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Sustainability: a new way for pearls to go

Pearls, especially cultured pearls, can be viewed as a renewable resource. Top quality pearls can only be produced if we treat our environment in a good manner. This is a win-win situation that a number of people involved in the pearl industry have been aware of for a long time. In a recent conversation with Laurent Cartier, co-founder and lead researcher of Sustainable Pearls with extensive visits to pearl farming areas more than 10 countries in the past three years, shared some of his research outcomes with Hong Kong Jewellery, discussing responsible and sustainable pearl production in better quality and economic profit.

Sustainability has become a widely used term, but what does it mean in the context of pearls? “Sustainability means that development meets present needs without compromising the needs of future generations. This also means that environmentally, you don’t destroy the ocean. You will still be able to produce pearls for a century from now. There are three pillars that include an environmental pillar, a social pillar which is related to the producers and surrounding communities, and an economic pillar which is linked to business and profits,” explained Cartier on the definition of sustainability.

“Ultimately, if a pearl producer operates sustainably, they ensure that their environment will continue to be able to produce high-quality pearls and can thereby operate profitably in the long run,” he emphasized.

“A recent consumer market research has shown that there is a niche market where consumers are interested in traceable pearls with a story, and they may be willing to pay a premium for this kind of product,” he added.

This consumer market survey was carried out by Julie Nash of Sustainable Pearls in collaboration with MVI Marketing on US consumers. It showed that consumers would be more interested in pearls if sustainability is communicated in a tangible manner. This is an increasing trend as a younger generation of consumers is more and more interested in sustainability in general. Demand for and interest in fair and ethical trade is also increasing in the jewellery industry. Corporate social responsibility is a theme that is being widely discussed by jewellery industry leaders, for example, at CIBJO congresses or the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC).

In major pearl farms in Australia, Fiji, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, and Tahiti marine conservation and pearl farming area, protection is vital for business development and sustainability of the pearl trade itself. This is why world-renowned pearl producers such as Jewelmer and Paspaley have integrated different environmental conservation practices and sustainable farming techniques into their production cycles and marketing strategies.

“For producers, sustainability is one route to go in marketing their pearls. It is not just about having a logo saying ‘sustainable pearls’. The idea is that every producer has a different story to tell if that story can reach the end-consumers in meaningful ways there is huge potential,” Cartier said.

“The reason is that culture, history, origin and emotions are a bridge between jewellery and consumers. It is not only about spreading generic pearl education to consumers, it is also our wish that pearls should be traceable all the way back to the farm and its story which helps create value, as each producer and environment has a unique story,” he explained.

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