Pearls: When it has to be Tahitians

C. emailed about a strand of Tahitians, saying "My heart stopped when I saw them." She asked my opinion regarding a 20-inch vintage necklace from NYC vintage and estate jewellery store Doyle & Doyle. An investment of  $US 9, 800 delivers a 20-inch necklace of 10-14mm grey Tahitians with a pavé diamond (1.59 ct tw) and platinum ball clasp, just in case you want more wattage.  

A luxurious strand, what C. called "a once-in-a lifetime purchase." A new, high-quality necklace like this may easily cost upwards of twice as much—so is this vintage strand worth the price? (All prices shown today are in $US.)

Here's what to think about if you buy any vintage pearls.

1. First, the condition is crucial. Look at them in person, under different light conditions. "Virtual appointments" are not effective for pearls like these. There is a vast difference between pre-owned pearls worn and stored with care and those subjected to endless blasts of Norell and Final Net. Photos may not show lustre or colour accurately; in the photos I cannot quite see the overtones, which doesn't mean they are not there.  

If not knowledgeable, read about Tahitians' characteristics and the grading factors. (Here is a concise guide from PurePearls.) The silver-gray, lighter end of the body colour colour spectrum is not as costly as the blacks with classic peacock overtones, so don't compare prices between necklaces made of paler pearls with those of deeper hue. Tahitian colours are natural with the exception of the deep chocolate ones, which may be dyed—and that should be disclosed. 

2. Terms of sale: If these turn out to not be your forever pearls, what's the consequence?

Doyle & Doyle's return policy offers credit or exchange, but no refund for items over $2, 500. So I'd want to talk to them about that. Often stringent policies are invoked to prevent abuse because there are buyers who order expensive jewellery to wear to a party and then return the goods. Though this company has beautiful antique and vintage jewellery on their site, that is still a $10k commitment.

3. Comparison shop. I sent C. various links, all to new pearls, because assessing the difference is important. There's a benefit to buying secondhand, if the pearls are in very good shape—but I wanted her to see what $10k or less could buy given more choice. (To compare prices for vintage, First Dibs has a number of similar pieces.)

One piece that raised my pulse was this "Ocean Moonlight" 18-inch, 10.5-14.1mm strand from Kamoka Pearls, who are renowned both for their pearls and their leadership in sustainable Tahitian pearl farming. 

Instead of a diamond clasp, there's a lovely keshi-set gold one—and the length is shorter, but they also make custom orders. Price is $6, 785. Kamoka's return policy is a 30-day full refund. 

I felt about to lose all self-control over their Tropical Rainbow strand that contains an extraordinary array of colours; price, $10, 268. Use the link to hover over these astonishing natural colours!

Covetable and colourful: Kojima Company's 19-inch strand of dark Tahitians with glowy green and vibrant cherry overtones—Madonna! 

The shape is round to off-round and they're a bit smaller ( 9.2-12mm) than the vintage necklace. The clasp is silver (but could be changed). Strung on olive green thread, a subtle detail. Price is $1, 620 and there is a 30-day return policy... or send them to me. That's over $8,000 less and worth every penny—and there is a Pearl Month sale during June, with 18% off.

Hunting Tahitians for the Relaxed Real woman

I'd rather have one or two fabulously lustrous Tahitians with ocean-whispering overtones than a full strand of average ones. (Anything at Kamoka is definitely not average.) And, that diamond/platinum clasp is a little oomphy for my life and maybe yours? If you want to wear your T's with a tee, a few options:

Left: Lotus charm earrings from Ehret Design Gallery: Black-silver drops (about 9.7 x 13mm) with peacock iridescence, set on 24k gold vermeil over sterling lotuses; BIN price, $121. (These are pearls from the respected dealer Carolyn Ehret. We should be wary of eBay pearls, but not hers.)

Right: Another Ehret pair: earrings of 12mm black Tahitians with cherry overtones, on simple wires (24k vermeil over sterling). Calmly stunning; price, $165.

I love how Kojima Company loosens up these elite pearls by working with the more unusual shapes like baroques, drops or circlé Tahitians, and Tahitian keshis, little lustrous nuggets.

Top: "Upside down" ring: a 9.9 x 13.9mm green Tahitian drop set pointy side up, and look at those flashy peacock overtones! The 6mm band is double-plated 18k over silver. Size 6.5. Price, $396.

Tiny mix Tahitian keshi bracelet: A range of silver colours from 4-5 mm, strung on olive thread and finished with an infinity clasp. 8.75 inches in length. Price, $243.

A pendant you'll wear with the most casual clothes is a terrific buy. The problem is, most pendants are a pearl on a boring bail.  Here's one that's way above: Kojima's lavish (13.9 x 18mm) Tahitian drop on a detailed, solid 14k bail that slips onto your chain. Price, $504.

Whether C. proceeds to the try-on stage or not, but she is not alone in becoming spellbound. Another reader, Dorothy B., wrote a guest post about buying Tahitians when she too had a coup de coeur trying on these magical gems from the atolls of French Polynesia.   


Laura J said…
Very useful post! Auctions can also be tempting but so many pitfalls. This morning, just before I read your blog, the newsletter from Kohima came in and I spent a lovely time window shopping. I enjoyed reading Dorothy’s essay.
LauraH said…
Those cherry and green tones!! You always manage to make your pearl posts educational as well as beautiful. And not in a dry dusty way. Shared this with a friend, these colours would be perfect for her.
Duchesse said…
Laura J: I once avidly attended auctions, more to learn than buy. If bidding, I'd ask Le Duc to do it as he is not an emotional buyer.

LauraH: Thank you! I only waited till June 1 for a June birthstone pearl post.
I think that those auction pearls aren't worth that steep pricetag. Not even with that clasp. There are to many marks on those tahitians and the color isn't one of the more expensive ones. Personally I see no need for a fancy clasp if the strand is so short that it will probably be hidden behind your head/hair. That kamoka option looks dreamy though.
Duchesse said…
Carlotta Bergquist: First, Doyle & Doyle are not Doyle Auctions (aka Wiulliam Doyle Galeries), though both are in NYC. Doyle & Doyle is a retail boutique. ( If there is a family connection, I could not find it in my research.)

So that is not an auction estimate. IMO a lot of that price is in the platinum/diamond clasp and woman kind of lose their minds when they see "diamond" attached to anything. Clasps can be worn to the die or front so are not always hidden; in fact, it is the only way I would pay a lot for a clasp. I agree, if it's under your hair, why pay for it.

It was once that the darker Tahitians commanded a premium but that has changed, now customers see that black is not the only beautiful hue, and the overtones on the mid-greys can be jawdropping. Once they practically gave away their keshis and circled pearls—not anymore. A French pearl dealer I visited 30 years ago would not even carry baroques... times sure have changed.

I too saw the dents but it is not unusual for good-quality Tahitians; a minor level is permitted in even top grade Tahitians,.

So these pearls are not a bargain.

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