3 Secret Strategies That Made Assael a Fortune

The story of the black pearl magnate

Nouman A.
How They Made Money
4 min readJul 18, 2020


Photo by Nils Lindner on Unsplash

It’s peculiar. It’s genius.

James Assael, an Italian peal-business titan, was the Micheal Jordan of selling. Selling an already in-demand product is one thing, but creating a demand for a product no one knows about and then selling it to the cream of society is a whole new battle.

Did he win?

World’s best-known jewelers like Tiffany & Company, Cartier and Harry Winston carried his pearls. His personal clients included 1940s TV-sensation Elizabeth Taylor and UK’s former prime minister Margaret Thatcher. His company, Assael International became the biggest importer and trader of black pearls in the U.S.

When prime ministers and top industry models are seen using your products, that right there is called success.

For most of the products that are being sold, there is already a need, and therefore, a market for them. But Assael made Tahitian black pearls famous, which had been living under the shadows of their beautiful white cousins.

So how did he pull it off?

His first campaign, however, was a total failure. The black pearls were displayed for a year without a single sale. After this failure, Assael understood something crucial. He understood that people just saw black pearls as some new black stones.

To change their perception about his product from stones to pearls, he first needed to make people value these black pearls like they value their white cousins. Consequently, he summoned the psychological principles humans are wired with.

The Imprinting Effect

Assael ran an advertisement campaign in all the big-time magazines. In his ad, the black Tahitian pearls glowed among a spray of diamonds, rubies, and emeralds.

“Assael anchored his pearls to the finest gems in the world and the prices followed forever after,” says Gerald Zaltman in his book How Customers Think.

Here is an interesting concept: After their birth, the gosling gets attached to the first thing they see and follow it around everywhere. According to naturalists, the same concept is common among humans. When we buy a new product for the first time at a particular price, we become anchored to that price.

Did you see the genius in Assael’s ad? By showing the black pearls, diamonds, rubies, etc in the same picture, he imprinted to the mass majority that black pearls are as rare, and therefore, as valuable as diamond or emeralds.


Assael met Harry Winston, the legendry gemstone dealer. This gent agreed to display black stones on his shop front with an extravagant price tag. This outrageous tag next to these shiny black pearls made people think that these new black pearls are no joke.

Here is an example: A few months back, I was asked to find a good designer on Upwork to re-design our website. I found and liked two freelancers. One of them was charging $30 an hour and the other guy demanded $125 an hour.

Long story short, I could not help but think that this guy with a $125 per hour tag on his forehead is the real deal. It’s the same with pearls.

Expensive = Damn good stuff.

Furthermore, the higher the price, the more difficult it is to achieve it, therefore we find it more valuable. The harder it is to get something, the more you want it.

Robert Cialdini, the author of the best book for marketers Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, writes:

“When British Airways announced in 2003 that they would no longer be operating the twice-daily London to New York Concorde flight because it had become uneconomical to run, sales the very next day took off.”

The service did not improve, the Concorde did not fly any faster. The only thing changed was that the service had become scarce, and as a result, people wanted it more.

It’s deep down in human psychology. There is no surprise that the big-giants actively use scarcity to sell like crazy.

Supreme, the US street-wear brand is the scarcity king. They purposely produce fewer products than demand, causing the limited edition product drops to sell out in minutes. Their hype is real. Most of the time customers get their hands on limited edition stuff and resell it for 10x more.

Herd Mentality

Time passed. These pearls from the bottom of the Polynesian islands found themselves on the necks of the most reputable women in Chicago. It became a new trend for the rich.

Now, when the cream of society is doing something, the middle and lower-middle-class cannot help but desire the same thing.

There is a concept in sociology called the herd mentality. It means that when we see a lot of people doing something, we feel like it’s the right thing to do.

Think about it. We all follow successful creatives that we look up to. We buy their courses, we listen to their advice, only because we want to be more like them. You get the picture.

I have said it before and I’ll say it again:

“If you know what you are doing, you can even sell sand to an Arab.”

First of all, Assael believed that his new product is as good as rubies, diamonds, and whatnot. Secondly, he had the right tools in his locker to prove it to the mass majority.

Using powerful psychological strategies like the imprinting effect, scarcity, and herd mentality, he convinced the cream of society to buy his pearls and caused the rest to fantasize and talk about ‘em. Consequently, this made him a fortune.

Stay curious.




Nouman A.
How They Made Money

I write about the marketing strategies that made brands millions