Guides for Retailers
The regulations about marketing pearls are listed in the FTC’s Guides for the Jewelry, Precious Metals, and Pewter Industries. The guide is very specific about what retailers should call a pearl. Gems that are created when a mollusk is nucleated must be called “cultured pearls.” “Imitation pearls” are any product that is designed to look like a pearl. “Seed pearls” are a small pearl that measures less than 2 mm.
The FTC goes into specifics to help make sure consumers are protected from nuances between the differences in pearls and pearl products. “Cultured” or “cultivated” must always be used to describe cultured pearls.
Imitation pearls must be referred to as “simulated,” “artificial” or “imitation.” Terms like “faux pearl,” “mother of pearl” or “fashion pearl” cannot be used to describe an imitation pearl. The imitations also cannot be referred to as “part-cultured” or any other term that might mislead customers into believing they are cultured pearls. Imitations cannot be described as “real,” “precious” or “genuine.” They also cannot be described as “synthetic.”
Only saltwater cultured pearls can be referred to as “Oriental pearls.” Any pearl described as South Sea pearls have to be from the areas generally known for that variety. Biwa cultured pearls have to be from lakes or rivers in Japan, but not necessarily Lake Biwa.
Because to be candidates for faceting the pearls have to be perfectly unblemished, perfectly round and thick nacre, the value of faceted pearls is double of a similar-quality pearl. Demand is particularly high in the United States.
Jewelers are required to tell consumers if a pearl product has been treated or dyed if it changes the value of the pearl, the pearl requires special care or if the treatment may not be permanent. That being said, most cultured pearls do undergo some sort of treatment before they hit the retail market.
When choosing a retailer, consumers should be sure that they are following the FTC guidelines. Check to see if the pearls are referred to as “cultured pearls” Virtually every piece of pearl jewelry today is made from cultured pearls. If the retailer sells imitation pearls as well, be sure they are marked accordingly.