The idea of creating a pearl traceable through the supply chain to its farm has been one that has intrigued pearl farmers for decades. The dream is becoming a reality, as new innovations that will change the pearl world forever are now being experimented with on a commercial scale. I wanted to know how these innovations were being put into practice, and what that could mean for retailers in the future.
I spoke with Josh Humbert, the co-founder and CEO of Kamoka Tahitian Pearls, who hopes to build on his farm’s reputation for sustainable practices by using traceable, branded nuclei. He began experimenting with his Tahitian pearls in 2013 by using silver logos fastened to pearl nuclei. The logos are visible under x-ray examination but don’t affect the beauty of the pearl.
Round and aroque cultured Tahitian pearls under X-ray examination reveal small branded tags wih the Kamoka pearl farm name.
Photo Credit: Henry A. Hänni, gem expert and Laurent Cartier of Sustainable Pearls
He says he’s “optimistic about the future of branded pearls, though the road to get there is not a short one. A single attempt or tweak in your approach takes two years to get conclusive evidence.” The larger goal of reaching out and connecting with buyers specifically interested in eco-friendly farmers is “absolutely the market we would hope to touch. Connecting with people who share our core values of social and environmental respect is definitely the end goal in developing a traceable pearl.”
The surging popularity of the Green movement means that increasing numbers of consumers are aware of where their jewellery and gemstones originate from, and want assurances that their purchases are not impacting the environment in a negative way. Creating a cultured pearl that can be traced back through the supply chain to its original farm would increase the level of trust between the retailer and consumer, and would also provide the retailer with invaluable opportunities to help the consumer connect with their pearls on a deeper level.
Kevin Canning, owner of PearlsofJoy.com
, sees the advent of branded, traceable pearls as lending a certain romance to a purchase, adding “If we can show the customer pictures of the farm that grew their pearls, we add another layer of value to the purchase. I think with the right marketing and education the average consumer would see value, but I'm not sure they'll pay a premium for it. I think it only make sense for the well-branded farms like Jewelmer, Paspaley and Justin Hunter; brands that are currently sought out by pearl connoisseurs”, he says.
Tahitian pearls under X-ray examination reveal a slim silver Kamoka logo affixed to the nucleus.
Photo Credit: Henry Hänni, gem expert and Laurent Cartier of Sustainable Pearls
Some on the production side, however, aren’t so sure about the cost-effectiveness of the advances in nuclei technology. The extra expense that farmers would incur during the cultivation process may not make branding their pearls worthwhile for the majority of farmers and consumers. Mike Rivers, founder of Divers Direct Company, which provides the pearling industry with American Freshwater pearl nuclei, says the current going rate of [[ArticleContent]].25 cents per nucleus is already a stretch for many commercial farmers. Nuclei branded with logos or embedded with RFID chips could drive up the cost as high as $2 or $3 each, which would be unaffordable for most pearl farmers. He believes the majority of cultured pearls will remain “unbranded” for the foreseeable future.
Whether or not pearl branding is embraced throughout all levels of the industry remains to be seen. Nevertheless, the potential of this technology should not be ignored by farmers, wholesalers and retailers working to build memorable brands and customer loyalty. Creating a “signature” branded pearl could pay off for some.
CEO of PurePearls.com
Ashley McNamara is the CEO of PurePearls.com, an e-commerce pearl jewellery company. Her passion for art and design led her to a career in the jewellery industry, where she has specialized in pearls for nearly a decade. She is a GIA graduate who has extensive experience grading and appraising cultured pearls, and enjoys staying up to date on all things pearl-related. You can contact her at Ashley@purepearls.com or through her blog.