Monthly Archives: September 2013

About Half Done – Sorting the Hong Kong New Stock

So, we’re about half way now in getting sorted, catalogued. processed, made, into stock, photographed and uploaded all the pearl delights which I brought back from Hong Kong and the Gem it really two weeks ago now?

The time has passed in a haze and daze of sorting through  bags and bags and piles of pearls, knotting necklaces, and uploading loose strands. Now we’re as far as drilling some of the undrilled to make earrings etc.

Yesterday I sat at my workbench and went through about ten cards of pairs, working out exactly where to drill them – sometimes it’s easy to figure, as an otherwise perfect pearl has a nobble or dent in just one place,. That’s where you drill, to hide the flaw in the hole and under a finding, hopefully. But some pearls have a sort of smeary patch and deciding just where to drill is then a bit more problematic. In any case, I mark all pearls with a black dot – it makes lining up the drill bit exactly correctly much easier.

So this is how the drill area looked first thing.

drililng undrilled pearls

Cards of undrilled pearls lined up and queueing for their moment in the drill

I’ve worked fairly steadily and the queue has gone down. I’m especially pleased with a card of peacock tahitians. They really are very pretty – all peacocks and some pale ones with a tourquise body and pink ‘eye’

Tahtian peacock pearls in various body shades with beautiful overtones

Tahtian peacock pearls in various body shades with beautiful overtones

There are also some fabulous metallic white drops and some white ‘splatts’ flattish pearls shaped a bit like ink blots which will be earrings and cufflinks. Plus some absolutely fabulous huge gold leaf ripple drops for pendants and earrings – and some frilly fireballs.

Since these are all top quality pearls I usually change the drill bit after 10 pearls because they go blunt very quickly and I usually drill quite a deep half drill. It give the glue/air pocket at the end some space so that the finding doesn’t bounce out when you put it down and leave it to dry. The first time I ever drilled some pearls I did them to the exact depth of the pin and when I came back to check them after leaving them to dry every single one had risen about 1mm out of the holes. You only learn by doing!

These beautiful Tahitians will be on the website soon, and will be priced to make a great Christmas pearl present



Quirky Pearls

I’ve called them quirky pearls for want of a better name. They’re bead nucleated little shiny mis-shapes which i found in amongst hundreds of strands of really junk pearls – pearls so bad I was surprised they were allowed in the office.

I pulled about eight strands out of eight large dustbin size bags and then cherry picked the best pearls to make these three longish necklaces from the pearls now that I’m back at the workshop.

Probably not the best use of my time but I wanted to see if I had anything useful. There’s enough for a couple more necklaces and then that will be it

There’s one strand of what looks like natural white with mixed overtones and patches of metallic lustre ….

White quirky pearls long necklace

White quirky pearls long necklace

Then two of natural colours pearls, with some fabulous gold patches and drop-ish shapes with lumps and bumps – all sorts of character

quirky pearls

Natural colours – mostly golds and pinks


quirkly pearls

slightly lighter tones, still gold and pinks mostly

Technically they are pretty poor pearls, but they are idiosyncratic, with colour, lustre and texture and bags of character – get these and you won’t see any more similar.


Day +One. Buying Pearls is the Easy Part. Now the Work Starts!

Okay, so yes, it is demanding and by the end of the day you feel drained, with eyes which are going round and round like in a comedy cartoon but buying pearls really is the easy part. Ish.

By that I mean that if you have money you can very easily buy pearls. However now I’m back here I’m constantly thinking ‘oh, wish I had bought them’ I’d probably be thinking that if I went to Hong Kong once a month and had £1m to spend each time however.

I’m trying hard not to sound whiney and complaining here, but today, first day properly back at the pearlface I have a large table covered with all manner of pearls which are waiting to be sorted out, identified, catalogued, priced up, photographed, uploaded and then hopefully pounced on by our lovely customers (or add in the stages of making up into jewellery – design, maybe drilling, stringing, wire wrapping, setting, silver or gold smithing, hallmarking….)

Today, for example, before I even start on that routine I have lined up and waiting for me: one south sea station necklace; half drill a huge perfect white edison pearl; make a necklace and earrings. The others will be starting the sorting, firing up the camera for new shots of stock which had run out and is now replenished (eg 4mm round white strands) and doing the orders which have come in in the last 24 hours.

Better get started …where are those new gold south seas…?


Day Eight – At the Gem Fair. So Many Pearls

It’s a good feeling to get to the Gem Fair finally knowing that just about all the shopping is actually done and I can spend the time pottering around and picking up the odd strand or pearl here and there.

Thanks to Jeremy and Hisano Shepherd of Pearl I’ve ventured back into Akoya territory after some years, with the purchase of some beautiful natural multicoloured strands.

The hugepearl hall itself seemed very quiet, not many there. It could be that many would be pearl buyers were buying elsewhere or that the recession is still affecting buying.

Jeremy and Hisano were replenishing their Tahitian and South Sea stock so I got to meet lots of lovely pearls, including the carved Tahitians produced by Galatea pearls.

galatea pearls

Chi Huynh wearing one of his own carved Tahitian pearls..fabulous

carves intricate and beautiful designs into the nacre of Tahitian pearls. Some of the pearls are even nucleated with gemstones which are revealed once the carving is done – a bit like like the look of a cameo. I got to ask the man himself something I have wondered since I first heard about carved pearls – namely does the carved nacre peel and chip easily. No it doesn’t.

Kevin Canning of Pearls of Joy was also there- first time at the show and already happily clutching big bags of Tahitians.

Just to add to the name dropping (be fair, pearls is a small world)  also caught up with Betty Sue King

My final purchase? Not exciting at all. Strands of 6mm potato pearls which were needed but which I kept forgetting all week.

Job done and a bit pearl shopped out.


Day Six – Unintended Peacock Tahitians and Other Pearls

Too many that actually possible? Well, it felt like it today, mid afternoon when I just wilted. It’s been a pretty intense six days.

Anyhow, what pearl adventures did I have today? I got some lovely random shapes for pendants, similar to some from last year, which sold out in weeks, plus some white splatts. Flat pearls like tidy ink blots which will make great cuff links.

And, while waiting for my friend Katbran to be de-overwhelmed in the Tahitian supplier’s (only her second day ever of pearl office shopping) I got tempted by some delicious 9mm peacock rounds and made nine pairs for sumptuous earrings.

Tahitian pearls this year seem to be in light tones, no really dark greens or greys, with lots of colour. Very few good circles or big circles. Lots of little and very eccentric circles.

I found this bag of pearls and – reader I admit it -I could not stop myself from sorting out some pairs.

I sort through loose pearls by firstly pulling out all the metallics from a lot and then doing a second sort for quality. Then I start to pair them up if I’m thinking of earrings. It’s a process which, I suppose, demands a level of concentration. I can certainly spend time sorting and pairing up. The feeling when the pairs start to jump out at you is great! It seems to happen all at once. Perhaps there is some sort of critical mass thing going on. Before I started pairing them I had a pretty spectacular multicolour peacock necklace lined up!

There is also a growing shortage of smaller sized freshwater pearls in all shapes, colours and qualities. Prices have short up. Production – arguably over-production – has been cut right back. And pearls dyed in garish colours have all but disappeared. If you want them you’ll have to pay to have a hank at least dyed (20-40 strands)

Day Five….New Secret Message Morse Code Pearls

More pearls today. Bit of a surprise that! I had an idea for the secret message Morse code pearls in the middle of the night – what a fabulous way to propose? Secret message ‘please marry me’ (it might have to be ‘will you marry me?’). I can’t work out the dot dash final length away from my workbench. A bit soppy romantic, but also, a permanent reminder of the question.

So I sourced white lengthways drilled metallic stick pearls for the dashes and AAA metallic rounds 7mm for the dots.

What do you want to say?

Otherwise I found some really special and unusual pearls which will  become part of the Essence Collection in due time.

;Lovely evening with the pearl goddess Betty Sue King plus with Kathleen B – new to pearl wholesale offices and in a bit of pearl shock!

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.


Day Three – Metallic Earring Pairs and More Strands

Day Three. I think one of my favourite things to do is finding pairs. It’s a task which can’t be hurried. You have a swathe of pearls before you. From hundreds of pearls you first select the ones you want – by colour and lustre.

You might end up with 20 from 500 which are themselves all AAA grade pearls. Further scrutiny rejects two or three more as not metallic enough (!)

And then I try out matches by eye and trial and error until I’m happy. And I’m fussy about matching and getting fussier. It’s very satisfying (or conversely irritating when you have a great pearl but you can’t find a match for it: is that pearl good enough to be a pendant?)

white metallic drop pearls

White metallic big drop pearls (please excuse the strobe effect from the lights)

Matching white drops sounds like a pretty straightforward job, for example, but it isn’t. Shape can be drip, drop of barrel..the white can be white white, or a bit pink or a bit silver, the metallic ‘fish-eye’ can be a different shape or intensity..or simply one pearl will be bigger than the other.

And today I played with fireballs too! You have to allow some degree of laxity in the match – there will be a whole head between the pearls, although some customers still demand a perfect match from such a freeform.

fireball pearls

First and second stages of selection for fireballs from a huge bag of them

I also fell to temptation from some white and coloured strands – including some incredibly colourful dyed peacock blacks -as well as a routine re-stock with 200 strands of A+ grade white 3mm roundish pearls.

Tomorrow – one 15mm+ white undrilled or half drilled perfect pearl for a ring, three big frilly purple fireballs and a couple of strands of dark, milk and white chocolate Tahitians keep calling me..!

Day Two – Tahitians, South Seas and Fireballs

Day two in Hong Kong and it’s still raining heavily. I squelched out (literally – when I got back to the hotel at 6.30 this evening I found that the dye from my sandals had turned my feet black) and went first to a Tahitian and South Sea specialist wholesalers to find the perfect pearls for a commission necklace.

The very best  bit about being a pearl purveyor is, for me, selecting pearls.

I went through just about every strand in the office first..nah, just not good enough, or not green enough or not colourful enough. Just not enough enough.

Plan B is to open up the lots. Now some dealers won’t do this. The bags of pearls are sorted into size, shape and quality. Prices reflect an average, while the bag is salted with some fabulous pearls to brighten the lot.

So the dealer doesn’t want me coming along and cherry picking those fabulous pearls right back out. The value of the lot drops.

But I can be a little bit pursuasive and the bags found themselves opened up and two pearl fugue hours later I had the necklace. 30 beautiful, colourtful, lustrous and smooth circle pearls.

Special necklace made from  individually selected. loose drop Tahtians, very colourful, near flawless and with great lustre. 28 pearls, size 13-14mm

Special necklace made from individually selected. loose drop Tahtians, very colourful, near flawless and with great lustre. 28 pearls, size 13-14mm

Not finished, I picked out some rather nice if a bit dented circles and some totally cute baby gold south sea circles.

tahitians and south sea pearls

Hours of intense concentration later – one loose pearl necklace, tahitian strands and pairs and gold south sea circle strands.


And then more lovely treats – pairs of huge rounds for earrings. And one beautiful really blue tahtian.

tahitian pearl strands

Some of the selected strands – I was looking for colour and lustre more than surface perfection and shape

Then on to a second wholesalers, this time for drops. I didn’t worry too much about finding pairs, just selecting some super metallic 10mm drops – white, black and natural colours. Some of the natural colour pearls have a graduated ombre effect. subtle and beautiful and such lustre. Last year there was a real lack of lavenders, and hardly any dark lavender. There were a few, but only a few. Hopefully I’ll be able to find some more as we go along.

Finally, having a poke around in a side office I found a bag with some natural colour fireballs. I’ve never figured quite why they are soooooo expensive but they are. I couldn’t resist half a dozen of them. (put many more back #pearlheroine )

fireball pearls

First and second stages of selection for fireballs from a huge bag of them

fireball pearls

The final two


That was enough for one day….



Day One – Every Pearl a Metallic Pearl

Day one, and every pearl today is metallic. I’ve spent about six hours in one wholesaler’s office today and found some stunning pearls, all metallic, every single one.

White AAA round metallics, colourful aaa black rounds which are, of course, anything but black (gold, pink, green, blue, aubergine) as well as drips and buttons for earrings: plus some weird shapes which will be…I have no idea!

The first general market news is that small pearls have shot up in price due to a production emphasis on bigger and bigger pearls.

There seem to be a few more natural colours pearls around, although this wholesaler still hadn’t got any big half drilled drops and the big buttons were mostly orangy peach (pass). Many of the white pearls ae creamier in colour than before – noticeably so. And I found some pretty nominally white strands where the pearls were just a slightly different shade. Really pretty. Plus some weird shapes which I will…I have no idea what I will do with them at the moment but they are mirror metallic natural colours. What’s not to take home?

freeform pearls with metallic lustre

Metallic freshwater freeform pearls – amazing depth of colour and shine.

I had a list, and occasionally I remembered it and got some of the pearls on the list, but for much of the time I kept finding great pearls, and who can resist great pearls? So this was my day one basket.

The day one basket of pearl purchases

The day one basket of pearl purchases


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 world: 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 offices 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.