Steve Duke Presents Tradio Gems: Pearls
(Excerpts from Tradio)


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Steve Duke:
Okay, are you ready? If I said the word ‘keshi’ — would you eat it, would you bank it or would you wear it?

Hum… I have no idea. I’m just going to guess and say bank it.

Okay then. I just made that word up, so I have no idea. No, I’m only kidding.

Then my answer can’t be wrong. Yeah!

No. Keshi actually refers to the shape of a pearl. A keshi is an irregular-shaped saltwater pearl; sometimes they are called baroque. Keshi we sort of refer to when we talk about Tahitian pearls. There are Tahitian black pearls, as they’re often called, and right now pearls are very, very hot in the fashion world. You look at a lot of the magazines and the stars are wearing them and the average person is wearing them. What’s nice about pearls, it’s not a real flashy piece of jewelry but you can really dress them up or dress them down. I mean you can wear them with jeans and a T-shirt or whatever.

Weren’t pearls always a staple in a women’s… Always in the ‘50s and ‘60s women always had strings of pearls.

Yeah, they always said that should be a wedding present. That should be like the normal present that a groom should give his bride to be was a strand of pearls.

His new bride, yeah.

People don’t realize it, but we sort of take pearls for granted nowadays. You can buy a strand of pearls for $20. You could buy a strand of pearls for $20,000. There are lots of different things that cause those, affect them, and the factors that affect them are, you know, are they natural pearls or are they cultured pearls or are they freshwater pearls or are they Tahitian pearls or are they South Sea pearls.

Well, originally there were no cultured pearls. When we talk about a cultured pearl, we talk about a pearl that man has helped to build. Now, how did man do that? Back years ago a fellow by the name of Mikimoto came out with the first cultured pearls. He was a Japanese gentleman and he found that if he turned around and he made a little bead, almost like a little marble or a little round bead, and he implanted it, he opened an oyster very carefully. He inserted the bead into the oyster, closed the oyster back up, put it back in the ocean and let it do its thing.

Well, pearls are caused by an oyster secreting what we call a nacre around an object and it’s an irritant to it. A little piece of sand could have possibly gotten inside of an oyster and this is how a natural pearl is created. A piece of sand or a little rock or something got inside the oyster and the oyster secreted nacre around this particular irritant.

What’s kind of neat is that little irritant as it secretes nacre around it spins inside the oyster. The oyster is constantly moving that irritant and if it’s irregular shaped we get an irregular-shaped pearl. If it’s round then the chances of us getting a round pearl are even better because it’s constantly spinning and constantly spinning. The reason it spins it is because it’s secreting this thing and it’s trying to make that more smooth so it’s less irritating to it. Now, this is how a natural pearl is formed.

A cultured pearl, Mr. Mikimoto came up with the idea. He put a round bead inside of an oyster. The pearl will be spun and it will be round, which is nice. The longer it was left in the oyster the more nacre was secreted around that particular little bead. Now, ‘more nacre’ means two different things. Number one, the bead or the pearl will become larger. It will have more sheen to it. It will have more brilliance to it.

One of the ways we actually grade a pearl is if it’s a white pearl we put it on a piece of white paper and we roll it. When you look inside that pearl or you look at the pearl if it appears to be a little light bulb almost inside of it that tells us that it has a lot of nacre, it has a very good finish on it and that pearl has been in the oyster for a longer period than six months. It could have been in there for a year, two years even.

Now, if you’re going to have a business it’s difficult to turn around and put these beads in those oysters and leave them for a year at a time or two years at a time. The idea is to constantly turn your product over. So after six months you’ll find that these beads will have a certain amount of nacre on them, but you won’t have as much brilliance. There won’t be as much sheen to it. It won’t be as nice, but they’re less expensive.

Okay, so what you have your pearl farmer doing is he’s got a crop of oysters in there that he’s going to harvest in six months. Now, he’s going to sell that product after six months and yet he still has another crop in there that could have been in there for a year and he could have another product in there that’s even been for a year and a half, which means he’s going to have pearls that could sell for $50 a strand, his next crop could probably sell for $200 or $300 a strand and his final crop, before he harvests that one and he’s now put another crop in, could be $800 to $1,000 a strand.

Now, beside the nacre and the roundness we have a couple other factors that affect the value of a pearl, number one, the size. Guys, I don’t care what girls tell you; size does matter when it comes to jewelry. Why did you look at me funny like that CeCe?

I’m not thinking a thing right now.

Okay. Generally we talk about size with diamonds, but we also talk about size with pearls. Is it hard to get a larger pearl? Well, let’s explain why it’s difficult to get a larger-size pearl.

Most pearls that you’re going to see are going to be five to six millimeters. Now, how does that equate in size? I’m going to tell you that about one-eighth of an inch would be a five to six millimeter pearl. A larger pearl, a nine to 10 millimeter pearl, this is a pearl that’s probably closer to a quarter of an inch to maybe about three-eights of an inch. This is a pretty good size pearl.

Now, why do we have less of these than we do the smaller ones? Well, because, number one, the bead that they put inside the oyster starts out at almost that exact size. They put about a nine millimeter bead inside of an oyster and the pearl that they’re going to get is probably going to be a nine to a nine and a half millimeter pearl. They don’t leave it in that long. They leave it in there long enough for it to secrete nacre around it.

Why do we have less of the larger-size beads and pearls produced? Number one, your turn around and you take this big old marble and you open up this little oyster and you put this bead inside of the oyster. This is a large foreign object. It’s not like doing a heart transplant, but it’s a surgical procedure. They actually open up the oyster, make a little slit inside the mantle, insert the bead, they close the oyster back up and put it in the ocean.

Well, because it’s large foreign object the mortality rate of the oyster is much, much greater than if they put a smaller bead in there, so the fact that they have to insert a lot more beads into a lot more oysters. And you have to understand, they don’t just find these oysters. These oysters are grown on farms and then the pearl-producing people buy these oysters then they turn around and insert these beads to grow into pearls.

So, they have an expense. It’s not like they just walked out and said “Hey, I just found an oyster. I’m going to put a bead in him.” They turn around and buy thousands and thousands and thousands of these oysters to put these beads in. Now, you have a cost with your oyster. You have a cost with your bead. You have a cost with having someone who’s there who knows how to insert that bead into the oyster giving it the least mortality rate.

Now, these cultured pearls are done in saltwater. Well, in China they found you know what? We could grow oysters in fresh water and the product that we need to insert in them doesn’t have to be a piece of really nice shell anymore. It could be a piece of just regular shell and, believe it or not, most of that shell that they do the freshwater oysters come out of the oysters out of Mississippi.

Well, this is a less-expensive procedure. They take their shells and they grind them into various shapes. They get some nice balls that they use to make them with, but they’re not as accurate. Those balls that they’re injecting into the freshwater oysters don’t have to be round. So, number one, you’re cost is less money to produce those, the oysters are less to buy and the water conditions are not that important, where the saltwater has to be a continuous flow. It has to be pretty free of any kind of bacteria. It has to be at a pretty constant temperature.

Well, your freshwater oysters don’t have to have that great of an environment and they produce the same type of cultured pearl, but they can turn around and put a larger bead in. They can put an irregular-shaped bead. What you’ll find nowadays, you’re finding a lot of very, very large freshwater pearls. You’re finding 10, 12, even 15 millimeter pearls. They’re not going to be round, but right now they’ve gotten to the point where they start to implant more round beads into these oysters because they’re finding if they put a round bead in there a lot of times their product comes out looking very much like a regular saltwater cultured pearl.

So a lot of times when you see a large strand of pearls, when I say large strand I don’t mean long, I’m talking about a bead that looks like a large marble and you see a whole strand of these, if these were saltwater cultured pearls they would probably be South Sea pearls because South Sea pearls generally start at around 10 millimeters and go up in size.

If the nacre was nice on them, the finish, which means they didn’t have a whole lot of dimpling and dimpling or imperfections in the surface of the pearl, if it’s a nice smooth, evenly-done pearl, it doesn’t have a lot of little pockmarks or holes in it and it has nice nacre and color, a strand of South Sea pearls in white color ranging from 10 to 15 millimeters in a graduated strand could sell for anywhere from $6,000 to $15,000. Now we can duplicate that strand with freshwater pearls and you could spend $700 to $2,000 for the same appearance of the strand in the freshwater as opposed to saltwater.

Now, baroque pearls are very, very popular this year and baroque pearls are pearls that are irregular shaped. Now, why are they irregular shaped? Number one, it could be because even though there was a round bead implanted into the oyster, the oyster would spin that but it would stop. Now, that would stop in one position inside the oyster and it would continue to secrete nacre over the top of that and rather than being round it becomes more irregular shaped and right now these are very popular in the fashion world.

When we talk about Tahitian black pearls, same thing if these are irregular shaped. This is where the word ‘keshi’ comes from. This refers to an irregular-shaped saltwater pearl from Tahiti. We’ll find pearls in a lot of different colors nowadays. How do they do them? A lot of pearls are dyed. A lot of the white pearls are actually put into an acid wash which gives them more of a pink color.

They’ve found what we call these chocolate pearls now and these are peals that a lot of times were freshwater pearls, but mainly they’re saltwater pearls. They’re put in a particular type of acid wash that removes some of the coloration out of the pearl and it actually gives it this chocolate color. Some of the chocolate colored pearls are expensive if they’re larger sizes and they’re saltwater, but again we’re able to duplicate these in fresh water and you can buy a beautiful strand of the chocolate colored pearls for $200 to $300.

So man has learned to modify nature and we’re able to give you a nice product for a lot less money. Again, the nice part about jewelry is we can adjust it to anybody’s budget by either dying the pearls, by making them in fresh water as opposed to salt water, by coloration and by the finish on them.

I’m Steve Duke, the owner of Westchester Gold & Diamonds. We do deal in pearls. We deal in diamonds. We deal in gold, jewelry and everything else and if you have jewelry repairs that need to be done, we also do that.
Stop by and see us. We are in the Baer Plaza behind ABC Liquors. Westchester Gold and Diamonds is located at 4200F Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte, FL 33952.
Call (941) 625-0666.

Westchester Gold and Diamonds provides services including custom jewelry design, repairs, appraisals and other jewelry and antiques related services. Westchester Gold and Diamonds is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday through Friday; 10:30 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday and by appointment at your home or bank.