Pearls are having a moment right now. A pretty big moment, actually.
Once considered antiquated – they sort of hit their pique in the Coco Chanel era – there’s been a major resurgence of the gem, and don’t just take our word for it. Hollywood’s elite are all sporting pearls regularly, and designers from Dior to Marc Jacobs have been integrating pearls into just about everything: The usual suspects (bracelets, necklaces, earrings and the likes), but also hair wear, hand bags, sunglasses, and even pumps.
If you’ve been noticing a lot more pearl jewelry in your People Magazine or on E!, you’re certainly not going crazy. Maybe you’ve even thought about digging out a few of your old strands – you know, the ones that have been sitting around in your jewelry box for, oh, say the last decade.
Well, get to digging them out. As it turns out, they could be worth a lot more than you think, as we learned from one expert. We sat down with Leon Rbibo, President of The Pearl Source and Laguna Pearl, to find out why.
Q: Why are pearls suddenly so popular?
Rbibo: Honestly, we all know fashion is cyclical. What’s old is new again, and it’s been that way for decades. Just as we’re seeing high-waisted pants, shorts, and bathing suits again, pearls have come full circle and are once again on the top of every designer’s radar. That’s just how things go. But personally, I also think they exude a sort of prestigious elegance. There’s also a nostalgia for this particular gemstone.
Q: Who in your mind stands out as a pearl icon?
Rbibo: That’s easy. Immediately Jackie O. comes to mind. I also think of Barbara Bush. On more of the fashion side, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Coco (Chanel).
Q: Ok, so tell us. Is all this popularity making pearls more expensive? Are some of us sitting on a gold mine?
Rbibo: I wouldn’t say gold mine, but certainly there’s a good chance that if you own some high-quality pearls, maybe something your mother passed down to you almost like an heirloom, there’s a good chance they are worth some money. There’s no denying that Hollywood and fashion’s famous designers have helped put pearls back on the map. But I also don’t want you to think you’re going to get rich by chasing in your old studs. But it’s true, prices have gone up.
Q: Are there other factors in play?
Rbibo: Of course. It’s never just one thing. We are also experiencing some major geopolitical tensions in key pearl cultivation areas. The industry imports a lot of pearls from China, and there is a lot of tension in the South China Sea. This has caused – well, I wouldn’t say panic – but it has certainly caused some stress and driven the price of high quality product upward. By no means are pearls unaffordable, though it largely depends on what you buy. But the prices have gone up to an extent.
Q: Anything else?
Rbibo: Well, you also have the environment. We’re not doing the environment any favors, especially when it comes to pearl cultivation. Oceans are getting more and more acidic, and that’s not just me stating opinion. That’s scientific fact. Unfortunately acidity and sea life don’t really go well together, and when it comes to pearls, this gemstone in particular does not play well with acids. It hinders growth of the pearl inside the mollusk, but it can also seriously damage the pearl even when its fully formed. Acidity and pearls do not get along.
Q: If you’d like to get your hands on some, do you have any shopping tips?
Rbibo: I think the biggest one is do your research and know what you’re buying. Not all pearls are created equally, just like diamonds aren’t all the same. I also think you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a fantastic strand of pearls, studs, rings, etc. A common misconception is that “natural” pearls are better and should be more expensive. But cultivated pearls are still grown just like any other pearl – the only difference is that man has intervened to ensure an outcome: a pearl. I guess what it all comes back to is know what you’re buying. You wouldn’t go out and buy a diamond ring without first having done your research. The same is true of pearls.