This year’s hottest fashion trend is as wet as the UK summer has been so far. #CoastalGrandmother has morphed into mermaidcore.
Well..I live by the coast and I am a grandmother, so I quite liked the coastal grandmother trend. Think neutrals, especially beige tones from vanilla to coffee.Natural fibres, loose fitting and simply comfy. The sort of clothes you would wear to go beachcombing for shells or seaglass if you were a jeweller (ahem!)
Add the shells, seaweed and beachy stuff of #mermaidcore to the beige and whites of of the coast – venture onto the sands and clamber over the rock pools to find the treasures and you have a #mergranny (!) style.
Mergranny is very much a look for sunny, languorous days. You can’t rush. Because you are calm, independent, mature, comfortable in your skin. If you, by contrast want to go full mermaidcore, that’s much more glamorous and evenings, when you can be taken out and spoiled and spoiled. You can rock along a red carpet, be wined and dined.
A Tokki pearl is a type of pearl you will either love or hate. Love for its unique form and character, or hate and despise as something not perfect and of no value.
Tokki pearls are sea pearls with distinctive knobbles (which can either be solid or hollow and which are usually a keishi pearl which has formed inside the pearl sac and therefore stuck to the cultured pearl.
This little chap sits on my PC screen and has done for years. He’s a blue baroque south sea pearl with darker blue ‘eyes’. I came across him several years ago now in Hong Kong.
That same trip I found and was entranced by some Tahitian tokki which I thought resembled pokemon.
Those I made into cheerful solitaire pendants.
Later on I also found a very lumpy blue south sea tokki pearl
And sometimes there’s one wholesaler who has unusual pearls (love that wholesaler!) including strands like this
So, what are tokki?
There are three types of tokki formations. Firstly all tokki pearls will be at least second graft pearls (more often third graft), and something goes awry during the graft process.
1 – there’s a cavity or growth which is anchored on the nucleus of the main pearl. The tokki will be smooth across the join because the pearl sac will be making nacre to cover everything
2 There’s a bit of something – dead tissue, a chip of nacre, a fragment of something, in the pearl sac with the new nucleus. It’s separate to the nucleus. This type will form a clear border around the joint between main pearl and tokki blob.
3 Sometimes a fragment of pearl sac will be severed then subsequently attach itself to the main pearl sac and ‘graft’ itself back into place
A characteristic of all tokki is that they have a calcium carbonate central core surrounded by organic-rich layers, and loose ring structures, with fissures.
Sometimes the tokki are firmly stuck and integrated into the rest of the pearl and at other times they may ‘ping’ off.
It is a rare pearl farmer who admits to any in a harvest and most wholesalers don’t carry them, and why would they when the market wants round pearls. But if you love them for their individuality then…enjoy! We do!
Every so often we get a phone call and find ourselves strapping blue flashing lights to our heads and shouting whoop-whoop noises. That happened last Friday when, around lunch-time, we had a call from someone who wanted a present for a 100th birthday. The party was the next day (Saturday). Okkkkkay. Eventually we agreed that it would be perfect – and faster – to make a necklace from scratch using a magnetic clasp instead of re-making an existing stock item.
Wendy’s fingers flew along a strand of 8mm AAA metallic luster round natural coloured multi coloured pearls, with an easy to use silver and rare earth magnets clasp and we leapt for the Post office for delivery tomorrow morning. Post offices closed. Holiday!
Eventually it transpired that our clients lived not so far away so the day was saved as they drove up to collect it before the party.
We think the special effort for this wonderful centenarian was very worth it. She’s reportedly delighted. She lives alone with only light support. That’s PEARL POWER at its finest!
It’s been two years to the day since I got back from my usual Spring buying trip to Hong Kong. The trip had been great, even if I had spent most of every day behind a mask and had washed my hands more in ten days than in the previous month.
Yes, Covid had arrived in Hong Kong, and, after their SARS experience the sensible HK people masked up immediately. I soon got used to wearing one. So much that when I got back and was the only person wearing one in the whole town (small boys followed me around pointing and whispering!) I still felt the UK was out of step. Which of course it was. After ten days of voluntary quarantine I figured I had been safer in Hong Kong than back home. Then of course the first lock down happened ..etc etc etc.
Since then there has been the culmination of brexit and now war in Europe.
In these last two years I’ve not been able to travel to select pearls as previously. We’ve had to find wholesale pearl suppliers who can and do supply remotely. You might or might not be surprised at how many business fossils there are in the pearl business. Akoya companies are the worst. Many have no website, no email. They will only accept bank transfers in USD. Sometimes I’ve been reduced to wondering if they actually want to sell their pearls.
Then there’s the problem of not knowing what you are buying. With the best of intentions, wholesale company staff want to sell me pearls, they aren’t really that fussed about what happens after that. So it is always a risk. Even with companies with which I’ve had a long history. There are language and communication bumps in the road.
After a few months one or two of the really big name companies got their acts together and launched wholesale sale and auction sale websites. Robert Wan, the total grandfather of Tahitian pearls, and Atlas pearls in Australia, which specialises in smaller white south sea pearls from their own farms in Indonesia were two of the first, with a big enough name to be worried about not damaging their reputation. Paspaley took many months and then launched an auction site for trade with the smallest lot starting at many thousands of dollars (much too rich a risk for me) and a trade website with the craziest gradings system ever.
Tentative initial bids and auction successes later, I have kept going and been able to bring to you some stunning pearls. The up/down side being that all pearls sold are loose and undrilled. Many happy hours sorting, matching, designing, drilling. I’ve been able to source good staple pearls. But not so much the oddities, the quirky pearls the ones which you cannot describe but when you see one of them you think ‘oh yes, that would make a brilliant ..x’. Or that is perfect for that maker-client.
So. The Far East is still mostly closed off for travel. Maybe September for the big trade show…or anytime tbh.
That some freshwater pearls fade has long been an anecdotal factoid. Now it is confirmed as a factual fact. The Summer issue of the GIA (Gemological Institute of America) magazine contained a long technical report on their examination of some Edison and other non-branded bead nucleated freshwater pearls which were supplied to them by The Edison Pearl Company (Grace Pearl) HQ’d in Zhuji.
Bead nucleated freshwater pearls (BNFW) are a comparatively recent innovation in the farmed pearl market. They appeared at the end of 2010 with an initial auction in 2011. Most of them were then what are now called ripple pearls, big round and semi-round pearls with lush nacre ladled on in stunning colours and with a surface which can best be described as the skin on cold custard, wrinkled up – rippled. They had a luster which varied between silky like South Sea pearls and metallically shiny.Some were big, very shiny and smooth.
At that debut auction a string of violet Edison Pearls fetched over $800,000. BUT. Are those pearls still a stunning and innovative violet or have they faded to a regular-but-still-attractive pink?
In the nine years since their debut the rumours about ‘purple-fade’ have swirled around the pearl world. But it was hard to pin down.
Edison pearls are simply one brand of bead nucleated freshwater pearls from China. Bead nuked pearls 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, 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 is the brand name given to a range of large bead nucleated freshwater pearls from one leading Chinese supplier. One strand of these pearls achieved £1/2m at auction. The pearls come from a Hyriopsis hybrid between Hyriopsis cumingi and Hyriopsis schlegeli.
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)
At the same time the Edison company has for some years churned out strand after strand of dyed gold pearls as imitation gold South Sea pearls and, more recently, pearls dyed to resemble Tahitians as well as many strands of very shiny round white 8 and 9mm pearls clearly designed to usurp the Akoya market.
A few years ago the first jaw dropping violet and purple Edison pearls appeared. They were new, they were stunning, they were gorgeous. The colour was amazing. We scrambled to buy.
Then the chatter about colour fade started but it was hard to be exact about what was happening. Here at Pearlescence we started to hold all purple pearls for at least six months before putting them to the market, in hopes that this would be enough to weed out the faders. It was hard to quantify our success rate or otherwise
Until now. Not only have the GIA identified dyed Edison purple pearls but Pearlescence has a photographic record of what is happening. We had in some purple Edison pearls and this is the result:
This is what we found when we checked through our purple stock
This lovely purple pair became
This rather nice pale pink and greenish pair.
These very attractive purple huggie drops became
These misty lavender colour.
Now we know they have faded because we are very fussy about getting an accurate photo for uploading to the website for you.
The GIA’s report on their testing is in the Summer 2021 Gems and Gemology magazine.
Techniques such as microscopy, long wave UV fluorescence, long and short wave fluorescence, Raman Spectroscopy and trace element analyses were used to examine the pearls.
The report is technical but the upshot is that while two purple pearls (one of which was actually all tissue) had had no detectable treatments, another two (which looked exactly the same) had been colour treated.
So…buyer beware. And ask your vendor if they have held their purple pearls in stock to ensure no colour fade.
Covid has affected us. But I also have some exciting news about new stock of Robert Wan Tahitian pearls. During lockdown here in the UK I worked alone to keep things going and now we are very much a ‘face mask and wash your hands please’ place. So far the horrible virus hasn’t managed to get to us. The government is re-opening everything far too quickly so we have decided we are going to carry on being reclusive and very very careful. We hope you understand if that means some delays to shipping and making of custom orders.
The other big problem is that, while I went to Hong Kong in Feb/March and could buy Tahitian, freshwater and south sea pearls and findings, I don’t know of any akoya sellers based in Hong Kong. Plus around now we would normally be compiling a shopping list for a trip next month. But Hong Kong has been effectively closed down since mid March, since there is a mandatory stuck-in-one-room quarantine for incomers. (and who can blame them for people from the UK?)
Now Hong Kong is coping with a huge (for them anyway) break out of the virus, so a hoped-for easing of the quarantine rules to allow the cancelled September show to go ahead in November is increasingly unlikely. Talking with some of my pearl friends in America and Australia this morning we are hoping for a vaccine and a show to go to in Feb/March.
I wonder if we will have vaccination certification stamped into passports as used to be required for smallpox when I was a child (remember smallpox? Not enough people do!)
Anyway, the pearl point of this rambly post is to tell you that in a complete break with everything we’ve done for the last decade, I bought some pearls sight unseen last month.
The larger lot of Robert Wan dark tahitians. The smallest are 12mm, going up to 15mm. That’s some big pearls
Out of the blue I was invited to participate in the first ever Robert Wan online pearl auction. Of course I was interested and eventually and cautiously bought two lots. It’s very hard to evaluate pearl quality in a couple of indifferent quality photos but I decided to take a punt and I’m glad I did. Out of around 100 big pearls (12-15mm drops mostly) I’ve made the pairs you’ve seen appearing on the website in the last week or so, and picked out some huge single pearls for pendants and enhancers.
Same lot with the pearls moved around on the tray
The colours are darkish, mostly greens with a few minor flaws and reasonably good lustre. They aren’t clean and they aren’t metallic but they are big and well coloured and if they were clean and metallic and well coloured they’d have been three or more times the price. So good deal for me is good deal for you all.
There was also a lot of lighter, also big drops:
Lighter and lustrous Tahitians.
Read up on Robert Wan here – https://www.robertwan.com and you’ll be able to find out more about the ‘father’ of Tahitian pearls. He is the man. I have to say his Hong Kong office is a delight to deal with and the pearls drill like a dream. I don’t know what they use for nucleus but I wish every pearl farmer used the same.
I offer today an abject apology to would be readers..in a whirl of Instagram, twitter and facebook my posting to this blog sadly slipped and slipped.
And I also apologise because this is going to be a bit of a rant. With a little time on my hands I spotted a pearl selling programme on a TV gem selling channel.
Can I please make very clear that these are grade D tahitians. This is not a perfect pearl.
Not round, not metallic and certainly not clean. note the huge flaws clearly visible on their studio demo pearl
What has me writing this is the claim that pearl professionals are buying these pearls. No-one who aspires to deal in decent pearls will be buying these . They are simply not good enough. Not good enough for Pearlescence certainly, and I sent these photos to a couple of pearl dealer friends and their comments cannot be included because readers are civilised people!
Look at all the flaws on this poor pearl…And this was the studio pearl
It got worse. This was held to be perfect, just a few marks. ‘Worth Bond Street’.
Supposedly a pair. Different size and colour
Different size and different colour. ‘Great pair’
Our Tahitian pearls may indeed be dearer, but I would not even look at pearls of this low quality in a wholesalers in Hong Kong, let alone pretend to you that they were the best possible. Yes, our pearls are dearer. But these show you why.
(They’ve moved on to south sea pearls now, but I’m too cross to watch!)