The World’s Finest

Paspaley Pearls

Each perfectly matched Paspaley strand is marked with a signature seamless set, brilliant cut diamond – emblematic of the passion and elegance embodied by the third generation Australian family-owned and operated pearling company and its unrivalled Australian South Sea pearls.

Paspaley has a rich history in Australia in pearl production, supplying its fine pearls to jewellery houses throughout the world’s largest markets including the US, Europe, China, and Japan. Yet, although the company has been operating in the retail arena for close to a quarter century, it has not been until the past ten years that Paspaley Pearls began to truly flourish as a retailer, quickly leaping from just three Australian boutiques to ten globally, including locations in the Middle East and Hong Kong.

“With the GFC everyone waited to see how everything was going to shake out, but our retail businesses remained strong,” says James Paspaley, Executive Director and grandson of the company’s founder Nicholas Paspaley.

“We are a family business that has been around for more than seventy-five years that has committed generations of its life to creating these wonderful pearls. We believe in them so passionately that we hold them all the way from the sea to where we part with them into the consumer’s hands so that we can tell the consumer personally how special they are.”

Growing up in the context of a family business, James Paspaley recalls how stories of his father and grandfather would be passed on to him as a child. Most striking to his recollection was the subject of all the stories told and in all the conversations he had with his father:

“My childhood was always interesting to me because I would hear stories about my father and about which direction the pearling company would go, and hear people’s versions of what occurred. The funny thing was I never ever heard my father talking about anything other than his own business. He wasn’t focused on what ‘Bob’ was doing down the road, he was focussed on what he was doing today.”

That personal dedication and passion is what still drives the company today, Mr Paspaley says. “We’re not worried about what the competition is doing, we’re worried about what we’re doing and getting that right every day.”

Essential to the company’s success at staying current in the marketplace despite its offer of a considerably traditional product has been “a little bit of luck and a little bit of planning.” In the last ten or so years, says Mr Paspaley, the third generation has stepped up to notable roles within the company, with particular interest in the retail aspect of the business.

Specifically, Mr Paspaley cites the jewellery design team – designers Jürgen Kammler and Catherine Büman, alongside his cousin, Creative Director Christine Salter. “She’s an elegant young woman,” says Mr Paspaley, “so it’s easy to stay modern and fresh if you are modern and fresh. We are also working with another young female designer named Catherine and again, her style is very different than Jürgen’s style. Having three designers that bring different ideas, styles and tastes to the table, you get a more interesting collection.”

The company also works with a large number of prestigious independent jewellery designers to ensure its beautiful pearls are fully utilised and appreciated. “We’ve had our in-house team doing the in-house collection, and we also every year go out and see what’s interesting and new and wonderful in the world and talk to extraordinary designers to commission pieces to do for us. I think with that approach, we manage to keep things a little dynamic.”

The company, explains Mr Paspaley, eschews the idea of being fashionable per se. “I think fashionable is a dangerous word when it comes to jewellery. You have your summer, fall, winter spring, collections; you don’t want to see last year’s collection next year. In my opinion, fine quality jewellery is not fashionable. It has to be current, it has to be modern, and it has to be interesting; above all else, it has to be beautiful.

“When you walk into a luxury retailer of any product, you want it to be interesting and I think you need to have a combination of two things… you need to have a really wonderful mix of old world service and modern convenience.”

The same can be said for the company’s approach to its new e-boutique. Being in that online space requires certain foundations: “It must work fundamentally; it can’t crash. You need to get to the product you’re looking for quickly and efficiently, you want to be able to order it quickly and efficiently, and you want it to arrive quickly.”

Paspaley Pearls has also introduced a unique online personal shopper feature, of which Mr Paspaley says many customers have been quick to take advantage. “A lot of people like to jump on, they like to look around and find the product, but then they want to talk to a human again. So that’s how you still can get your old world, personal experience. I think modern retail is all about managing that balance, particularly in luxury.”

In addition to that experience, Mr Paspaley asserts that longevity within the luxury goods industry ultimately comes down to maintaining the utmost in quality standards. “We pride ourselves on having no artificial colour, no artificial lustre; it’s just how natural pearls look. That’s often misunderstood as being that we have an issue with the treatment of pearls but that’s not the case. There are some pearls that we produce which absolutely should be treated – they should be bleached, they should be treated, they should be dyed to look better, but the customer buying them should be told that that’s what they’re buying.”

To that end, he contends that whilst there is certainly a strong market for ubiquitous Chinese Freshwater pearls, the fact that they are so easily produced renders them no real competition for an Australian South Sea pearl.

“I think there is a market for everything in the same way that there is a market for cubic zirconium,” he states. “I think Swarovskis are wonderful crystals, but they don’t pretend to be diamonds. It is the same thing for Chinese freshwater pearls – there is a market for them, just not terribly valuable. They’re not terribly expensive to produce, and they’re not terribly rare.”

Chinese freshwater pearls are produced in the thousands of tonnes in dams and lakes little more sophisticated than a prawn farm. Contrast that to the start-to-end dedicated process employed by the Paspaley family, and you will begin to understand the incredible miracle that is an Australian South Sea Pearl.

“Australia is the last country on earth that has a commercially sustainable supply of the wild animal,” explains Mr Paspaley. “Every year our fleet of dive ships go out and we hand collect with divers the wild shell from the beach. We then begin seeding and the farming process for the pearl shell.”

These incredibly finicky and fragile oysters in fact require pristine environmental conditions to thrive and therefore create flawless pearls.

“It’s one of those things you have to witness to understand. With our customers, every chance we get we say: ‘Listen, jump on the plane with us and fly down to one of the dive sites, and we’ll show you what we do down there.’ And even though they’ve read it and seen it and they are far more exposed to it than most people are, when they go and put their hands on the tools and see the areas that we actually are in, it still amazes them.

“Our farm sites are more than a hundred miles from the nearest populations. They’re in areas where we have as much as eleven metres of tidal movement. An enormous tidal range, with lack of pollution, and nutrient-rich tropical waters are what sustain this animal and if you don’t have those things, you have no hope. One of the key drivers for all valuable goods is rarity and with limited areas and limited environmental area that these animals will exist in, you have this sort of natural barrier to production.”

Because of these requirements, explains Mr Paspaley, Australia will never produce very large quantities of south sea pearls.

“It comes down to that little miracle of nature. It’s the miracle so much that is at the heart of the romance. It’s the miracle that holds all the intrigue. Like with antiques; it’s that little bit of romance and history that comes with the real thing with authenticity that is valuable.”

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January 16, 2019, 3:58 PM AEDT