Author Archives: WendyG

Bangkok pearl factory

Head of Amsterdam Pearls Cees Van Oije invited me to visit Bangkok and to go around a sea pearls processing factory in the city.

This was a much bigger operation than the one I visited last year in China. It processed Akoya, South Sea and Tahitian pearls. Nevertheless the processes were just about identical. Pearls came in, were cleaned, sorted, drilled or not drilled, strung, graded and readied for the wholesale market.

akoya pearls

Minutely tiny natural colours akoyas. It’s hard to see but some of these tiny tiny pearls were vivid blue

tiny akoya

Imagine having to sort and assemble these tiny pearls into strands. Phew!

pwearls

More tiny pearls

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

north window

Sorting pearls using natural light from a north facing window

pearl drill

State of the art pearl drill. The cups are controlled by foot pedal and adjust to the correct pressure, both sides drill at once and when the cups release the pearl drops down a chute into a bowl

rows of graders

Pearls are made into strands using grooved boards and bamboo tweezers in front of a north facing window. The workday at the factory starts early to make the most of the north light

 

tahitian pearls

Tahitian pearls waiting to be sorted and graded

White South Sea pearls

White South Sea pearls

 

 

Hong Kong Spring. First Pearls

Some of the roundish south sea pearls- various golds, greys and whites

This is a combined entry for the first two days here in Hong Kong at the spring jewellery show as this is the first chance I have had to write anything. It’s been busy since I arrived on Tuesday morning and went straight from Hong Kong airport to the show at nearby Asia World Expo centre .

I’ve spent the time finding some very special pearls..mostly some gorgeous south sea blues, golds and yes, some greens. I haven’t even tried to make pairs yet, just gone through bags and bags and bags of pearls to find those few I want to bring to you, as well as work with myself. One of the exciting side effects of being here is that my design brain wakes up and I find ideas popping up..(sometimes in what is the middle of the night here, but daytime in my head still) Of these ideas more in due course as they blossom.

white baroque south sea

I love this little fella! Large baroque white south sea pearl with blue googly eyes

 

The £ is sickly here…only three years ago one GBP bought $14.5HK and $1.60 USD. Now when I changed my money last night the best I could find was $9.56.HK and the USD is at 1.22. So prices will have to rise.

Breaking today’s HKD rate is 9.53. It just gets worse)

Anyway.here are some photos of the pearls!

 

two south sea strands

I’m dashing off now for day three. captions etc later!

Pearl opening parties – a new scam

Pearl opening companies seem to be popping up all around the world, certainly in the UK and on facebook in the last couple of weeks or so.

This pearl opening thing has been around for years. Every so often someone will come up to one of us and say they got this pearl at some place which had a tank of oysters and they picked one and it had a pearl in it. In one place in America I heard of boys diving off a pier to get the shells, which is a dramatic bit of scene setting.

They cause our hearts to sink. The pearls are invariably low quality freshwater pearls, but the customer will have been told that the pearl is worth £££ and is rare and very valuable. I never know whether to be honest and blow the smoke away or just gush about what a wonderful pearl etc etc

pearl opening

You can have the poor oyster in a tin – $1 a time.

These set ups are always a money making scam to some degree or other. I have yet to see one which sells genuine akoya pearls of any value. Mostly they sell low quality freshwater pearls in plated findings for – I just saw one on facebook – £35 which is outrageous

 

 

 

 

pearl opening

You can have them in a box, with a silver tone finding for $1.30 (min order 100)

The scam goes like this. The operator buys pickled oyster shells from either a wholesaler in the UK  or America or direct from china. They are vacuum packed and dead. The poor things have had a random freshwater pearl shoved into them. The process is that the pearl is inserted into a live young akoya oyster shell and then the whole is dumped into a chemical bath which makes it snap closed, and kills and preserves it. Then it is vacuum packed or tinned and sold to one of the companies at the top of the supply pyramid.

There is one company which has been recruiting sellers hard and promoting these parties, because they are selling the preserved shells and findings at a huge mark up and controlling the drilling and setting of the pearls. Big profit for them.

The party works by someone signing up to buy some of these tinned oysters and asociated stuff and told a load of nonsense about what they are. They organised a website and facebook page and get people to join an online  video ‘party’ where with a lot of whooping and hysteria, the huckster then opens one of these in front of a webcam and  – wow – you have this pearl. The huckster will give a ridiculous appraisal that the pearl is worth much money. (no it is not)

Or the opening is done in the shop or the end of the pier. But the pearl inside is yours. And, not only do you have this pearl now, but you can buy the finding -some basket pendant holder usually – to display it. And it only costs £££.

I tracked down one UK wholesaler. These pickled and vacuum packed shells cost between $1 and $2 a pop. Never more, even when packed individually in a box with a silver tone finish pendant finding. That wholesaler is selling them for £80 for five! I am in the wrong business.
The operator opens the pearl and tells you your pearl is worth £££.
It is not.

pearl opening

Vacuum packed, so you can opening them in front of a webcam- popular on facebook. $1.20 each


There are also suspicions that there is some pyramid selling going on, and I heard over the weekend of two people in America who have thought they would start up these horrible operations and have lost their money by being sent empty boxes

I’ve not yet seen a website with one of these companies which complies with UK and EU law on returns or on contact details . These are invariably low quality freshwater pearls – akoya pearls do not come in shocking pink or peach, and certainly not ready dyed black! Plus the chemical liquid in which they are preserved is probably toxic.

If I sound cross about this nonsense and scam it is because I am. It is dishonest and wrong

pearl opening

Just another example. These were the cheapest – 85cents US each


If you want great pearls talk to us – We go to Hong Kong to personally select every single pearl on the website. Our business is open, pays its taxes, is a ltd company with bona fides, complies with all the UK law, you have an address for me, you can talk to us, make returns, and we’ve been going for more than 15 years.

Shop here for finished jewellery

Shop here for bespoke commission work

Shop here for loose pearls to make into jewellery

Update

Information for a class action is being gathered in the USA. If you have had involvement with this nonsense either as a buyer or seller in the US please contact https://www.classaction.org/vantel-pearls-lawsuits who will be taking action in the ninth circuit.

In the UK contact Trading Standards and the Citizens’ Advice Bureau

Latest

There’s a new video on youtube debunking the claims by sellers of these pearls that pearls change colour when wet/dry .They don’t. The sellers are lying, they are sending out different pearls to you. More scam, more deceit. Pearls do not change colour when wet.

it’s here (with demonstrations of pearls all staying exactly the same), as made by my friend Laura , who was so dismayed by this whole pearl opening deceit she started a Facebook debunk page (here https://www.facebook.com/PearlPartyEducation/?hc_ref=NEWSFEED&fref=nf )

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n3ju1wl-hH

And also

There is no such organisation as The National Pearl Association of the United States. In America you have the Cultured Pearl Association of America. In the UK we Have the British Pearl Association. The NPAUS is a made up thing to try to add credibility to a pearl opening wholesaler company’s totally ridiculous and fraudulent pearl value chart.

This chart, being shown to pearl opening punters assigns values to pearls. The values are absurd, not going to happen. No respectable pearl dealer would have anything to do with such a chart. Every pearl has a different value. arrived at by negotiation and with experience. If you are shown such a chart it is okay to laugh. Tell the person showing you that we said it was okay to laugh cos the chart is a joke with no basis in an honest pearl business

Finally…We’ve looked at some of the websites supplying pearl parties. They hide. They want your money but they do not give a mail address, just email. Ask yourself – does any reputable business hide where they are? Of course not.

Poke pearls

When I’m not up to my elbows in pearls I try to catch pokemon. When I was in Hong Kong I was struck (although not literally of course!) by how some pearls resemble pokemon. I came up with the idea of Poke pearls.

Huge Tahtian poke pearl

Huge Tahtian poke pearl

I spent several hours on the last day of the show delving around the show to find the quirkiest of the tahitian and south sea pearls. They made me smile. They are not serious grown up pearls, they are silly and fun pearls, but if you are a pokemon trainer..maybe you’ll enjoy too. I hope so!

We’ve given them their own section on the website

http://www.pearlescence.co.uk/index.php/cPath/293

blue south sea pearl

Blue south sea little figure poke pearl

blue south sea pearl

Little dancing blue south sea poke pearl

Jewelmer new collection

South sea pearl company Jewelmer has launched a new collection. The pearls are, of course as stunning as you might expect but what has Pearlescence drooling in this video are the workshops and the craftsmen and women.

Jewelmer launches the Wynn Wynn Ong collection

We’re so jealous that they have the skills and kit to create such stunning pieces. Enjoy the video.

Sustainable pearls, ethical pearls.

I’ve had several enquiries recently about sustainable pearls and/or ethical pearls. (the terms seem to be used interchangeably). The standard pearl industry answer is that it is impossible to supply sustainable pearls or ethical pearls because pearls from many sources get mixed together indistinguishably in their journey between farm and wearer.

Most pearl farms are sustainable and ethical because they are often staffed by family, or with a small local staff which helps the local economy and in any case pearl farms have to be environmentally pretty sound because all molluscs are ready to die off at the least excuse – too hot, too cold, too salty, too brackish, too freshwater (sea pearl farms can be wiped out by a series of thunderstorms inland diluting the saline environment near a delta for example). They are all like Goldilocks, everything must be just right. Then they can reject the graft, get infected, get choked by weeds so they starve.

But most pearls on sale travel from farm to pearl factory to wholesaler to importer to local wholesaler to retailer. At Pearlescence we cut out a couple of those stages as we usually buy pearls which travel farm to factory to wholesaler to us. For most sea pearls – gold, blue and white south seas, Tahitian and Akoya this is true, and for all freshwater pearls.

But, on the plane on the way to Hong Kong I had plenty of time to think (oh how I wish Hong Kong was a bit nearer!) and realised that I know enough sea pearl farmers and farms individually to cover most types of salt water pearls (yes to Tahitian, Sea of Cortez and Vietnamese Akoya) . Freshwater pearls were going to be the problem, simply because they invariably go from farm to pearl factory where the harvests from many farms is mixed, graded, blended, treated and turned into wholesale-ready product.

(This blog post will also dispel the myth put about by some freshwater pearl seller that they buy pearls direct from the farm and their stock is full of strands)

As the flight progressed I remembered that I know one family with its own small factory. The result was that before I left a 1 kilo scoop of pearls had been taken from a lot of pearls as they came into the factory, before any treatment, mixing, sorting or anything was done to them. Nothing done except a quick wash.

pearls from one pearl farm

The bag of pearls, just as they came from the farm to the factory, before any processing

The more I look at them the more fascinating this snapshot of the production from one Chinese pearl farm is. The colour is predominantly a pale peach, with degrees up to pretty orange. Most of the pearls are elliptical or potato, with lots of buttons too. Sizes range from a couple of mm to about 12mm with around 7mm to 8mm being the average. Most pearls have a decent surface, although some have rings. But it is the quality of the lustre which is most intriguing. Most of the lustre is around A+ or AA. There are quite a few pearls with no lustre at all, completely flat and dull,while maybe a hundred have enough lustre and colour for me to buy them. There’s even a single white tiny rosebud/granulated pearl!

bad pearls

Here are the bad pearls – you can see the ugly black deposits, the lack of lustre, and general yuckness

 

 

 

 

The bad pearls really are dire – as the photo shows. Some of them look like teeth which have been left to the mercy of a really incompetent dentist, who has made merry with old fashioned amalgam, which others are completely without any lustre, just chalk. There’s one of these which is nearly all completely dull but with an intensely metallic tip.

Anyway, we are going to attempt a few pairings and see if we can make some single farm source stud and dangle earrings out of the better pearls.

We also brought back some of the crushed walnut shell used to buff the pearls so I intend to try doing that to see how the average pearls and the good already pearls are improved. The buffing is allowed (maeshori) as it is no different to buffing up your fingernails to put a shine on them

What this experiment shows mostly is that pearl factories work; the good quality pearls which Pearlescence offers really are the top 0.5% (or less) of any general pearl harvest, and that you can find single farm sustainable pearls if you have the contacts!

 

 

September Hong Kong reflections and musings…

I think that this was one of my all time favourite trips to Hong Kong. It was so humid that breathing felt a bit like sucking air through a sponge at times, and too much air con made my sinuses very angry, but in terms of pearls and pearl friends, perfect.

Prices were generally stable, with some silliness, especially from one company which made it very clear you can slap any old price on an item but it is only the item’s value when someone will pay it. $40k for a muddy purple strand of Edisons which weren’t even well matched? Those high priced strands weren’t even super-special. Very nice yes, rich colour, pretty clean and shiny but special…no. Grace has cut prices on a lot of stock this time around – a lot of the good colour ripple strands were really cut in price from around $1k (too high) to down to $300 which is what everyone else charges for comparable. Grace had trays and trays of the ear-wax dyed ‘gold south seas’ too- which were not selling much
There were no strands of the distinctive raspberry purples like the ones I treated myself to 18 months ago. That really does seem to have been a one-off colour from that harvest (smug mode)

There’s nothing new on the horizon, such as bead nucleated or souffles (very rare now though selling to India!) on the horizon. (although one wholesaler had just sold his entire stock of 20kg of souffles just before I arrived. That’s a lot of light big pearls
Prices are volatile: top quality prices are up while medium are down
Best seller for most sellers is high quality white rounds
Singles prices are very high
There are very few large size dyed black or natural colour singles around
Tahitian and south sea prices are falling, for less than top quality.
Funnily enough there is hardly any dyed coloured stock to be found. Any that is has probably been hanging around for years.

Day 7. Days of lustre – Final day at AWE

My final day.  I had an idea overnight so off to AWE (Asia World Expo, the huge exhibition facility near to the airport on Lantau Island, about 30 minutes from Kowloon) to find the pearls I needed – handy to have the idea before I go home rather than after, which would be what I usually manage.

So I was on a mission. First off I managed to find some new clasps by accident though.

new clasps

new clasps

These little sparkles have a post which fits right into the drill hole of the last pearl and fasten and open with a push/twist. A bonus is that once you have the ends fitted to a necklace you can change the ball to suit your whim, and they can be worn clasp out, as a feature bead.  I’ll be interested to see how they go, and also need to figure out how to finish the knotted silk without a loop to go around..that’s one to keep me awake.

Long time friend Nerida Harris,  director of Australian pearl super company Pearl Perfection had only just arrived after back to back trade shows, so we grabbed a quick coffee before she shot off list in hand. Nerida took me under her expert wing when I came here to Hong Kong for the first time. We found one of the first lots of ripple strands buried under lots of other pearls on the Grace pearl stand and split them three each. We gasped at the beauty and colour of these totally new pearls.

But on to the pearls I wanted. Without giving away my idea just yet I needed to look for some specific pearls. Not common or usual at the show, but when I found a stand with a couple of bags of them, oh the bliss of sitting down and going though them all to find just the ones which fitted the brief.

I thought I was done after that and was vaguely thinking ‘if I spend any more time here I’ll just spend’ and ‘lunch sounds nice’ when I made the mistake of showing my little collection to pearl total goddess Betty Sue King, who has forgotten more about pearls than most people ever learn and whose eye is trusted the world over. She loved the pearls so back to the stand we went and spent nearly two hours going through the whole lot again.

Sitting trawling through bags of pearls with someone as fabulous and nice as Betty Sue is a lovely, unstressed way to finish an amazing time in Hong Kong. Here we are, up to our elbows in pearls. What could be better?

Betty Sue King

Me and Betty Sue King

Goodbye Hong Kong

Lustre day 6..Blue, blue and blue

Another lustrous day. First off we had a private viewing of some fabulous Riketea Tahitian pearls, Beautiful lustre and colour. Plus south seas; gold, white and blue.I think I could have very happily bought every single pearl. There were strands and single pearls, including some huge blue south sea pearls

blue baroque south sea pearls

Huge blue south sea baroque pearls, up to 18mm

Riketea Tahitian pearl strands

Rketea Tahitian pearl strands

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One interesting snippit of information was the variation in nacre deposition between apparently identical Vietnamese akoya pearls on the same farm and growing side by side (there are only three akoya pearl farms in Vietnam)

Akoya pearl growth rates

Both pearls grow on the same tiny nucleus in the same conditions on the same farm, nucleated at the same time and harvested at the same time.

You can see how tiny the nucleus is -0.9mm- and in only eight months there is enough nacre to keep everyone very happy indeed. The pearls are 8mm and 7.4mm

Only Vietnamese farms seem to produce the really strong blue akoya, although they were scarce except in the baroque singes which I selected on the first day of the show. There were strands of grey with a blue cast but none of the startlingly royal blues which are possible occasionally.

Speaking of blue pearls, here is one of the Riketea atoll strands, every one a true  blue tahitian pearl, rather than green with a blue cast. Quite lovely.And large 10mm to 13mm with metallic lustre.

Blue tahitian pearl strandBlue tahitian pearl strand

Blue tahitian pearl strand

In the afternoon I went right across the huge Asia World Expo site to the other end to the hall with tools, and had a bit of a Tim Taylor interlude.

There were 3d printers printing gold items, laser cutters as well as machines for making the wax forms for lost wax casting.and the basic tools for silversmiths, which probably haven’t changed for centuries. Indeed probably one of the superb craftsmen from millennia ago in Egypt would not only recognise most tools but be able to pick them up and set to work with them.

I treated myself to a proper set of ring measures and a ring measure stick. I’ve only been wanting them for 20 years so it was probably time without being profligate

Finally I went to catch up with Andrew, the boss of the world class polishing cloth company Town Talk. It’s one of those silly things that we are based only about 25 miles apart but have to travel to Hong Kong to talk!

Town Talk Polish Cloths. Made in Lancashire

Town Talk Polish Cloths. Made in Lancashire

 

 

 

 

Lustre Day 5..Few pearls…much work

Looking at today’s spoils…it seems a very small lot, for a day’s quite intense work.  There are some stone set clasps which caught my eye because they have posts which go into the drill hole of a full drilled pearl rather than rings for silk plus French wire. So they will need experimentation.  They could be the next big thing in opening and closing…but only if the adhesive adheres. I suspect that there is quite a stress on the glue fixing when the clasp is undone. But they look very pretty

Next I spent some time finding a very few decent 11-12mm black buttons. It;s hard to find black pearls still. There are smaller ones, but trying to match the larger ones for shape, colour, lustre and size……I also waded through smaller {9-10mm} natural colour buttons. Even from a huge bag I only found one pair which satisfied my criteria.I did get some of the singles though, because they had stunning lustre.

Finally I was spotted by the lady who used to look after me at one tahitian wholesaler, who told me she had now moved to another firm. We did some catching up and I looked at the pearl stock. I got a pair of lovely white Paspaley south sea drops from Australia, some gold round south sea pairs and some fun single tahitians, including a couple of what we decided are polemon pearls – aka pokepearls.

pok

 

 

Lustre Day 4..first day of show

A wonderful first day out at the Asia World Expo gem fair, though the humidity (95% and more) is so sapping that I crawled to my room and individual aircon ridiculously early. So today’s blog will be a bit light on photos simply because at times it was hard to think through the soggy.

At these shows my first stop is now always the lovely ladies of the small company which produces akoya pearls from their one farm in Vietnam. They are always so welcoming and patient that it makes a lovely start to the day.

The first thing I want to look at are the little packets of their baroque pearls. Tiny packets of super metallic bue, pink, green and grey. Each one unique and surely an inspiration for any designers

vietnamese baroque pearls

Such amazing little gems

It is such fun sorting through the packets, marvelling at the rich colours and incredible lustre of these tiny gem pearls. Which one will excite a designer? There was a deep and rich royal blue one which I picked while it was still in the packet, scrabbling round in the tiny envelope to grasp it, it was so striking. And there was a lovely little drop too. You can tell that the colour is strong in these pearls because you can still see it clearly in the photo, in spite of the efforts of the fluorescent lights to wash out any trace of blue.

Next up the ladies showed me their few strands of natural colour akoya pearls. The strand I selected stood out, luminous metallic lustre and such beausiful colours.

The two darkest pearls are deep blue and deep green.

I also got some strands of tiny baroques, multicoloured. These pearls come from one farm in Vietnam. They are very ethically and sustainably produced

natural colour vietnamese akoya pearls

Believe it or not these are all natural colour akoya pearls natural colour akoya pearls

 

vietnamese akoya pearls

Tiny Vietnamese akoya pearls, natural colours of greys, pinks,boues, greens. Metallic

It doesn’t take long to write about it, but selecting these strands, chatting and settling such vital stuff as the price take well over an hour.

Next stop is always the main findings company. All the findings they currently have in stock are laid out in small packets and I’m soon rifling through hundreds of different clasps, earrings, and all sorts of silver. the table top is very wide so to reach the ones at the back I debated climbing right up there..but in the end just stretched. Not sure how that looked from the back!. Trying to work out what will be needed for our various couture and ready to wear lines, new ideas and one offs for customers, as well as for other designer makers is a bit of an exercise!. But having grabbed a good selection I know I can call back for a second browse..probably to buy the same new designs all over again.  There is a lot of silver with very subtly inlaid CZ for just a little sparkle

There’s more black – anodised – silver than I expected: and less rose gold vermeil.

Finally – it’s now gone 2pm – I spend the rest of the time at one of the tahitian and south sea suppliers. One white SS and one gold SS strand and then a poke around in their lot bags for the surprise pairs and singles which will make great jewellery – including a matched pair of 15mm gold south sea buttons.One is very slighty darker than the other, but with a head in between the it certainly won’t be noticeable t9 any but a pearl expert. Result!

Tired. Back to Kowloon, food and back to room to write this. G’night

Lustre day 3

Tahitians are getting in on the act. More lustre. More colour. After sifting through nine lots of Tahitians of all shapes, sizes and colours, I, try the tenth and last, and it yields all the pearls I want, including some spectaular silver body and pink eye pearl pairs for studs, some more blues and a couple of huge drops.

blue tahitian pearls

Truely blue Tahitian pearls

The blues of these blues hasn’t really come through in this photo but they are a lovely royal blue and will look stupendous with the paler blues I got yesterday. I think I am building a necklace. No more of those pink ones though..

Those Tahitians were pure serendipity in one way though as I had no intention of getting any such at this particular seller’s. Once again i got stuck after planning just a couple of hours in that office. Many pearls, including some minute white keishi, probably 3mm, which will make some very pretty delicate bracelets, I think, matched with 7mm petal keishi discy lumps which will be drilled for stud earrings. That’s definitely the sort of drilling where you don’t actually dare look as you drill

 

 

Lustre Day 2

Day 2 was a very shiny day. Metallic all the way. Had intended to go to this wholesaler and that one and maybe call in at another too. In the end I was at the first place all day. He lured me with shiny things.

Gorgeous tahitians. every possible colour

Gorgeous tahitians. every possible colour

First up was a large bag of mixed Tahitians. Probably a couple of thousand in the bag. After going through the I think I selected some gorgeous silver grey and pink ones, some blues and a pair of silver and pink rounds for studs which already have a home lined up – 12mm and up.

The grey and pink ones are mostly pink. Really unusual.

I decided to go with the trend and get some of these really pretty,feminine and delicate graduated strands in natural colours and all whites. I’m not looking forward to stringing the tiny tinies.

So feminine

So feminine

Then I remembered I did have a  list so next up were 7mm white drop pairs – one card matched of super metallic..and I mean super metallic ..pairs. Then on to 9mm drops. another card and pick out the rare long thin drops and finally pair them too. The lustre on these pearls really was spectacular.

Going though the white drops, I could not help

 

Huge box of metalic drops

Huge box of metallic drops

but reflect that I was rejecting – as not metallic enough -pearls which would have been remarkable ten years, or even five years ago, as not shiny enough. the pairs selected are really super metallic. Dazzling. I wondered where the quality goes from super-metallic shiny, white, great drop shape and clean surface. You can see the large box and guesstimate how many pearls are in it, full to the brim. All metallic. Just some with the matched overtones and degree of lustre, shape and size.

Next to where I was being dazzled by the whites was a long time member of staff at this office. With interruptions he spent the whole day sorting and pairing 5mm round white pearls from a pile of many thousands.

September Hong Kong Show..oh the lustre. Day 1

The senior man at my favourite wholesalers here in Hong Kong has me totally sussed as a real pearl junkie. His – very successful – technique is to wander past me, with some amazing new pearls in his hand, letting me catch just a glimpse, like allowing a dog to catch just a whiff of a steak.

So I’m sitting there. feeling a  bit disoriented, long flight, not much sleep . check in to hotel and straight out to get the pearls, and I’m looking for some huge perfect white buttons. when he comes over with this hank of five strands of the most amazing – that is most amazing- huge natural coloured rounds. One strand in particular has all metallic lustre and I can already hear it’s siren sussuration..’I’m so pretty..take me home with you, take me home. I love you…take me home’ I’m resisting so hard. This trip is all about specimen singles and pairs. It’s going to be sitting in offices going through thousands of pearls for those double double shiny elusive few which you can only source in person.

Within seconds this one strand especially is talking to me, and I’m cooing back at it and stroking it.

Love at first sight

Love at first sight

still in love

still in love

Now there have been a lot of natural colour bead nucleated pearls around in the last year or so, most of them with very washed out colour, as if they had been bleached in the sun. There were the very rare spectacular deep plum strands a few years ago, but none even of those in spite of the clamour for them at the last couple of trips. Deep rich coloured bead nucleated pearls were not happening. Then these five strands. All deep rich colour and with lustre from very very good to metallic. From talking with other buyers last night it seems as if each wholesaler has managed to source just a few strands.

With its friends

With its friends

So far I have resisted…sort of. That one strand is tucked away in a drawer. Oh I am so weak.

But what would  you do?

 

 

 

 

 

 

In other news of pearls from an afternoon of rather jet laggy selecting (HK is seven hours ahead. The plane I travelled on had recently played host in the cargo hold in the tail to 12 horses, two elephants and one £1m+ car…though not at the same time. The flight attendant allowed me a peak into the hold. Just packages and webbing and all remarkably scruffy, with a faint wiff of horse still lingering)

Lustre is simply getting better and better. Wholesalers are taking to labelling stock AAAA when they have a bag full of metallics. Supplies are good and prices stable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tahitian minimum nacre depth law scrapped

The law requiring a 0.8mm  minimum nacre depth requirement over 80% of the pearl surface  for all Tahitian pearls is being scrapped from next January.

The French Polynesia government and pearl producers have collaborated to bring in a new oversight regime for pearls which will bring in quotas for farms and lagoons to protect the environment and prevent over-intensive farming but which will allow all pearls to be sold commercially and exported – at the moment thin nacre pearls are destroyed. While some in the pearl business have already thrown up their hands and gone ‘waily-wail it’s all doomed’ I do feel that French Polynesia is to be congratulated for at least tackling their problem with a bold step, rather than shoving their heads more firmly into the ground, which is often the default setting of governments -and industry. What they are doing at the moment is not working post-recession.

Producers will still be able to apply to the government inspection service for their pearls to be x-rayed and certified and it is likely that this will continue for high grade pearls . Nacre depth is an indicator of good farming practice since there has been time and effort expended by the farmer.

multicoloured tahitians

Multicoloured and HUGE Tahitian pearls. The surfaces are a bit marked but the lustre and colour and size sort of cover that

But it does open the way for any old tat to flood onto the market. Indeed smuggled pearls (fairly easy to smuggle pearls really) already out there show thin to non-existant nacre, with the nucleus visible, with any old whatever used as the nucleus and with blinking (where the pearl, when rolled, seems to be blinking at you – due to the missing nacre)

The effect of this, at least in the short term is that, if you want decent pearls, more than ever you will need to trust your supplier, be it retailer, wholesaler or even farmer. Everywhere in the chain of supply there will be a divide into cheap old rubbish with a nacre depth of …well, a smear and high quality – good colour and lustre and thick nacre.

You buy wholesale and the lot will be all mixed up from several sources – who is to say which pearl has which certificate. Or select a single one – does the wholesaler photocopy the certificate for a single farm lot – if he indeed has one.. So x-ray and certify was great in theory but in practice…it was great in theory.

They are probably looking also at the Akoya market. You can have rubbish Akoya, even unto blinking, or you can have amazingly amazing pearls which require sunglasses they are so shiny. And you can also get a certificate for your high quality pearls. Or not.
And of course there is no way to tell, even if you have a certificate, that it actually applies to that pearl. There is some work being done on implanting a readable micro chip into each and every nucleus to enable real identification, But that will push up prices and who has a reader?

One excellent thing though is that, with the minimum nacre thickness over the nucleus rule going souffle Tahitians, grown in a way something similar to freshwater souffles and just as bg and with just such amazing lustre, will now become legally commercially available. Expect 20mm irregular shaped baroque Tahitians next year.

Pearl exports have plummeted:The latest figures from the Institute of French Polynesia statistics indicate that in April, exports of raw pearls fell sharply (65% in value).

lighter shades of tahitians were much more attractive than darks, which looked muddy

lighter shades of tahitians were much more attractive than darks, which looked muddy

Previously pearls which failed the x-ray assessment were destroyed by Marine and Mineral Resources Branch (DRMM) in the presence of pearl farmers. “We want to sell more beads,” said Baldassari Aline Bernard, president of the Professional Union of pearl producers. ” Before, there were stringent controls on the layer of the pearl and visually, that were really disadvantageous for producers and traders (…) It was becoming unbearable

Teva Rohfritsch, Minister of pearl farming, said that now pearl farmers can market according to their choices and their market strategies,

In reality once the pearls had entered the supply chain either legally after inspection or smuggling there was little beyond trust and expertise to guide a buyer. I’ve only once had a certificate for pearls and that was when I bought direct from Kamoka . And the system was obviously flawed as I could have photocopied the certificate and handed it out with any old pearls.

In the last few years, as the world has been in recession, Tahitian pearl farmers and wholesalers have been hit hard, especially with the ascendancy of high quality bead nucleated freshwater pearls from China, which give a lot of pearl for your £, compared to Tahitians and South Sea pearls. (although Chinese bead nucleated pearl farmers are closer to emulating white south sea pearls than Tahitians)

Tahtian Black Pearls - aka dyed freshwater pearls from China

Tahtian Black Pearls – aka dyed freshwater pearls from China

Pearlescence will still go for quality product. It will be interesting to see what happens next year. I suspect that a lot of rubbish will be marketed as ‘wow we have tahitian pearls at the price of freshwater’ when the reality is that the customer will be buying something with a smear of nacre. I can’t claim ‘no veneer in here’ because all bead nucleated pearls are veneered in reality, but Pearlescence tahitians will still be the best quality we can find for the price you want to pay.
This is good for the future of the industry. At least they are doing something to keep going. I met with a huge south sea firm in HK in march and the pearls they had were very nice, round of course and they had lots in the 10-12 white pairs range. They told me they had fabulous lustre and were $150 a pair or some such. As it happened I had just been to one of my wholesalers (this was a sale in a hotel suite) and had some 10 and 12mm white bead nucleated freshwaters. Whipped them out and they were aghast at the quality, after lengthy sneering at the whole concept of freshwater pearls. The freshwaters outshone their pearls and were $50 a pair. (prices not exact as going from memory). I asked them why would any customer of mine go for a pair of studs made from their pearls when they could pay a third….I agree some connoisseurs might and will but the average customer…nope
Chinese freshwaters are getting very close to a really good imitation of white south sea with that elusive satin lustre and also to gold. Golds are good when you look at one or two on their own but they have an ear-wax brown look en masse still (like the dyed SS themselves). I’ve seen lots of smaller dyed fresh which look close to peacock tahitian but no real attempts to make them imitate tahitian strands so far.
The whole pearl thing is in flux

 

Natural white freshwater pearls are here

Here they are, the natural white freshwater pearls which I found last month in Hong Kong.  Shown to me almost as an aside ‘we have these natural colour white and grey pearls just arrived’

Wow…really? Natural greys and whites? Show me. There was a bag with about 50 strands, ranging from white to delicate lilac or pale grey. Off round and with good to metallic lustre I picked out the 12 best and here they are

Natural colours white, lilac and grey rounds

Natural colours white, lilac and grey rounds

The colours are incredibly subtle and delicate but the lilac especially is so pretty.

It was only when I got back here and unpacked that I realised that I had picked out about five pairs of half drilled buttons for earrings as well – from the ordinary big lot of natural colour pearls.

Now these have not been to a lab for confirmation but I have no reason to doubt that they are indeed natural colour pearls.

We’ve made up the pick of the strands into two necklaces –

Natural pale pale lilac round pearl

Natural pale pale lilac round pearls, such a delicate colour

Natural white pearls

Natural white pearls, no bleaching. The white is to the grey end of the spectrum as against the usual creamy white of bleached pearls

Hong Kong 2016: Day 8: pearl factory!

Last September one of my favourite pearl wholesale companies, a family company, had invited me to visit their pearl factory in mainland China. Today is the day that happened!. I had had to get a visa to enter China and early on the Sunday morning Co Co and I set off on the first leg, getting the MTR to Schenzen, the city which sits on the Pearl river (apt!) and which is the border between the mainland and China proper and the special area of Hong Kong. Over the border and we found our car to go north, first to see the coastal Guandong resort town of Shanwei and then into really rural inland China to near Taoezen and to the family compound and pearl factory.

gate

ornamental gateway

This factory takes pearls from many parts of China (incidentally never believe anyone who claims to buy ordinary freshwater pearls direct from a farm. farms do not process pearls.)

The pearls come in straight from the farm and are first rough sorted by shape and size, then cleaned up

size

When the pearls arrive they are roughly sorted by size and shape

Many of the pearls will then go to be bleached or dyed. This is done with the pearls in bottle/flasks under UV light and in a controlled temperature, in a cabinet a bit like a stack of rabbit hutches.

bleach bottles

Pearls sitting in bottles steeping in bleach solution

pearls in bottles

More pearls in bottles, a little further along the bleaching process

Buffing/polishing is a standard treatment. Pearls are tumbled in either corn husk chips or walnut shell chips to buff their surface. This only smooths out the surface, rather like buffing your fingernails

One of the pearl polishing machines, filled with walnut chippings.

One of the pearl polishing machines, filled with walnut chippings.

From here the pearls will go to be drilled. The factory had just had the latest in pearl drills installed. Oh I so want one.

pearl drill

The newest pearl drills. I want one

If you look closely you can see that the pearl is gripped centrally (operated by a foot pedal) in cups and then the two drills move together to drill the pearl from both sides simultaneously. This is how bulk professional pearl drills work. Two bits moving together. It also explains why sometimes there is a needle blocking burr inside a pearl. The two bits are slightly out of alignment.

With these new drills the drills are moved into to pearl by the lever in the left hand (at the top of the photo) and then the pearl is released from the cups and drops down the chute. Apparently these are so newly in that the operators are still occasionally drilling their fingers.

But what a superb bit of kit. I so want one!

After drilling the pearls move to the workbenches to be arranged and made into temporary strands

making into strands

After being processed (eg bleached or dyed) and drilling the pearls are arranged and made into temporary strands

main workroom

General view of the main workroom

wholesale pearls

Finished strands ready to go to wholesale

This was a wonderful and learning experience and I thank my Darline family friends for the opportunity. I also thank Co Co Choi for accompanying me – when she had only finished at the gem show late on the evening before

family

This is a family firm and every time I looked around another brother or nephew appeared

Hong Kong 2016: Day 7

(in the morning I was invited to take part in an open air chi gung t’ai chi class. It has been years since I did proper t’ai chi and after two hours I was delighted that I didn’t fall over once)

After lunch (dim sum yum) I headed to the second iteration of the show, mostly finished jewellery, on Hong Kong island iself, at the exhibition centre. I needed to pick up some findings for a friend and wanted to look at the display materials to see what is new and exciting and would make our pearls even more fabulous, but it was all really quite meh. Same old same old. That is clearly a box outside of which I will have to think.

 

Hong Kong 2016. Day 1

I wish Hong Kong was a bit nearer…..say instead of the Isle of Man. But it isn’t so here I am after a long pair of flights.

Jet lag ignored and first thing next morning i’m already stuck into selecting. First up are these 9mm AAA metallic rounds

white metallics

stunning white metallics. you can clearly see what I call the ‘fish eye’ look which shows how clear the lustre is. These all have a hint of rose

 

Next some delicious natural colour rounds. It’s such a treat to see really good natural colour single pearls available again. For the last couple of years they have been dull and pallid and I have mostly not bought. Now I am stocking again. These are the most ravishing pearls. Even the wholesale staff admire my selections. Either a great complement, or a great sales technique!

I took this photo half way through one bag of about 3k pearls. You can see which pearls I’ve selected in a group on their own. Probably twice that by the time I had done the bag. Then I double check (and wonder why I picked some) and finally pairs or super singles to buy.

multicoloured round freshwater pearls

Multicoloured pearls. To select I take about half a scoopful at al time and select out the most lustrous and colourful

Note that I’ve been using bamboo tweezers to pick up the pearls. Using bamboo tweezers is using a great pearl tool because they stop the heat from my fingers transferring to the pearl as I pick it up, which can instantly throw a cast of fine condensation over the pearl, hiding the lustre and colour just enough to make examination difficult to impossible (Also today they are more accurate picker-uppers than my jet lagged and therefore uncoordinated fingers)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hong Kong: day 6

(I  gave myself the day off yesterday and spent a lovely day in the warm sunshine  being a person on holiday. (I expored Lantau island, which is remarkably underdeveloped, even though it has the busy airport. Most of the island is hilly and covered in lush undergrowth, with some great bendy driving roads. I went out to see the Tian Tan Buddha statue, (known colloquially as the Big Buddha) up a lung exploding 260 steps and took the cable car back down to sea level)

Back to the gem show today for some gold and white south sea pearls. I found both pairs and a mixed selection for a station necklace special order

Then i actually left the pearl hall  – yes really  – for the gemstone section.

Acres of diamonds from almost dust to huge single sparklers..plus fancy colours..as with the pearl section,

diamonds

trays and trays of sparkle

I suspect that  anyone who’s been to a local gemshow thinks the Hong Kong show is like one of those…with maybe a couple more stalls. Errrr. No no no. See the diamonds above. That is one part of one of maybe 50 such stands. An aircraft hanger sized hall filled just with diamonds .Some of them also have diamonds maybe 10mm round or more. Plus fancy blues greens champagne and yellow and black. In the next equally huge hall there were rubies of all sorts of shades from pink to nearly black.

rubies

Rubies of every possible shape, size, cut and colour

Seeing the ruby rough sparked an idea so i got some….then also some lovely little lumps of amethyst. Both classic purple and rose de france. These small lumps of raw stone are usually sold by kilo weight and random scoop but I managed to persuade the sellers to allow me to select – though they watched aghast as I went through a washing up bowl full of the ruby rough lumps to find two pieces which suited my idea

hong kong rough ruby

Rough ruby and amethyst

Here is just one of the displays of amethysts. I also got some amethyst lumps.

amethyst

Just part of one stand specialising in amethysts

Finally three little round faceted tanzanite to make a setting for the big blue pearl

That was enough for the day

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hong Kong 2016: day 5

First day of the show proper. So, instead of everything being just around the corner everything has now moved out to AsiaWorld Expo next to the airport on Lantau Island. About 60-90 minutes away depending on how you travel.

First stop  once through the convoluted security procedures, is to find Spica: this is the Vietnamese pearl company which farms those stunning natural vivid blue akoya pearls. Lovely warm welcome  so I am basking in a pearly glow as I work through all their packets of single undrilled pearls to find earring pairs and specimens for rings. These blues look stunning on well polished silver and I am planning some unique rings to complement their beauty.

Something like 15 packets later there are one or two lined up from each but the lovely ladies don’t even sigh at the thought of the invoice.  I’m feeling guilty.

Wandering  the sea pearls section I was hello’d by Jeremy and Hisano Shephard, CEO and super talented pearl designer of American pearl company Pearl Paradise. Hisano’s wonderfully creative ideas include slicing up souffle pearls and filling the cavities with either tiny pearls or tiny gems.

I spotted an amazing variant around Jeremy’s neck. A huge black souffle pearl with tiny black diamonds. All sparkly. It was as I watched Hisano staring at a heap of white south sea pearls and idly pairing them up that a new notion came to me – How to tell a true professional pearl lover. You just can’t stop yourself making pairs. Faced with a heap of pearls, a real professional will start to make pairs. It is our thing. As I worked on this new theory and remembered Michael, head of the big pearl company yesterday doing exactly the same. In the end Hisano went off to sit down and properly make pairs. I suspect they will be a Pearl Paradise special soon. They are lovely pearls!

Then to find some souffles for a pearl friend unable to come this week.

souffle pearls

A huge pile of very lustrous and colourful hollow souffle pearls

Sorted through this whole huge mound of colourful hollow lustre to find the ones she wanted and of course managed to fall for a few myself…

Finally a large box of fireballs.. selected about a dozen…fell of my chair at the price…selected some fewer and ended up still dizzy at the price. They will either be in the specimen section or as pretty amazing and unique pendants

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hong Kong 2016: day 4

Day before the show so it aĺl goes a bit packing up. I went along to our regular findings house to replenish stock, see what’s new and see what sparked off ideas.

tmp_18745-FB_IMG_14568849861931538420901 It is totally illogical…!but I always feel stressed here…have I got enough of this clasp to last until I’m back in Hong Kong? Will these findings be popular? It’s all a bit dithery

It’s also incredibly easy to spend thousands in a few minutes as the basket fills with silver, vermeil and carat findings.

This company is the general go-to finding company in Hong Kong. I was glad the next day that I had gone ahead of the show as they had decided to put only carat gold into the airport venue instead of all metals this time (silver, vermeil, cords and everything else were at the exhibition centre) Plus there is always a scrum around their stand like the start of Harrods sale, Not only do they sell out of items quickly but it can get a bit nasty.

 

 

 

Hong Kong 2016: day 3

Today was another day to justify coming all the way here and not just ordering in. Poking around in the far corners of the premises of one of the…if not the…biggest freshwater wholesaler i found a bag of what looked ,at first glance,like a  bag of very spotty and lumpy tahitians.

But they were big. I’ll always look at big so I looked inside and there was also lustre. Big and lustre is good so i hauled the bag to the table for a look and, among the very spotty and pimply drops and weird lumps were enough fairly clean rounds for a necklace. Not clean by any means but shiny and lovely colours and sizes between 15mm and 18mm

multicoloured tahitians

Multicoloured and HUGE Tahitian pearls. The surfaces are a bit marked but the lustre and colour and size sort of cover that

tahitian multicoloured huge pearls

This photo catches the colour and lustre best.

tahitian multicoloured huge pearls

Arranged in a necklace with four spares for length

These pearls are undrilled so I’ll drill them carefully into the flaws to minimise the marks.  It’s going to be an amazing necklace for someone.

The funny upshot of my finding these pearls was that three other dealers immediately went off to try to find similar bags and all wanted to check the bag contents once I had finished with it