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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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