What a Bargain! …Right?

Dear Reader,

Why are precious stones and metals like diamonds, gold, and emeralds precious? Of course, like most things, this boils down to economics and the simple principle of supply and demand. Because so many of us value these products and they don’t exactly grow on trees, we have unwittingly made these items of high value. While I was not in the market for diamonds, I started thinking about “value” when I was shopping on J Crew’s website.

Unfortunately, due to the pandemic-related economic crisis, many stores and restaurants are closing their doors for good. J Crew, the specialty retailer, shares the same miserable fate. Although I like the clothing at J Crew, I have never shopped there as $30 t-shirts and even $8 socks are well out of my price range. However, now that J Crew has filed for bankruptcy there are very many sales featuring items up to 70% off (gasp!). Forever allured by cheap stuff, I happily navigated to the sale section of the store’s website.

I saw a pearl necklace online that was priced at $98, however, with a few discounts the final price (including tax and shipping) came down to a mere $20.40 —a bargain! Although I am not in the habit of buying any jewelry, the thought of possessing a pearl piece so cheaply compelled me to click “pay.”

When I received the package a week or so later, I was underwhelmed. Was this necklace indeed worth $98? You know how fake silk (a polyester blend) feels scratchy and coarse while real silk feels luxuriously smooth? Or, how faux leather (a different polyester blend) feels like flakey plastic while genuine leather feels natural? The difference between the simulation and the original was one I was hoping to detect between my new real pearls and my other plastic jewelry. I felt the smooth pearl surface with my thumb trying to extract some value from it, however, to my insensitive appendage the gem could have easily been mistaken for hard plastic. In an attempt to feel the beauty of the pearl, I also rubbed the necklace on my cheek, lips, and even tongue. Nothing. These pearls did not really feel any more special than plastic. Even when I clicked two pearl beads together all I heard was a plastic-y clang.

Are pearls actually valuable and if so why? I did a quick Google search and found the following information. Depending on their origins, a strand of pearls can be worth anywhere between $50 and a whopping $100,000. There are two main types of pearls: natural pearls, which are found in the sea and cultured pearls, which are created using a pearl farming technique. Both are 100% genuine, however, the cultured pearls are far less rare and impressive than their natural counterparts. The pearls on my necklace must positively be of the cultured variety.

J Crew

As I look now again at the jewelry section of J Crew’s website, it looks like none of these pieces really merit their value. For example, this knotted necklace shown above is a twisted cotton cord with a gold platted chain. How much would you pay for this? If you would like to guess, I have left the retail value in the postscript of this entry.

J Crew

Additionally, take a gander at this “acetate” (aka special plastic) piece. What price tag would you expect for this little number? (answer at the end of this post)

To me, these necklaces look like costume jewelry on their own. However, when these necklaces, the pearl one, and several other pieces are displayed together in the J Crew jewelry section, something magical happens and everything looks a little shinier and more valuable. Perhaps, it is the double and triple digit price tags accompanying these pictures which make the items look more precious, however, I think the cheerleader effect (the cognitive bias which causes people to think individual parts are more attractive when they are in a group), fabulous lighting, and the J Crew brand, probably significantly inflate the value of any of these items.

At the end of the day, you get what you pay for, I suppose. If you value a pearl necklace enough to pay $98, then you get a $98 pearl necklace. If you are like me and you only value the pearl necklace at $20, then, perhaps, you only receive a $20 pearl necklace — just a thought.

Happy shopping!



Cotton cord necklace — original price $79.50

Acetate necklace — original price $49.50

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