Pure Profits With Pearls

Pure Profits With Pearls!

Chinese freshwater pearls open new revenue streams for home-town jewelers

In this day of the major diamond mining companies like Alrosa selling direct to the public, the pressure on home-town, independent retail jewelers to maintain profitable revenue streams is more difficult than ever. Fortunately, from the freshwater streams of China comes one of the most profitable streams of revenue for jewelers; Chinese freshwater pearls.

As seen at left, major advancements in their production methods have allowed the Chinese producers to make equally major advancements in the array of pearls they produce.

No longer relegated to the traditional “rice” pearl that was the mainstay of freshwater pearls for years, the Chinese freshwater pearl market is now full of a vast array of sizes, shapes, colors, and qualities. Additionally, the production methods have advanced so greatly that the sheer number of pearls produced has caused major changes in the world pearl markets.



Below you see why the Chinese freshwater pearl industry has had such an impact on the market. Rather than utilizing a single oyster as the Japanese Akoya pearls do, the Chinese freshwater pearl is grown in huge bivalve mollusks living in the rivers of China. There are two major differences involved:

  1. Each of these large molluscs can produce high numbers of pearls. In the example below from our IIJA Pearls Course, you can count 14 different pearls being produced.
  2. Also, the mollusks can be opened and inspected, with pearls being removed and “rounded” to improve their shape then returned to the mollusks and put back into the river to continue its work creating pearls. This allows a single mollusk to be utilized for multiple steps without dying, something the Akoya oyster cannot survive.

As a result of the above, the Chinese freshwater pearl industry can produce massive numbers of pearls at much lower costs. The result is an amazing number of pearls on the market at far lower prices. Large inventories at low prices = higher profits for home-town retail jewelers.

The other issue of freshwater pearls can be explained below. Our Pearl Guru, Julie Salvetti donated a large collection of pearls of all types for our Pearls Course. Some of these I cut in half to demonstrate the construction differences of the Akoya to the freshwater pearl. Below left you see the Akoya pearl with the starter bead in the center. Below right is the freshwater pearl that was started using mussle tissue. As a result, the freshwater pearl has a greater thickness of “nacre” the secretion that creates the pearl. It is for this reason that very often the freshwater pearl will create high-quality pearl jewelry that rivals its Akoya counterpart for a fraction of the price.

The real difference can be seen in the jewelry produced from freshwater pearls. At left you see a multi-strand of assorted freshwater pearls with a 14kt. yellow gold clip. The necklace can be worn as a 32-inch single strand or doubled into a 16-inch choker length necklace using the 14kt. gold piece. The total cost to produce this necklace was $65.00 and it sold for $295.00.


The more traditional route can be taken as seen at left with this single strand of 6-6.5mm freshwater pearls of very fine quality making this 18-inch pearl necklace.

I strung this necklace here in the IIJA office with a total cost of $45.00 including the clasp, and it sold in our jewelry store for $145.00. Better than triple keystone. Where can you get profits like that these days in the jewelry industry?

As seen below, these freshwater pearls come in a wide variety of colors, shapes, sizes and qualities. The market for pearls is excellent with consumer interest in the rise for those willing to work and develop their local market. Perhaps most important, pearls are a “hand’s-on” product that consumers like to see, touch and try on before buying, so internet competition is greatly reduced in the pearl market.

There will always be a wonderful market for the Japanese Akoya pearls, with names such as Mikimoto continuing to be the mainstay. But for the home-town, independent retail jeweler, the Chinese freshwater pearls present an opportunity for high profits and added sales as one pearl jewelry item can always be accented with more pearl jewelry. Below you see a cross-section of pearl jewelry from the IIJA office.

If you would like to learn more about pearls, I invite you to visit the IIJA and our IIJA Pearls Course. Profits are waiting if you know your product and have the education to compete in the market.

Robert James FGA, GG
President, Insurance Institute of Jewelry Appraisal