Monthly Archives: March 2016

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.