pearls, as there is so much to share.

Cuidon underscores how trusted pearl vendors like Mastoloni provide retailers with the materials they need to market pearls on social media and other platforms. “That means creating content for our retailers (especially visuals) and providing them with the display and marketing material they need sell our pearls.” She encourages retailers as often as possible to show pearls in action, worn and layered with today’s fashion. “It’s so much more enticing than a stock image.”