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China has long been a major purveyor of cheap, low grade pearls to the U.S., but now the country is making higher quality pearls at low costs that are roiling the American pearl market, according to The New York Times.Half-inch pearls from Tahiti and other traditional pearl-producing regions generally wholesale for between $25 and $35; similar pearls from China cost between $4 and $8.
While the Chinese freshwater pearls are not identical to saltwater versions, they do make the gems more affordable to the average U.S. consumer.
According to The New York Times:
The price gap reflects lingering differences in hue and luster. It does not take a jeweler to discern those differences when Chinese pearls are placed next to saltwater pearls.
Joel Schechter, the chief executive of Honora, one of the biggest Manhattan-based importers of Chinese pearls, recently walked into the steel vault at his offices just off Madison Avenue and selected two costly strands of some of his best, blemish-free, half-inch pearls.
The strand from Tahiti, with a wholesale price of $14,000 without the clasp, gleamed silvery white in his hand. Next to it, a strand from China also glistened with perfectly round, blemish-free pearls, but they had a more chalky hue.
At $1,800 wholesale, the Chinese strand also had a much less lustrous price. China’s arrival in this segment of the market, Mr. Schechter said, “has made pearls affordable for the average working woman.”
The high-end pearls from China are freshwater farmed, a process that has become increasingly automated, allowing producers to sell their goods at low prices.
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