Munich. Feb. 17, 2020. Jörg Gellner of Gellner Pearls knows firsthand that when fine pearls go to auction, everybody wants to get their hands on the highly reflective multicolor ones. “We’re competing with Mikimoto, Tasaki—everyone wants those pearls,” he explained from the floor of the Inhorgenta fair in Munich yesterday. (Inhorgenta runs Feb. 14–17.)
So, to ensure he had improved access to ones from longtime peer, friend, and renowned pearl farmer Robert Wan, Gellner came up with a plan: If Wan would guarantee him access to a certain number, Gellner would brand them as unique in the world of Tahitian pearls. This is how Marutea Private Culture, named after Wan’s Marutea Sud island in the Tuamotu archipelago of French Polynesia, was born. Marutea debuted at the Inhorgenta fair.
“Diamond dealers charge more for fancy intense yellow stones, but we don’t really do this in pearls—market rare pearls as special,” he says. “Pearl sellers sometimes don’t even understand how precious some pearls are, like the top, most intense colors and metallic surfaces.”
Most Tahitian pearls grow in light-to-dark shades of gray (“The 50 shades of gray,” jokes Gellner) of the black-lipped Pinctada margaritifera cumingii oysters, making exotic peacock colors and metallic overtones unique and overwhelmingly available in only small quantities.
In Marutea, the color—not the shape or surface blemishes—is key. The hues are on the cool side and are super metallic in silver tones featuring variations of peacock shades of blue and green to pink- or violet-green, silvery-green, gold, red, violet, and deep silver. For sure, they glow under light.
The top 100 strands sold get certificates of authenticity signed by Gellner, who also sells even rarer Fijian pearls from Justin Hunter of J. Hunter pearls in Savusavu, Fiji.
Fijian pearls, too, have wildly vibrant hues, like cherry and deep green along with metallic overtones, but production and staffing is more limited and specialized than in Tahiti, resulting in prices that are several times higher than Marutea pearls.
In Tahiti, wild spat (baby oysters) is abundant in the remote and protected atolls and easily caught. In Fiji, spat grows in only a handful of hatcheries and requires special feeding and care until they grow to maturity and are ready for culturing. Also in Fiji, implanted oysters are mainly cultured in open oceans, not protected bays like in Tahiti, making Fijian pearls more susceptible to harm. Finally, there are the grafters who, in Tahiti, oftentimes have the reputation of being less skilled versus pricier ones from Japan who frequently work at Hunter’s farm in Fiji. Finally, there is the quantity of Fijians versus Marutea; Fiji grows a significantly smaller number of pearls because of the lack of producers there.
“Tons of pearls come out of Tahiti, and Robert Wan has about 20 percent of the market share,” adds Gellner.
Still, the overall prices are exclusive as the product; Marutea pearls cost at least 30 percent more than other Tahitians. Average sizes of Marutea pearls are 9–14 mm.
Thus far at Inhorgenta, Gellner has sold 250 strands—nearly everything he brought, including an unheard-of 21.3 mm pearl. And while Gellner bought a lot of these special colors of pearls, he is not allowed to buy all from Wan’s inventory. “That wouldn’t be fair,” he notes. Plus, all the top, top-quality Marutea-color pearls end up in Asia where buyers demand perfect shapes and blemish-free surfaces. Marutea pearls are more accessible, with finished retail jewelry prices starting at €495 and strands starting at €1,500 retail and topping out around €100,000.
Marutea pearl jewelry starts at €495 for a cord bracelet and strands start at €1,500 retail, topping out around €100,000.
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