Tag Archives: pearls

A

AAA Grading system

Pearls are usually graded between A and AAA, with A being not very good to AAA which should be of the specific shape (usually used for round pearls) smooth surfaced (with only very small and near invisible flaws) and of high shine or lustre

AA+ Nearly as good as AAA but perhaps slightly off round when rolled and a few more flaws although these will still only be visible on close inspection. Look closely below- the halos are slightly oval because the pearls are off-round although the halos are still pretty regular

AA Average to good lustre, off round, blemishing to 20% of surface

A: This is the lowest jewellery-grade pearl, with a lower lustre and/or more than 25% of the surface showing defects. Probably a ’round’ pearl will be egg shaped, even from a distance

The problem with this system is, of course, that you may be faced with a smooth surfaced and metallic pearl which is off round to the point where it drops from AAA to AA+ or even AA. It will still be a beautiful pearl and one which will probably look round when worn but many buyers will be deterred by an AA grading.The lustre reflection below differs noticeably between pearls in terms of reflection and shape and the one to the left of centre has a grooved surface flaw’

A+ Low quality. Visibly off round and very variable lustre. Many flaws in the surface

(any website or other seller which talks about AAAA+++ grade pearls is talking rubbish and this should be challenged).

Tahitian pearls have a distinct and separate system, established by GIE Perles de Tahiti, and the Ministere de la Perliculture of Tahiti which grades from A (finest) to D ( poor) but to avoid confusion Pearlescence uses only the A-AAA gradings throughout the website.

We also have adopted the name ‘Essence’ for pearls which are exceptional. They have been selected for highly metallic lustre, clean surface and shape, in that order. Usually only found by selecting in person. Probably under 1% of pearls will show the mirror metallic lustre we look for

Abalone Pearls

Research and new farming for abalone pearls has started in New Zealand in the last few years..

  The abalone produces a distinctive and    tunningly iridescent blue pearl but is very hard to nucleate as its blood does not clot, so any damage will kill it.There are natural (wild) abalone pearls out there, with wildly baroque shapes and a distinctive horn shape tapering from a broad and sometimes distorted and ugly base to a sharp tip

Akoya

Akoya pearls come from the akoya oyster (Pinctada Fucata Martensii), which is the smallest pearl producing oyster (6cm to 8cm). This is why akoya pearls over 10mm are very rare while the normal size is about 6mm to 7mm It is a salt water mollusc.

Little akoya pearl oyster

Most cultured sea pearls are akoya pearls which are made with a bead nucleus, so that they usually have a good round shape. Big irregularities tend to be tails while less than perfect pearls have nacre with pits or convolutions. Good akoya pearls have a sharply reflective metallic lustre. Most akoya pearls come from Japan with a small production in China.

Akoya oysters like to live in water one to five metres deep and in temperatures of between 15 to 24 degrees Celsius

Modern pearl farming began properly in 1905 when Kokichi Mikimoto produced the first round farmed pearls. The company which still bears his name continues to be a world leader in the provision of the finest akoya pearls

Akoya pearls are harvested after only 9-16 months. The main thing to be aware of is that akoya pearls which are too cheap can have only the thinnest layer of nacre. Pearls with very thin nacre may even ‘blink’ which means that when rolled the nacre blinks to show patches where there is no nacre and you can see the nucleus. Below is a very bad example – the cream colour is nacre and the white is nucleus. Even when the nacre appears solid it can be very thin: peer closely and you can just about make out the thin line of the black nacre on the akoya pearl on the left (which split in half) The nacre on the pearl on the right is so thin the pearl is a ‘blinker’ .


Very thin black nacre Nacre so thin the bead is visible in places


You can see the thin akoya nacre

in these split pearls



Recently the trend for natural colour pearls has spread to akoya pearls and where once

Blue single vietnamese akoya pearl grey blue round akoya strand

every akoya pearl would have been bleached to make it white (and then often pinked to give a pink overtone) now akoya are available in delicate natural shades of pink, grey, or gold as well as a dark grey/blue which also has strong green highlights

Most white akoya are bleached, though some natural white are available. Black akoya are dyed and can look too uniform and dense in colour, while it is also hard to find gold akoya which haven’t been dyed. Suspect strong gold tones and opt for delicate blush tones



Natural pale gold akoya pearls. Natural mixed colour akoyas

B

Baroque

Baroque pearls are strictly all non-round pearls but the term is usually applied to pearls which are not round but which nevertheless have a good rounded surface all over. Freshwater pearls are most commonly baroque as freshwater pearls are mantle-tissue nucleated instead of bead nucleated. So round pearls are the exception, although more are being produced as techniques improve. The most valuable baroque pearls are South Sea and Tahitian pearls which are produced by Blacklipped and White-lipped oysters (Pinctada margaritifera, and the Pinctada maxima).


Baroque white freshwater pearl necklace

Commercial baroque pearls tend to be bigger pearls – there is a balancing act for the pearl farmer between leaving the pearl in the mollusc with the chance of a big round pearl and the likelihood that the pearl will go out of round and become baroque and therefore less valuable – but for the buyer, you will be getting a lot of nacre for your money.

Bead Nucleation

There are two basic types of farmed pearls: bead nucleated and tissue nucleated. (The other main type classification is between cultured or farmed and natural or wild pearls)

Nucleation is the process which starts off the growth of a cultured or farmed pearl. It involves inserting something into a nacre-producing mollusc to trigger production of a pearl. This nucleus can be either just a tiny sliver of mantle tissue on its own or a sliver of mantle tissue plus a bead or other shaped foundation. In either case a nacre secreting pearl sac grows and a pearl is made within that sac.

Bead nucleated pearls include all Tahitian and south sea pearls, akoya pearls and many modern big freshwater pearls (brands Edison and Ming – see separate entry under Edison)) as well as fancy shapes such as coins or hearts.

Tissue nucleated pearls are mostly all freshwater pearls which are therefore all nacre, solid pearl. no bead inside. (Chinese and Biwa freshwater pearls)

Keishi pearls are an exception. They are the pearls formed inside a usually pre-existing pearl sac from which a pearl has been removed (think of how a balloon looks when the air seeps out over time and you get the idea of a keishi pearl.

oyster diagram

Archetypical shellfish
1 Shell
2 area of mantle tissue from which donor tissue is taken
3 mantle
4 gonad
blobs pearl nucleation placements

Mantle tissue is used because that is the area of tissue which specifically secretes nacre. It’s usually there to make the mollusc’s shell but will produce nacre wherever it is – a talent utilised by the pearl farmer.

Placement of the nucleus varies as well. Beads are placed in the sex organ – the gonad – of the mollusc and only one per mollusc. (You might think that this would stop the mollusc from wanting to reproduce but there is some research which indicates it make them more not less active!)

Tissue nucleated pearl grafts can be many to a mollusc and are placed in the mantle.

All sea pearls are grown around a bead. It used to be that beads were not used in the production of most freshwater pearls (exceptions include coin pearls for example) However the last couple of years have seen the development of bead nucleation in freshwater pearls, producing second or third graft round pearls of stunning colour, lustre and shape. High quality bead ‘nuked’ pearls are still exceptional and unusual and therefore very expensive, but can be up to 18mm.

Biwa

Or sometimes biwi-

A freshwater pearl grown in lake Biwi in Japan. Biwa pearl production stopped some years ago in the lake due to pollution but some farmers are having some success with growing these rare pearls again

Stick pearls are often generically mis-described as biwa pearls. They aren’t.

Bleaching

White pearls are colour treated by bleaching. This applies to both akoya and freshwater pearls. Sometimes after bleaching a faint pink overtone is added as this can make the pearl more attractive

Black-lipped Oyster

Pinctada margaritifera This oyster produces the Tahitian black pearl, which is neither black, nor comes from Tahiti.

Blinking

Term to describe poor quality bead nucleated pearls where the nacre does not even fully cover the nucleus. When the strand is rolled the pearls look as if they are blinking. Beware of akoya pearls which are cheap. They will almost certainly have very thin nacre which will wear through.

Blister

A pearl that is attached to the inner surface of a mollusc shell.

baroq

Often rounded on one side and flat on the other. Sometimes also called a fastener pearl . Most often used to make stud earrings, because in larger sizes round pearls can be too proud of the earlobe.

G

Gamma Radiation

Gamma irradiation turns the nacre of freshwater pearls very dark, and often also imbues a metallic lustre with rainbow orient. Strangely, it has no effect on salt water nacre but will turn the nucleus dark which shows through the layer of nacre, making the pearl look grey or blueish There is no danger of radiation contamination from irradiated pearls.

Granulated

or popcorn pearls have a knobbly surface which resembles..popcorn. This granulation is often mixed with patches of high lustre surface. When the Chinese freshwater pearl business was starting up most of the pearls were, at least to some degree, popcornish and oval in shape. Term also used for the earliest Chinese freshwater pearls which were called Rice Krispie pearls.



Loose, undrilled white rosebud /granulated pearls

Gold Leaf Pearls

This is the name we give to the extremely beautiful lustrous gold pearls which are natural pearls with a layer of aragonite with an incredible lustre – so it does indeed look as if a layer of gold leaf has been applied to the pearls.


These pearls show the stunning gold colour which

looks as if gold leaf had been applied to the pearl surface

Gold-lip Oyster

A large oyster (variety of Pinctada maxima) used in some countries to produce South Sea cultured pearls; it produces a yellowi nacre, and pearls that typically range from off-white to rich, deep gold in colour.


Loose undrilled gold south sea pearls waiting to be paired for earrings

Goniochromism

An optical phenomenon which causes the hue of the pearl to change colours depending upon the angle from which the pearl is viewe. Popularly called colour-change pearls

K

Kasumi

These are a sub-species of freshwater pearls grown only in Lake Kasumi-ga-Ura, some 40 miles northeast of Tokyo, Japan. They have a distinctive surface, like wrinkled satin. Kasumi like pearls are now being produced in China


Chinese Kasumi look remarkably like the distinctive pearls

from lake Kasumi but cost a fraction of the price

Keishi or Keshi

Japanese word meaning “something as tiny as you can imagine”, such as a grain of sand; used originally for very tiny gems that resulted by accident as part of the culturing process; now used to refer to all-nacre baroque pearls produced when something goes wrong in the process of culturing so that the seeding nucleus is ejected from the half formed pearl. South Sea kesihi pearls can be very large; Japanese keishi pearls can be minuscule. The shape ranges from resembling a cornflake (so they are also called cornflake pearls) to something more like a slightly deflated balloon. They tend to have fabulous lustre


White keishi pearls

Knots

Knots in the silk between pearls is a sign of quality in pearls. If there are no knots or the pearls are on beading wire and look stiff and without movement then they are not being assembled to show their best. The knots serve two purposes. Firstly the chances of losing all the pearls is minimised, only one or two maximum can be lost (Pearlescence always gets really annoyed at the scene in ‘Murder is Announced’ where the pearl necklace breaks and all the pearls shower onto the floor. Good for Miss Marple but very bad for pearls). Secondly each knot acts as a hinge allowing the necklace or bracelet to flex. They stop the individual pearls packing closely. Never get pearls strung onto real silk wet – this is not because the pearls will be harmed, it is very unlikely that just getting wet with water (either salt, fresh or swimming pool) will damage pearls after all, but the silk on which they are strung will rot in time especially the silk inside each pearl which is trapped and therefore takes much longer to dry. Please do wear your pearls all the time. Pearls need light oils to look their best and the oil in human skin is perfect. If you absolutely must wear your pearls in water then please let us know and we can re-string them on a very strong and water resistant synthetic silk substitute.

Play between the pearl and the knots. This is a sign that the silk may be stretching and it might be time to start thinking about getting them re-strung. We are happy to re-string pearls and will restring our own pearls at a reduced rate.


The picture shows a two strand necklace where the upper strand has been

strung unknotted onto silk and the lower has been knotted.

T

Tahitian Pearls

are produced by the black-lipped oyster (Pinctada margaritifera). They have been produced for almost exactly 50 years now in French Polynesia, in the lagoons of remote coral atolls and islands – everywhere except on Tahiti Itself!


Kamoka pearl farm,. Ahe atoll, French Polynesia

Black Lip Oysters are now also being farmed in a small way in Australia. The oyster itself is quite large — sometimes up to 12 inches across and weighing as much as 10 pounds — which often results in much larger-than-average pearls. The pearls are unique because of their natural dark colours. Most “black” Tahitian pearls are not actually black, but are instead grey, silver, charcoal,chocolate brown, blue, purple, aubergine, pink, beige or even off-white Truly black pearls are extremely rare.


Black pearls….

Tahitian pearls are grown around a bead so are often round but can be semi round to drops as well. Circles are common, and some prefer circle pearls because they are clearly real and not imitation. Tahitian pearls go through x-ray inspection before legal export (ask to see their export certificate and confuse most jewellers!) and have a different grading system A-D where A grade are the best pearls

Third graft

Sometimes molluscs yield pearls of such quality that farmers put them back in the water for a third time. Third graft pearls will be very large indeed, and the mollusc could be ten years old.

Top drilled

Asymmetrically drilled pearls, often oval. If strung un-knotted they tend to move around against each other on the silk and then are called dancing pearls

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

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

 

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 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.

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 (www.thegoldsmiths.co.uk)- 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.(www.thegoldsmiths.co.uk/welcome-to-the-assayoffice)

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!

What are Ming Pearls?

Ming pearls are simply one brand of bead nucleated freshwater pearls from China. Bead nuked pearls started to appear four years ago and can be divided into two main categories, depending on the quality of their nacre: either smooth or rippled. From this you can split the smooth into Edison (a brand from the pioneer of this type of pearl), Ming, (the second brand, not allied to any particular wholesaler) and generic bead nucleated pearls.

(Just to remind even more, until a few years ago freshwater pearls were usually all nacre, with pearl growth triggered by the insertion of just a sliver of mantle tissue into a host shell. It was only sea water pearls (South Sea, Tahitian, Akoya and a few freshwaters such as coin pearls) which had a bead template nucleus as well as that sliver of mantle tissue)

Edison pearls

These are Edison pearls

 Ming pearls

These are Ming pearls

bead nucleated freshwater pearls

These are generic bead nucleated freshwater pearls

ripple pearls

And, finally, these are ripple pearls

The Ming pearl name tends to be applied to the better quality of generic bead nucleated pearls. It is more of a description of quality than a brand. (Edison is a brand, belonging to one pearl farmer/wholesaler. They tend to be the most expensive and can be the finest quality available in the world)

In general these new bead nuked pearls can be, like any pearls, terrible quality, with pitted, ringed, thin and lumpy nacre and washed out colour with chalky lustre. That’s probably what you’ll get if you bought from an unknown seller on any auction site. Quality (and, of course, price) runs up to metallic lustred 15mm perfectly round. flawlessly smooth surfaced pearls

golden pearl pair

A pair of perfectly round, smooth, metallic golden pearls

The pair of pearls in the above photo would pass as a top quality pair of South Seas any day – and are still very expensive, but not as expensive as south sea pearls.

So..what are Ming pearls? They are usually the better quality generic bead nucleated freshwater pearls,  but some people throw that description at any quality of such pearls. As a quality description it is really pretty meaningless. Calling a pearl a Ming pearl does not of itself guarantee any sort of quality.

February 5 2016 addendum

Contrary to what was just claimed on QVC Honora do not buy up the entire harvest of Ming pearls. Pearlescence has plenty of Ming pearls in stock and will probably buy many more in three weeks when we go pearl buying in Hong Kong. The Honora claim is simply not true,

 

Day…? Final reflections

Final reflections on this year’s buying trip. There are good pearls out there, but the only way to find them is undoubtedly to select them in person. With the best of relationships with a supplier, if you order, say, 10 strands of AAA white 8mm round pearls, that is what you will get, but you won’t get ten with metallic lustre. You’ll just get 10 strands from the AAA white 8mm bag or hank. Nor will you get pearls like that blue baroque Edison or the ripple gold south sea. They were both one-offs which I had to be there to scoop.

I had all sizes and shapes of loose (that means individual not strands) half drilled pearls on the big list. They had been very short of supply last year and this year was not much better. I don’t think I found any blacks which I wanted to buy in any shape or size. And just a few natural colours. Given that loose pearls are invariably more expensive than pearls in strands you would think that decent pearls would be selected out for this, but it seems not.

Bead Nucleated freshwater pearls continue their march for pearl world domination, with non-Edison branded pearls now very close in quality to the originator of the method and with a rapidly expanding portfolio of sizes, colours and surfaces. I saw, not just ripples and smooth big pearls but more of the baby white Edisons (I still have some from last year), smaller coloureds, tiny round 5mm vibrant coloured ones I was told were keishi, and generally more and more ‘routine’ pearls with a bead instead of solid nacre. Are solid nacre freshwater pearls going to disappear or be so rare as to be highly prized a few years into the future?

Finally, we are pawing at the pearls from today once we have caught up with the order backlog (for which we massively apologise) and we will be posting new makes and pearls as soon as we can in a separate section (we have yet to think up a good name for it!) watch not this, but that space

 

 

Day seven….winding down

Winding down now, most of the pearls we wanted have been found. It’s been a good trip, Successful, with beautiful pearls. I think that everything which could be metallic is metallic. I’m already thinking up designs and work plans for one-off silver and goldsmithing.

Time for some reflections. There is still something of a shortage of medium sized natual colour and black rounds, drops and buttons for earrings with metallic lustre and good colour. Many of the pearls are washed out in colour.

There are very few souffles around. There were some strands and loose at the main souffle supplier but they were light and ho-hum in colour, allbeit with good lustre. I wonder if production is tailing off, reflecting falling demand. At the same time another supplier seems to have been trying to produce something similar – what were described to me as baroque bead nucleated pearls looked like souffles rather than regular baroques. They had a bead ( you could hear it rattling in some) but at the same time there was a dark brown organic stuff inside each pearl between bead and nacre. It was a dried out flaky substance. No information forthcoming on how the pearls were produced.

Bead nucleated is very much the thing. Solid nacre is almost becoming the exception. If you are wanting a sold nacre freshwater ‘classic’ white strand my advice would be to get it soon because solid nacre is going to get rarer – ask yourself….if you can produce round pearls with a bead and know most of your production will be round and at least AA wouldn’t you opt for that rather than hoping that the miracle of round and perfect AAA?

There are more and more bead nucleated natural colours and white big round pearls with smooth surfaces and great lustre. Prices are plummeting with most suppliers.  At the same time there are lots of very pallid ones out there. Mostly I don’t get them, but some had a blue/silver overtone and I’ll call them moonlight pearls. If you go for cool colours these may be the ripples for you.

From a personal business viewpoint, the main impression which has struck me is the difference in attitude to their customers between the big companies and the smaller ones. The big ones aren’t really interested in small companies and don’t want to deal with us – that was made very clear when four of us were left in the hands of an employee who had worked for the company for a week only while every other member of staff looked on. I’ll not be even looking at their stock in future And another big player had sacks of real rubbish and year old low end stock alongside their top grade freshwaters. There the folk who deal with us regularly are delightful but the managers are sour faced and never even look at you. Conversely, the smaller suppliers have the same stock, often cheaper, and know me and are pleased to see me. We compare photos of grandchildren and discuss all manner of issues (well, mostly pearl issues) Where would you go?

If you can’t be bothered to be pleasant why should I give you my money?

Day five.. pearl finding

White mirror metallic rounds.

White mirror metallic rounds.

A busy day again, full of pearl finding. I picked up where I left off, working through the wants list of loose single and pairs. It took more than an hour to find ten perfect pairs of AAA white mirror metallic pearls. It is staggering how many variations are possible in what should be a simple task – after all, how much variety can there be? Well the answer, of course, is zillions. For perfect pairs the size, colour, overtone, lustre and mirror size and quality must all match perfectly.

Of course that is perfection. Later in the day Betty Sue King and I were sadly contemplating some big round bead nucleated ‘pairs’ most of which were sort of maybe something like.  Betty Sue is a leading American pearl supplier with a lifetime of knowledge and skill in the pearl world. I just sit there learning when she is in the room.

Before that though one of the highlights was a collection of nuggety ice cream coloured 10mmish undrilled mirror metallics. Not sure what I will do with them, but at the moment I’m thinking some pretty and feminine station bracelets with silver chain.

Once I had paid for the pearls at the morning supplier I moved on to a second. Poking around the shelves, I pounced on some big and colourful bead nucleated baroques. Some of them huge -30mm and more. They were bead nukes gone a bit wonky.

Huge baroque bead nucleated pearls

Huge baroque bead nucleated pearls

Variable in quality, never the less, there were some big colourful baroques for some dramatic earrings. There were two bags of those, and then one bag of pretty rubbish pearls in which was modestly sitting this huge true blue pearl

The pearl is a true blue, not a grey with a blue overtone. It is truly blue

The pearl is a true blue, not a grey with a blue overtone. It is truly blue

The wholesale staff member and I both gasped. You can see how how big the pearl is. There are a couple of fairly big flaws but ..oh that colour!

It’s now mine (of course!)

For the last hour I dashed off to the findings supplier and grabbed silver, vermeil and gold clasps, earrings, pendant fittings, rings, enhancers and so on.  Oddly the staff wanted to go home, so I left my basket. I’ll select some of the beautiful Italian-made and designed woven silver necklets

 

 

Day Two…..Phew……lots of pearls

A great day.Spent the whole day at my favourite supplier and we’ve made some serious inroads into the big ‘wants’ list.Lots of pearls.

9.30 in the morning. I’m already seated at the big table, and there are some huge dark ripples spread out before me. Life is good!

 

one ming and a soft gold strand

In the end I selected a beautiful AAA metallic strand of bead nucleated pearls, a strand of really big soft gold white ripples and a strand of huge dark ripples.

Next were bead nucleated singles. various sizes and I’ve got a collection of the most stunning colours with the most intensely metallic lustre you could ever want

Stunning drops

Stunning drops

 

Then I was shown some of the latest harvest of Ming bead nucleated pearls. Phew. Up to 17mm, pretty much clean with only faint blemishing and metallic lustre and rich colour. I couldn’t decide which to select (all three?) so asked Twitter. Within a few minutes my mobile was throwing out replies! Each strand had votes. Watch this space to see what I decided.

Thee huge dark bead nucleated strands with metallic lustre

Thee huge dark bead nucleated strands with metallic lustre

 

Moving right along, How do 13mm and 14mm white metallic drops sound to you?

White metallic drops

White metallic drops

 

Finally I was given the first showing of some totally new pearls. They are small, 5mm to about 9mm, but with intense colours and mirror metallic lustre. Anyone have any idea what these little beauties are

Mystery new pearls

Mystery new pearls

I resisted the impulse to immediately buy every one and found nine pairs – mostly smaller sizes, for earrings and some singles which will be set onto rings. No-one yet has got what they are!

Being dutiful I tried to move on to black drops but when I spread them out  I glanced at the clock…nearly 6pm! No wonder I was all pearled out for the day!

More tomorrow

 

 

Michelle Keegan loves her Pearlescence anklet

It must be nearly two years ago now that we supplied a simple white pearl anklet to Michelle Keegan’s stylist for a photoshoot with a holiday look.

Michelle loved the anklet so of course we gave it to her. And if you want proof that she really does love the anklet here it is out in Dubai on the beach with her and her fiance Mark Wright this week

Michelle Keegan and Mark Wright

Michelle Keegan and Mark Wright

And later on the beach (photo from The Sun

michelle dubaiMichelle is leaving top UK soap Coronation Street in May. It was her enthusiasm for this anklet which triggered the making of the whole Beach Collection – which she named.

Beach Collection items are specifically designed to be all the jewellery you need to take on holiday. Either simple pearls or pearls on leather. And they look great on men or women.

added March 30…The anklet is still sending postcards – Today’s Star Sunday calls it ‘delicate’ !

Buy one like Michelle’s here

A Special Find….Lake Biwa Pearls

Lake Biwa near Kyoto in Japan was the home once of a thriving freshwater pearl industry.Nowadays the name is often slapped onto thin stick pearls (erroneously)

I have a regular customer/correspondant, Andrew. He teaches classes in Rasa Shastra -making medicines using, amongst other things, powdered pearls.  Which is where Pearlescence comes in, obviously. We supply him regularly with both pearl powder from drilling and whole pearls for crushing.

Now a week or so ago I got an excited email from Andrew while he was in Japan, up near Kyoto. Would I be interested in some pearls which apparently were genuine Lake Biwa pearls. Lake Biwa was the centre of the Japanese freshwater pearl industry almost 100  years ago but the farms closed as the lake got hopelessly polluted, too dirty for its own species of freshwater mussel to survive.

Andrew had found the proverbial little old shop which, in a dusty corner, had some pearls which were said to be genuine Biwas.

recently the term Biwa has been slapped onto stick pearls. Stick pearls were produced but mainly production was of small, lustrous freeform pearls. Now these pearls have a slighly silky lustre. Andrew could get no clear paperwork provenance, but these certainly don’t have the look of Chinese freshwaters or of European river pearls. Their lustre is noticeably silky and they have a very clean surface, albeit not particularly regular. Sizes range between 6mm (not many) down to 1mm. they’re white with a rainbow orient.

biwa pearls

Biwa pearls

Now please note I am not saying for certain that these are Biwa pearls, just that there is a strong likelihood.

(I’m not going to drill the 1mm ones either)

Day Four…Tahitian Temptation and A Single White Edison

Day four. This is my account of how I made the classic mistake and went back to a wholesaler..and then finally bought a perfect Edison pearl

I went to the Tahitian office just to look for one pearl (of which more below) I didn’t find it but a couple of hours later I did totter out with several strands of pretty Tahitians as well as single rounds and drops for earrings and pendants.

That was not the plan! But some strands had quietly called me from when I saw them a couple of days ago – rather yummy shades of chocolate Tahitians – milk, plain and white chocolates. Then the boss wandered over and waved some other very colourful circles under my receptive nose. None of them are perfect strands: they’re marked and flawed but very lustrous and I will be able to hit a great price point for Christmas with them. Many of the flaws will only show up to the experienced eye from more than a few inches away.

It’s all too easy to get obsessive and perfectionist about having the perfectly round, perfectly smooth, perfectly flawless and perfectly lustrous pearl but from only a short distance only big flaws are visible.

I also spent some time poking around the bags of loose rounds and drops to find pearls for earrings and pendants and enhancers. I didn’t find as many as I want from the whole trip but it is something I can do at the show next week

So, why was I at the South Sea wholesalers anyway? I was on a mission to find a single perfect 14-15mm white round pearl for a customer for a ring. There were no South Seas within budget but I made the mistake of sitting down and looking round!

I found a totally luscious 16mm white Edison at another office – perfectly mirror metallic with a subtle pink and green overtone but it was way over budget. It was the sort of pearl you could take home and just look at.

white pink green 15mm round

white 15mm metallic pearl with pink and green overtones.

Eventually I switched on my brain and went to the home of Edison pearls (dur!) and of course they plenty to chose from. The one I eventually selected is perfectly round, flawless to all intents, mirror metallic with a perfectly round fish-eye and with a faint pink overtone. Bang on budget too!

five white edison pearls

Can you see which of the five I finally selected – all had the same grade but one was more metallic than the others. Proves the need to select in person. (it’s the one bottom left at 7 o’clock)

I’ve also picked out some non-classic Edisons – smallish mis-shape seconds, but I’ll be able to break the strands to make some great necklaces. Dustbin liner bags full of pearl strands gone through to find a few.

Finally another office and bags of ‘biwa’ stick pearls with fabulous lustre from which I selected some stunning pearls to develop a design idea. They had some amazing fireballs but the biggest and wildest shapes were just too expensive.

undrilled stick pearls

natural colours undrilled natural colours stick pearls. I picked these from a huge bag of AAA,

That was day four.

 

On the Road to Hong Kong. The call of metallic pearls

I’m checked in, the lists have been printed and I’m just about ready for my flight to Hong Kong tomorrow.

The Hong Kong September gem show is the biggest trade jewellery show in the workl: 3,500 exhibitors and nearly 52,000 visitors last year. It’s so big that it is split into two shows – the first, at the exhibition centre near the airport which is on the mainland, is mostly components, gemstones and findings. There’s a whole hall full just with pearls.

hong kong gem show

trays and trays of pearls in the pearl hall – this is the view from about half way down one of perhaps 15 or more rows

Another sparkles with only diamonds, for example. There’s another with coloured gemstones. (I’ll be in there for a few hours too looking for some tourmalline and coloured diamond briolettes for Gemescence ) Then the whole focus shifts to Hong Kong Island and another exhibition centre has hall upon hall of finished jewellery. But I’m going to be travelling home before that starts.

I’ll be going to the show for the first couple of days only. By then I will have bought nearly everything on my shopping list by going around the wholesalers officers before those delicious metallic pearls ever pack up and go to the show.

bags of pearls

Huge bags of pearls on the shelves in one room of one wholesalers office.

The advantages of going early and going round the offices are that things are quieter so there is less pressure and dashing around and I can work steadily to select only the finest of the finest pearls for customers for the next few months – the best shaped, the most metallic – and also spend a little longer in discussing prices. I might select one or two strands only from each of those big bagsfull in the photo above, for example.

I’ll be looking for the finest metallic pearls in shapes from rounds to  – well splatts  is the best description I can come up with. Huge misshapes in natural colours.

huge pearl pendant

44mm by 24mm natural colours pendant

Were a big unexpected hit when I got a few last time. so I’ll be looking for more of the same.

There’s still time to put in a special request – use the contact form.