Pearl Parties Are A Thing Now, And We Have Questions

by Christine Burke
Originally Published: 
Matteo Columbo/ Getty Images

My husband surprised me with a set of pearl earrings for our first wedding anniversary. Nestled in a blue velvet box, the creamy white pearls with gold posts were the fanciest jewelry I owned. Classic and simple, I wear them regularly to this day. I have no idea where he purchased them, but I can guarantee you that he did not purchase them from a pearl party televised live on Facebook.

Yes, pearl parties are a thing now.

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For those not cultured enough to be on top of pearl jewelry trends, pearl parties involve a hostess, oysters, and a very sharp knife. Oh, and an audience of mostly women to oooh and ahh over the mystery pearl that the hostess pops out of the oyster. The hostess, whether in person or on a Facebook live feed, will open an oyster, usually with a lot of squealing and excitement, and proclaim that the recipient just cracked open a rare find. The pearl can then be set into a variety of settings.

Whether you are in the market for a necklace or a ring, a pearl party hostess won’t clam up when you ask her to help you design the perfect pearl trinket!

Apparently the pearl party fun started in 1987 when Joan Hartel Cabral was on vacation in Hawaii. Enamored by the tourist attraction of opening pearls in person, Cabral decided to start Vantel Pearls, a company that would bring the excitement of opening pearls right to your kitchen table. That’s right! Joan saw a store owner open a slimy, salty oyster and push out a pearl like a pimple popping video and she (probably) thought, “What woman wouldn’t want oyster slime all over her kitchen table? I mean, if the smell of rotting oyster flesh and the sound of cracking shells doesn’t constitute a rager of a good time, what does?” Because who wouldn’t think that, right?

And, though pearl parties originally started as direct sales at-home parties, these days, most pearl vendors now use Facebook live to share their exciting finds in oysters they are apparently keeping in buckets in their living rooms.

I can’t make this shit up. This is happening, and it’s gaining momentum.

In doing research for this piece, I “attended” several live pearl parties and, I have to say, they are very entertaining events. One vendor sang Adele songs and squealed for almost two solid hours as she hacked open oysters with pearls nestled inside. And, you guys, I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but, when you strike it rich and find an oyster with two pearls inside, well, let’s just say it’s cause for much jubilation. They call them “twins,” or more accurately “Oh my god, twiiiiiins!” You can have a set of earrings when you find two!

Ladies, we need to have a chat because I’m about to send waves crashing through your oyster party parade.

Now, I am not judging you if you are going into this with both clam shells open, but, ladies, if you think you are buying a high quality pearl at 2 a.m. from a woman wearing a headband with Australian flags, heed my pearls of wisdom: you are being scammed.

Aw, shucks, I know, it’s upsetting news. Oyster glad I told you now, though, before you threw more money down the drain?

There are two kinds of pearls, freshwater and saltwater pearls, and naturally occurring pearls are rare AF. Naturally occurring pearls are usually found in the Persian Gulf, but, ladies, even if your pearl party rep is in the Persian Gulf area, you still aren’t striking it rich when your oyster reveals a grey, six inch, one of a kind pearl. Nope, chances are, the pearl you just paid $78 for is a regular, run of the mill freshwater pearl that can be purchased wholesale for about $3.50.

Both freshwater and saltwater pearls are “cultured,” or created by workers who insert a piece of oyster shell into a mollusk and incubate the debris for anywhere from 6 months to six years in order to produce a pearl that can then be marketed. Akoya pearls are made in Akoya shells in Japan and China while freshwater pearls are cultivated in lakes and ponds.

And, spoiler alert: freshwater pearls are harvested from mollusks, not actual oysters. That’s right, the pearls from pearl parties are inserted into oysters just before packaging. Sorry to crack down on your fun but it’s the truth.

Oh, and by the way, if the urge to celebrate your new pearl includes sucking down the yummy oyster meat as a special treat, don’t. Just don’t. The oysters used for pearl parties aren’t edible, so you can just toss that idea right back into the ocean.

The real scam of this endeavor is when you find a pearl you love and you want a match for a pair of earrings. Pearl party attendees will pay large sums of money to their hostess in hopes of finding a matching sized pearl. The hostess will whip everyone into a frenzy as she frantically cracks open oyster after oyster in hopes of satisfying her customer’s whim.

Further, pearl party companies valuation tools are questionable, too. According to Vantel, their valuations are based on the National Pearl Association’s standards. In an interview with Buzzfeed, Jeremy Shepherd, the treasurer and marketing director of the Cultured Pearl Association of America, says,”To be completely honest, I think they pulled that name out of a dark crack somewhere.” The National Pearl Association does not exist and, according to industry experts, the NPA is a fabrication of pearl companies looking to scam customers. Mother of pearl!

But, here’s the thing, ladies: pearls really aren’t all that expensive in jewelry stores. That $450 you just dropped at a Facebook live party will buy you a pretty sweet ass necklace in a local jewelry store. Total bonus: you won’t have to sit through three hours of screeching and suspense to see if your dream of owning black pearl drop earrings will come true.

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