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Natural Pearls, Cultured Pearls & The FTC

The Federal Trade Commission is currently reviewing their Jewelry Industry Marketing Guides …and one of the areas that they are seeking public input about is Cultured Pearls.  Hold that thought for a minute, because I am wondering who remembers the story about Mr. Cartier and Natural Pearls. In 1917, Mr. Cartier needed, wanted and desperately sought to purchase the abandoned mansion on the busy corner of 5th Avenue and 52nd Street in NYC.  Although the Cartier family was well known, the owner of the property, Mr. Morton Plant was not impressed.  BTW, Mr. Plant was then a man in his 60’s with a wife in her 20’s.  Mr. Plant was asking $1.5 million for the property and the Cartier family did not have it.  What the Cartier family did have was a double strand of NATURAL PEARLS.  As the story goes, Cartier dangled the pearls in front of the Plant couple.  As husbands with wives a third of their age often do, Mr. Plant first and foremost wanted to keep his wife happy.  So, Plant sold his property valued at $1.5 million for a strand of pearls.  Although Plant didn’t get his desired cash, the transaction (given the value of the natural pearls) was considered a fair trade. Soon after Mrs. Plant died in 1965, the auction house of Parke Beret sold her 5th Avenue pearls.  Can you guess the auction price?  The pearls did not sell for $1.5 million; they did not even sell for a ½ million dollars. The pearls sold for $151,000.  What happened?  The broadly distribution of Cultured Pearls is what happened.  The cultured pearl industry has essentially replaced the Natural pearl industry with production of cultured freshwater, South Sea, Tahitian, and of course….what is considered the classic cultured pearl (salt-water) developed/introduced my Mikimoto:  Akoya Pearls. The FTC is seeking comments for possible revision of their Guides for the Jewelry Industry; FTC guides explain to businesses when/how they should make consumer disclosures to avoid unfair or deceptive trade practices. Regarding Pearls, they are reportedly looking at the word “cultured” and whether it should continue to be used to describe freshwater pearls (as well as traditional/salt-water cultured pearls)….. and whether or not consumers should be told about certain treatments  such as dying pearls—different colors.   August 27th is the deadline for sending comments to the FTC.  

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DIAMONDS & COVERT AFFAIRS

Diamonds & Covert Affairs The Diamond Industry is currently whispering and trying to resolve their concerns & fears regarding synthetic diamonds (i.e. lab-grown). The drama started when recent parcels of synthetic diamonds were submitted to grading labs (in several countries) as natural diamonds. Most industry leaders, however, are calm and confident that detection systems and instruments are effective…and all is well. Yet, as “officials” sourced-back to the suppliers of these covert and fraudulent submissions …there is evidence that even natural Diamonds are surrounded by disturbing fears. Remember the movie “Blood Diamonds”? This Oscar nominated movie told the horrific story of unimaginable human suffering due to diamonds mined in the conflict areas of chaos and civil war that enveloped 1990’s Sierra Leone. A blood diamond, also known as a conflict diamond, is rough diamond used by rebel movements to finance war against legitimate governments. Well, in 2000 The Kimberly Process (KP) began as a joint governments, industry and civil society initiative to stem the flow of conflict diamonds. As of January 2012, KP members account for approximately 99.8% of the global production of rough diamonds and its important work continues throughout the world. In addition, every reputable jeweler in the US participates in the diamond industry’s “System of Warranties” to ensure their jewelry does not include even a single conflict diamond (aka blood diamond). Yet, just a few days ago, a new episode of the TV series, “Covert Affairs” (USA Network) aired with conflict diamonds, again in the spotlight. When pop culture keeps blood diamonds in our conversation, all is not well (even in the US) from my point-of-view. To those of you who don’t follow the show: During a 36 hour assignment, Auggie (CIA) tells his friend and colleague (Annie) about his decision to propose to his new girlfriend (Parker). Now, never mind the “tension”/bond between Annie & Auggie….watch the show for that stuff. Simultaneous with the proposal-plan announcement, however, Auggie shows Annie the engagement ring he purchased. Auggie bought a Pearl Ring—not a Diamond Ring; YIKES, Auggie! He explains to Annie, “I couldn’t go the traditional route, because of the blood diamond trade.” Yes, I shed a tear for Diamonds & Covert Affairs. Diamonds & Pearls are both classics within the world of fashion. Oh, how I love the old movies with Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn wearing their pearls! Yes, I have a strand (or two)…and sometimes I am in the mood to wear a pair of simple, elegant pearl stud earrings. Diamonds, however, are in another league. Only a Diamond is the ultimate symbol of beauty, because a set-diamond is more than a jewelry accessory. Diamonds become part of us as soon as these natural beauties touch our skin. (BTW, pearls can be damaged if they are not gently wiped after being worn or touching our skin.) More importantly, a Diamond remains the ultimate symbol of love. Diamonds communicate what many men cannot seem to get out of their mouths – LOL. So, as I delight in the fact that more and more confident women purchase diamonds for themselves, (refusing to wait for a man to buy them ), many of these same confident women (like me)ALSO remain moved, breathless or teary-eyed when a man pops “the” question with a Diamond Engagement Ring. As the character on “Covert Affairs” chose a pearl stud ring for his engagement ring last week, I shed a tear, because I believe that most women (and some great men) feel the same as me. Above all else, a Diamond means love and publicly “says” love like no other gemstone or gift. My last post, “Changing the World with Jewelry Activism” also spoke of the good Diamonds do for so many throughout the world. In the US, an estimated 80% of engagements remain sealed with a Diamond Engagement Ring (DER), but I am obviously concerned that the DER may not remain the cultural imperative it is. The Diamond Industry must do a better job communicating the status of global Diamond trading. So, this article is my attempt to contribute to that discussion…and I’m not whispering!  

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