Author Archives: WendyG

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.


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


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


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 fancy with the pearl section,


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 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.


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


Hong Kong 2016: day 2

Today was an equally intense pearl sorting day. Working through bags of great pearls to find the few which are amazingly amazing takes time and concentration. Time I have but I’ve never been super great at concentration.

freshwater natural colour ellipticals or rice pearls

Some great colours going on here with these elliptical freshwaters

However….the latest natural colour single loose pearls from my favourite supplier were stunning enough to keep me sitting there all day. For the last couple of years or so there has been a dearth of really top quality single natural colour pearls. There were plenty of AAA grade pearls certainly….but few metallics and mostly washed out and pallid peaches. I don’t think I bought any.

Fabulous natural colour metallic rounds

Fabulous natural colour metallic rounds this photo shows…I found a colour and lustre explosion in various sizes of rounds and drops. I have no qualms whatsoever in having cleaned out that particular supplier. They still had some pretty good AAAs. Just not the bestest. Even the supplier was saying ‘ wow…so pretty!’

freshwater metallic natural colours

Pairs. multi natural colours and metallic

And,when,at the end of a very long day I popped into another top supplier’s office to see she hadn’t got anything comparable…well..smug mode




Very special specimen single pearls

I’m not sure why we haven’t done this before…a section of the website dedicated to our one-off very very special specimen single pearls. These are the pearls which haven’t been listed so far, because they stand out from the general stock as unique in terms of size, shape colour, lustre or just simple unusualness.

But now I’ve decided we will open them up for other makers to select directly rather than hiding our lustre under a phone call – with, probably the result that some jewellery designers probably have no idea we have these pearls at all!

So, while things are quiet, over the holiday lull I will be amusing myself with camera and stock, pulling out the finest of what is already arguably the best stock of AAA pearls available to designers in the UK

You can find the listings here

Prices rising for the best pearls

Confirmation that prices for the best pearls are rising comes from the prestigious JCK magazine, which features quotes from my pearl friend Jack Lynch, of Sea Hunt pearls.

Read the full story here

Jack was talking about the more purple strand of natural deep pink bead nucleated pearls he got at the same time I got mine (see earlier in the blog for my getting them last March and then not finding any more in September in Hong Kong)

What wasn’t mentioned was how prices are rocketing for under 3mm pearls since everyone is focussing on big beaded pearls

Santa search – new gift finder feature

A whole new feature on the website just went live. Code name Santa search It’s the new easy-peasy gift finder search program I thought up a couple of weeks ago and which our amazing webmaster Neil has constructed so that it has come out exactly as I thought up.

The whole idea is to make it easy for people who are confused by the full website to have just one or two choices of pearl colour and price range. They can pick one of the suggestions or then follow it up with either phone or email if they don’t see what they want or like and we can take it from there.

Hopefully this will make it much easier for those who are daunted by choice!


‘A ray of sunshine’

It’s always nice to get praise, so we are basking fit to tan today with this email from a long time pearl lover and customer ‘ Thank you so much – I am absolutely delighted with my new pearls – Ithey are the most beautiful….I love the colour variation….It is as if I am wearing a ray of sunshine around my neck’

The pearls – south seas – came from two strands I found during my last trip to Hong Kong. They were huge roundish golds of all shades and whites and as soon as I saw them I thought of this particular customer and snapped them up. I knew she would love them.

Here they are as strands, photographed in Hong Kong, at the wholesalers.

gold south sea pearls

Huge 17mm gold south sea with some whites in one of the strands. Great colour and lustre

and here they are, blended into one 55cm necklace

south sea pearls

The finished necklace

Very satisfying to have a happy customer



Many steps!

Well, I’m back home. I think this was the best HK trip I’ve ever had, with great pearls and fabulous friends for company and food. I took my pedometer with me and this is the steps count:
average of days before show proper going around wholesalers in Kowloon: 8,500
First day of show:12,729
second day of show :7,507
walking around airports there and back: 8453 (Airbus A380 tends to need a parking spot at the ends of the gates)
I took a quick snap of the pearl hall (one of 15 halls at one of the two venues) as I left. This is the view of one aisle. Maybe 20 stands…and there were 25 aisles. 15 halls
I never got out of the pearl hall!

Hong Kong Gem Show

The view along just one aisle in the pearl hall


Last day in Hong Kong

Well here it is, last day. The time has passed so quickly, but now the show is closed`and there are no more pearls to be bought by me before the early morning flight and the alarm clock is set. Today was a gentle browsing day. I found some baroque bouldery little pearls which will make great earrings to go with the Spica Vietnamese grey big colour strands

akoya pearls

Bouldery baroques from Vietnam

The colours are intense and amazing – so powerful for such tiny little pearls

Then I came across some cutest baby ripples with strong colours at a bargain price. Couldn’t resist

ripple pearls

very strongly coloured baby ripples

These pearls came from the same stable as the finest Edison pearls – bead nucleated pearls – with strands costing many £kkkk. Felt smug that,because the firm did not manage its second harvest in March (due apparently to local government actions – it’s the same the world over) there were no more of the vibrant deep pinks as per my present to myself. Closest was this deep purple-ish strand – very expensive – but, like most purples, not metallic and the purple was grubbied with a brown cast. All pinks to purples are prone to drop to beige brown.

Purple Edison strand

Purple Edison strand

Finally I had a play with a lot of button-ish metallics. These will be stunning set on rings




Bye-bye Hong Kong for this year. It’s been a wonderful trip with good friends, great food and fabulous pearls.

Gem show day

Opening day for the Gem show. Since I had the bulk of what I wanted already this was a nice day to browse and select just those few unusual items which make the trip even more worthwhile.

I’m not a huge akoya pearl person. There are too many people who specialise in a very specialised market where competition is fierce and often comes down to price…in which ccase the big expert boys can bulk buy and get better deals. At the other end it is all too easy to be sold some cheap shiny beads with a microns thick layer of nacre which will disappear within a year. That is sadly the end of the market where the discount sellers operate. Since buyers are almost invariably disappointed with their bargain pearls we can all end up tarnished with that same brush.

With pearls there really are no surprise bargains. Everyone really does know the price of what is being sold.

HOwever, I’ve been happy to dip a toe in the outskirts of the akoya market with some of the more unusual colours and baroque which I can get for a great price.

So I was really pleased to spot these few really strongly coloured (natural colours) rainbow greyish Vietnamese rounds from Spica.

vietnamese akoya pearls

Very colourful Vietnamese akoya pearls

A lot of browsing around the rows of Akoya stands and I found these lovely creamy akoya. Bigger, and each a different colour, one quite pinky and another almost buttermilk. Again natural colours

cream to buttermilk natural colour akoyas

cream to buttermilk natural colour akoyas

Plenty of dyed grey, some black and many dyed gold akoya around as well as white white. Both pinked and unpinked. But no natural pastel multicoloureds this time.

Since by this time I had been walking up and down for about three hours I decided to sit down at the home of Edison pearls with my friend Cicie who set me to ‘play about’ with some really nice Edison rounds. I can’t help it, Put pearls in front of me and I make pairs. These were lush colours and besides finding a couple to add in to my March birthday present to me necklace I found the earring pair .. and a coupe more. Looking at Edison rounds. Bliss.

edison pearls

my earring pair. 13.5

edison pearls

These haven’t come out well, they are in fact a deep purple. With no trace of brown.

Finally. Having bemoaned the ear wax yellow of dyed south sea and freshwater pearls I spotted these fireballs. Haggle haggle with perhaps the wimpiest haggler I’ve ever met (I stopped before he paid me to take them away but only just) I got these two strands just for funness

dyed gold fireballs

dyed gold fireballs



South sea pearls and findings

A busy and successful day. Started with a visit to the main findings house, where an hour or so of browsing the many tiny drawers produces the stash of gold and silver to enable the making for the next few months. Thank the gods of jewellery that the price of gold has dropped. Plus I was able to get just about everything I had on the list. It’s so much easier to shop for findings in a cool atmosphere (literally, with aircon plus only me in the sales room)while the stand at the show is chaotic. I’ve never seen fights break out but there is some serious elbow action and shoving as peeps jostle to get to find the right tiny packets. One person came in while I was there, prowled around the room asked if they were going to be out at the airport for the show and then left…why would anyone do that? I was able to chat to the super knowledgeable staff and get some very good suggestions on what to use to achieve what I wanted. No chance of that with the scrum at the show.

It’s always so much more relaxed and friendly and calm at the offices before the show. Plus you get the chance to really poke around and find the good stuff.

After a couple of hours there I moved on to my favourite supplier of south sea and tahitian pearls. I was looking for some gold half drilled drops but no joy – no decent pairs for earrings. But I did find some lovely strands, including these two, at up to 17mm.

gold south sea pearls

Huge 17mm gold south sea with some whites in one of the strands. Great colour and lustre

gold south sea pearls

Same strands, head on

These two are both natural colour different gold shades with some white in one of the strands. They are huge – up to 17mm – with great colour and lustre. Yes, flaws but otherwise, wowser!

Also some smaller rounds strands, again great lustre and very strong colours.

Looking through the stocks in the wholesalers vault I spotted this collection of loose single undrilleds. Including bags of dyed gold south seas. Yuck. Whether they are dying freshwater or south sea to look like the rich high end golds, the colours are invariably horrible ear-was tones. Do not be fooled.

gold south sea pearls

It’s pretty easy to see which packets have the dyed gold south sea. Look for the extreme ear-wax tones

I’m afraid I passed on the tahitians. just didn’t get excited by them, though there were plenty.

tahitian pearls

Plenty of Tahitian pearls

Finally..a shot of the street outside the South Sea wholesalers. All tall buildings and a throng of people.


busy street in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon

I’m having a break on Tuesday, then the show opens tomorrow – lots of photos!

A fun surprise

Sometimes I find myself wishing that Hong Kong wasn’t quite so far away. Being here is fabulous, but the long flights are to be endured to some extent. We can’t all jump on a plane as soon as we feel an urge to buy a couple of strands! So far my friend in pearldom, Patricia, hasn’t managed it. So today I did a fun surprise and video called her from a wholesale office and roped her in to help select some strands.

pearl strands

The white strands here are the collaboration. The coloured ones haven’t come out very well, they are nice strong natural colours

Patricia is the owner of Beaders’ Secret, the two-strand knotting synthetic thread

It was fun to show Patricia the bags and piles of pearls jammed onto shelves in several rooms plus being able to hear the talk in several languages, the rattle of pearl sieves and the clinj and clunk

We found some great white rounds, all metallic  and then I found a bag with a few hanks of really strongly coloured near round natural colour pearls – you can see the picture. It’sturned them a bit grey rather than nice pinks etc but you can see that they are strong colours. There’s quite a lot of washed out peach around.

I met Jack Lynch of Sea Hunt Pearls. We had a small joint moan at the lack of plentiful good high end pearls. Due in most part to there only being one harvest this year  because of the downturn in the china economy.

There are none of the stunning deep pink to purple bead nuked strands around this time. Jack had a more purple strand to my raspberry-ish one. I was thinking that I would find a couple more pearls to lengthen it but can’t even find two! And dream on for a pair of undrilled or half drilled for some earrings.

Commercial grade pearls plus lots of peach are available, but I’ve had to burrow deep in bags to find the metallics. It proves the value of schlepping all the way here at least and why we few do it.

Hong Kong pearls

You know that thing where you see someone out of context and know that you know them but how? Where? Who? That’s what’s been the biggest smile (apart from the Hong Kong pearls of course) this trip. Waiting to meet the American pearl goddess Betty Sue King of King’s Ransom Pearls ( )  someone came up to me who clearly knew me but equally clearly could not place me. T’was Lynn from one of my wholesalers.  Who was not expecting to see my standing on a HK street as she went home. Then along came another supplier. It was fun and a very small world moment.

Apologies for the late start to the trip’s blog, by the way…my laptop decided to forget my password somewhere on the way here.

The pearls have been plentiful and I’ve found many great metallics. There’s still a shortage of natural colour half drilled and undrilled in strong colours, especially that elusive lavender to purple range where lustre drops away and a dull brownyness creeps in.


This is what I mean by strong colour!

Classic white pearls have been very popular in the last few months so first order of business was to find strands, undrilled and half drilled.

For anyone who thinks matching white pearls is easy..I think I managed to catch some of the subtle nuances of tone and undertone in these white undrilled round…then of course there is quality of lustre and shape and size to consider.

matching white pearls

nuances of white..colour, over and undertones, lustre, size, shape

I found some great metallic huge white round strands – up to 15mm, roundish, some flaws but hhhhhhhuuuugggeeee.

round white pearls

White strands. Round…metallic…what’s not to forgive a few flaws?

Finally, from one wholesaler, some tiny keishi strands with great lustre and delicate colour and some huge metallic buttons for great earrings which sit neatly on the lobe, have great impact but won’t flop.

minute keishi strands and big metallic coins

minute keishi strands and big metallic coins





Hong Kong here we come again!

I’m looking forward to visiting Hong Kong again in a couple of weeks, for 10 days of pearl and findings shopping – it’s such a hard job but I force myself because someone has to!

Finding the very best pearls at the keenest possible prices is probably the bet bit about this whole business – even if I do reel out of a wholesaler’s offices at the end of a day selecting, matching and finding with eyes a bit cartoon whirly-whirly.

I’ll be updating this blog daily with lots of photos from Hong Kong, wholesaler’s offices, the International gem show itself and just about anything pearl related seen on the whole trip.

Now is the time to be in touch if you want me to find just that perfect pearl for something you are planning, or the finding.

The show itself is huge, probably the biggest in the world with 3,700 international companies exhibiting . The pearl hall alone is the size of a large aircraft hanger crammed with pearls. There’s another hall which is just diamonds and another is coloured stones (you can read more here)

Hallmarking isn’t pearls but it is jewellery

Dept of information which might come in useful in a trivia quiz. Did you know that a hallmark should be returned to the office which marked it to be obliterated before the item is changed or altered?

No? Well neither did I. But it is right there in the Hallmarking Act

1.Make an addition, alteration or repair to an article bearing approved hallmarks, except in accordance with the written consent of an assay office.

2.Remove, alter, transpose or deface any hallmark struck on an article, except in accordance with the written consent of an assay office.

News to me so I asked more details from the London Assay Office’s ( public face of total precious metal info, Steve Collins. How often does this happen? ‘Sadly not nearly as often as they should! Don’t get me started, for example on those silver rings and bangles that have been made out of old spoons and sugar tongs.

‘once a hallmark is on an item, you are not allowed to touch the hallmark or do anything to the item without the prior approval of the assay office. So if someone bought a spoon and filed off the hallmark they are committing an offence. Many people are quite flippant about the hallmark without realising the seriousness of what it is and what it stands for. This is an offence that used to be punishable by death remember!

‘So for example let’s say you wanted to size a gold ring. As you know the weight limit for hallmarking gold is 1g, so if you’re going to be adding more than 1g of gold to the ring, then technically it would need to be checked by an assay office. You can imagine a scenario with an 18ct wedding ring being sized up 10 sizes using 9ct gold. The hallmark on it indicates that the entire item is made of at least 18ct, but it’s clearly not and so the poor customer is not buying what he thinks he is!
I think in practice this again doesn’t happen as often as it should do..and from personal experience I’ve seen rings that have been completely re-shanked and have not been re hallmarked. The jeweller then gets round the law by not describing the ring as being made of gold, and listing the repair as “re-shank to diamond ring”.

Cancelled hallmark

here is an image of a crossed out hallmark, along with our reference number. The reference number links to our file about the article which lists the reasons why the action was taken (photo London Assay Office)

This service is free – how good is that


Goldsmiths’ Company event for students

.Yesterday and Friday the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths and the London Assay Office held an event for UK jewellery students to learn about all sorts of businesses which support and supply their crafts and skills, from all about hallmarking itself to……pearls………..US!

outside the guild's hall

The flag’s out -outside the guild’s hall

Over the two days we’ve talked ourselves hoarse about pearls (my voice has dropped about an octave at least!) with students and with some of the leaders of the jewellery business in the country. I don’t know if I wasn’t more excited than many  of the students at who was there and who we met.

Through the imposing doors and up the sweeping staircase to our waiting stand, in the livery colour of crimson with Pearlescence in gold lettering, and under the crest of the livery company ( I know from a previous visit that security is very tight – it has to be because the London Assay Office, which checks and oversees the quality of £millions in precious metals is on the top floors.(

crest of the worshipful company of goldsmiths

crest of the worshipful company of goldsmiths

The Drawing Room is the room used by the film company to stand in for Buckingham Palace in the film The Queen, starring Helen Mirren. It’s all white and gold,

We set up and go round to see who else is here. It’s by invitation, and many of us are as stunned as I am to have been asked. There’s a big buzz of excitement…

The Drawing Room, Goldsmiths' Hall

The Drawing Room, Goldsmiths’ Hall

Pretty soon the students start to flood in and immediately home in on the fireballs I’ve brought. My aim in choosing what to bring was to keep it pared down and show that there is so much more to pearls than white and round and the fireballs and big ripples I selected start their job immediately. By the end of the two days I think I explained how fireballs happen at least once per hour! The students love them, and fireballs.

I did several knotting demonstrations as well during the two days. By the last one my co-ordination had gone completely and I got knots!

me plus demonstration table

me plus demonstration table

At the end, @goldpolisher and I both asked if we could keep our name labels from the front of our stands as souvenirs. We abruptly changed our minds though when it was pointed out that this would mean we would not be coming back. ‘Keep them…Please!’

Special thanks to @stevelao and Alison of the assay office, plus to the wonderful, unfailingly helpful, knowledgeable and friendly Goldsmiths’ Company and London Assay Office staff.

Most memorable moment…Looking at the panels on the wall listing the Masters of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths dating back to 1317 and realising that I’m standing right there – by invitation!

One of those weeks…!

It’s been One of those weeks here in the Pearlescence Workshop. We’ve had a real masterclass week of everything which could go wrong has gone wrong. From things being dropped and lost while in plain sight to loose rattly nucleuses – five in one strand of south sea pearls. Plus silk stuck in a necklace in for its triennial re-string…plus even a tahitian pearl with (apparently) the hiccups.

So it seemed a good plan to sit back and write up how to deal with these things for those of our customers who are starting out as makers themselves.

Rattling/spinning nucleus

This happens when the nucleus of a bead nucleated pearl comes loose – when the nacre, for some reason, isn’t stuck to it at all and the bead inside the pearl can rattle around freely. It’s a total pain because it means that that pearl cannot be strung as it is, because the drill hole through the nucleus will invariably have spun out of line from the drill holes in the nacre. The first you usually know of it is when you are sitting there, knotting away in a sort of knotting fugue and suddenly you’re poking at the hole with your beading needle and nothing is happening.

First thought is that something is jamming the drill hole, a remnant of silk from the previous knotting or from the temporary strand but the clue is that the needle only goes in a short way from either side. If it’s a bit of silk then the distances will be unequal and one side will go in much further than the other.

I’ve heard of people willing to sit and fiddle and poke with the pearl until they ‘catch’ the inside drill hole but life is a bit too short and I am far too impatient to do that. I just slap a 0.7mm drill bit into the workshop hand held drill and drill a new hole. The cunning bit comes from keeping the bit in the hole so it doesn’t just spin off again immediately, then plug the holes with a headpin or bit of wire until you can get that needle in and through. It’s definitely one of those times when three hands are useful.

Not only have I had the mega south sea rattly strand but also a freshwater bead nuked   and an akoya, one of the baroque blue strands we found in Hong Kong last month and which sold out within twelve hours of listing them!. I think that is probably my quota for the whole year

Knot or silk stuck in drill hole

However much we’re careful when taking a necklace apart for re-stringing it sometimes happens that a remnant of a knot manages to get itself pulled into the drill hole and then jam. Or some really cheap temporary silk shreds and a snarl ends up inside the pearl.

Sometimes a firm application of a head pin into the drill hole will shift something. The best way to do this is to insert the pin then hold it with a pair of pliers just about one mm away from the nacre at the hole and firmly shove. Holding it just outside usually stops the silver from bending and sometimes this is enough to dislodge the obstruction.

If that doesn’t work then the easiest way to clear to blockage is to use an 0.7 drill bit and simply drill out the silk.

Glue misadventures

We switched from two part epoxy glue to gel superglue about six months ago and it’s working very well so far..with the added bliss that there is a release fluid.

The gel superglue is very controllable and easy to use…more so than the usual liquid which can go everywhere. But sometimes things go wrong

I was making up some tahitian pendants last thing yesterday and left them to set really well overnight. When I came to check them one was like this:

Tahitian pearl with glue hiccups

Tahitian pearl with glue hiccups

Every other pendant was fine. What had happened was that a pocket of air had been trapped at the bottom of the drill hole (It’s half drilled) and when I put the finding and glue into the drill hole the air was compressed.

Then when I let go and set it down the compressed air pushed the finding back out again. Usually when that happens it isn’t quite as spectacular as that, it will just move by a mm or so. This one was very nearly out altogether.

Thank the gods of pearls that there is magical unglue liquid. A quick dab and a wriggle and the finding is out…drill the hole clean again, make sure any glue is off the finding and re-do

Oriental magics – wonderful pearls

This has been such a successful trip. I’m home now, and unpacking all the loot from the last week’s hard pearl searching and sourcing, firstly at my favourite wholesalers’ offices and then at the Hong Kong Spring gem show. The pearls have been quite wonderful and we spent many hours in discussion on how far the quality has advanced in only five or so years. Bead nucleated pearls in all sizes were more available, but the biggest and best are still as expensive as South Sea, and rightly so for they are beautiful and as rare, if not rarer

Star of the Show

The stunning ‘new’ of the show were AAA clean pearls in deep shades of amethyst, purples, and pinks. All natural colours. These pearls have a bead inside and take three to four years to grow a good thick layer of nacre. The purple colours are the result of a little bit of mutation mixed with some very clever selective breeding and nucleation by farmers.

ming pearls ming pearls

Stunning bead nucleated pearls


deep pink/purple Ming pearls

This strand is a pinky purple. It’s the one which spoke to me the moment I saw it!

Amethyst purple strand from Jack Lynch of Sea Hunt Pearls

Amethyst purple strand from Jack Lynch of Sea Hunt Pearls

Pearls with such rich natural colours are new this harvest and quite stunning.


Plenty of really good ripples around, as well as hundreds of strands of pallid spotty ones – those are the ones which turn up on the usual websites.

Deep pinks and golds ripples. Not huge but great lustre

Deep pinks and golds ripples. Not huge but great lustre

Small -11mm t 12mm round ripples. Again, great lustre and colour

Small -11mm to 12mm- round ripples. Again, great lustre and colour


I found two outstanding Ming strands on my last day at the show. These are dyed, yes, but the size, surface quality and lustre make them dramatic strands and potentially pretty knock-out necklaces

 Deep silver grey Ming strand, sizes 11.8mm to 16.8 mm

Deep silver grey Ming strand, sizes 11.8mm to 16.8 mm

The colour of this strand is a deep silver grey, with a faint blush of pink. The surface isn’t clean but about half the pearls are metallic and the rest are close to metallic.

Very rich gold Ming pearl strand. The pearls are 12.1mm to 15,6mm

Very rich gold Ming pearl strand. The pearls are 12.1mm to 15,6mm

The gold strand is also not perfectly clean, there are minor surface marks but again, there is a lot of metallic lustre


Unusual pale silver to dark grey akoya pearls

Unusual pale silver to dark grey akoya pearls

We don’t carry a huge stock of Akoya pearls, mainly because it is a very specialised market well populated with experts who can supply white round pearls in various grades and qualities.

But I did find these four strands of shades of grey (!) very baroque metallic akoyas. They are 9mm to 10mm or so and very lumpy and bumpy, roundish to drops, but with great metallic lustre and strong overtones of pinks, blues, greens on some pearls.

I had hoped to get some of the mixed natural colour akoyas which were very unusual and rare a couple of years ago but farmers and wholesalers seem to have got wise to that one and there were many strands, all very expensive.

Classic whites

Finally I stocked up on classic white strands. I found some absolutely lush totally metallic 10mm to 11.4mm. The two strands are almost perfectly round and white white, with almost invisible  light surface marks.

White near perfection

White near perfection

I also replenished our stock of all nacre white freshwater round pearls in various sizes. Total classics.

And Finally

Black hearts

Black hearts

I spend most of my last afternoon trying to find some heart shaped strands. They are very popular but it seems no-one is growing them. All I found were these 10mm dyed black hearts. They have a good clear heart shape and some great colour and lustre. As you can see from the photo they have been drilled on the skew. Adds interest. I’ll keep trying to find some hearts in white and natural colours!

Next time

As soon as I can. Pairs and singles, then some new and exciting findings



More earring pairs and some fun akoya

Today I was out at the show proper for the first time. The list is almost covered so today has been bowing and picking up some of the peals I could not get in Tsim Sha Tse..especially akoya. I had some akoya requests. Mostly straightforward white earring pairs, plus a special of a ring iwth small black and white akoya with the shank like the one you’ve seen on me in the last few posts. (everyone admires that pearl by the way. It really is mirror metallic)

Who knew how hard it was to find a single 5mm black akoya pearl. They just aren’t being dyed or something. In the end I did, but I had gone up and down all the aisles of the akoya specialists looking. On my akoya trek I did find these three fun akoya nayural colours very baroque pearls. Super colours and metallic lustre. Serous haggling means a great price will be possible. Round natural colour strands have quadrupled. Presumably the farmers and dealers have twigged how popular natural colour pearls  have become and are leaving them as is rather than bleaching them all white. Plenty of natural white about too. But I’ll leave white akoya to those who have them covered already. That market is full.

akoya pearls

Very baroque natural colours akoya pearls. Lovely colours and wow lustre

Heading back to Grace for a sit down and a chat with my long term friend there, Cicie, I spotted some luscious  huge deep strong natural colour button pearls and went through their entire stock to find just these few pairs – up to 16mm and metallic. Being buttons they’ll make better earrings as they sit better and more neatly to the ear lobe than rounds when you are getting into seriously big studs.

natural colours pearls

Sumptuous HUGE natural colours button pearl pairs

I was so tempted to browse and get some more of those rich huge strands of purple, violet and lilac matched strands like my new one but resisted. But if anyone seriousy wants one please email me now = last chance for me to select one tomorrow before I head home.

It was time to head back to Kowloon but finally these two strands caught my eye on my way out so I got them. Dyed black big rounds, lovely range of colours, and metallic.The photo shows them darker than they are.

black freshwater pearls

black on the way out strands