Tag Archives: China

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