Category Archives: World of Pearls

News about pearls from around the world

Akoya Pearl Farm in Vietnam

I’m just  back from an amazing working visit to an akoya pearl farm in Vietnam.

vietnam pearl farm

general view across the sea from the farm.

I spent three days at the farm so I can now describe for you the process for growing akoya pearls. Firstly it is similar to the process for south sea pearls.

Let’s start at the beginning:

vietnam pearl farm

These are the visible manifestation of the farm – the lines of buoys marking the suspended baskets of pearls, busily feeding, excreting, making pearls

All the oysters spend their adult life out at sea. They like nice, warm (23-29degrees C) water, just the right salinity, just tidal enough to bring in lots of lovely delicious plankton and sweep away their excreta.

I am always amazed at how the boat crews manage to find their way around the farm and find exactly the oysters they seek – to me it seems a confusing and anonymous maze of black buoys



When time comes for harvest the long baskets are collected and taken ashore, where the oysters are taken out of the baskets. The oysters will have been in the open sea for between a few months for the ones with four 1.3mm nuclei (this pearl farm is thought to be the only farm in the world producing such tiny pearls) to closer to a year for what will be 7mm up round classic pearls

vietnam pearl farm

Akoya oysters in their net basket

Those which look the healthiest at first blush are selected out for special opening while most will be opened and the pearls removed, either by hand,

vietnam pearl farm

Opening the oysters

or for small pearls, in a process which (rather unromantically  but very practically) reduces the flesh to a mush and allows the pearls to fall to the bottom of a large cement mixer type

vietnam pearl farm

the ‘Cement mixer’ after the washing process – only random bits of shell and the tiny 1.5mm akoya pearls remain



The farm I visited produces pearls from 7mm down to a minute 1.5mm in a range of colours from white to gold and shades of blue and violet to purple

Some of the oysters are selected out at this stage as possible donors. These shells will be more carefully opened and the pearl inside extracted carefully. It will be scrutinised for quality and size – colour, lustre, clean surface and is it over 7mm. The oysters which have produced such pearls are used to provide donor mantle tissue for the next generation. The obvious flaw to this is that, of course, the donor tissue inside the oyster which has produced the pearl is not related (except distantly) to this specific oyster, but it is reckoned – practically – that a pearl is 80% donor mantle and 20% host. And this process looks for the best and healthiest hosts – and thus to optimise the general stock on the farm. While the donor tissue secretes the pearl it is the host which keeps the donor tissue alive.

vietnam pearl farm

Here you can see the pearl being harvested

vietnam pearl farm

1mm pieces of selected mantle tissue – the tissue which secretes nacre – being prepared for implanting

The farm has its own hatchery – more and more farms are establishing hatcheries to ensure strong and selected stock rather than rely on wild spat. New stock is bred from selected oysters, reared in carefully clean conditions. Everyone at the farm washes hands, removes shoes and washes feet and some wear masks to work in the hatchery. New-born larvae are free swimming, then at 10 days the microscopically small oysters become spats and grab onto helpful ropes to grow on.

vietnam akoya pearl farm

Baby spat lead a pampered and protected life in the hatchery

Food for baby akoya oysters is three different types of plankton

And finally, they let me not only open some oysters and harvest the pearls (I was surprised at how soft and easily cut through the shells are) but sit and assess for mantle tissue donors – awesome responsibility.

vietnam akoya pearl farm

Here’s me doing some actual oyster opening and pearl harvesting

vietnam akoya pearl farm

They even let me do some harvesting and assessing for mantle donors

Thanks to Orient Pearl for their invitation and hospitality



Baby giant clams at Civa Fiji

The pearl farmers at Civa on the lovely island of Fiji are about to make a pearl harvest but took a few seconds to allow me to share these photos of the baby giant clams which they are also raising with you all.

Baby giant clams now being raised in Fiji

Baby giant clams now being raised in Fiji

The partnership between Civa (Fiji) Pearls Limited and the Douglas Fam­ily of Matagi Island have given their first al­lotment of giant clams from their hatchery to the Vanua Trust of Laucala.

A project that started in 2016 is now pro­ducing around 25,000 giant clams juveniles every three months destined for the export market.

The hatchery is producing four species of clams (Tridacna Maxima, Tridacna Noae, Tridacna Squamosa and Tridacna Derasa).

giant clams

the baby clams are between 5cm and 8cm

A portion of the production is destined to reef rehabilitation projects and for the de­velopment of the resource through the tra­ditional fishing rights owners.

The hatchery is situated in Qamea Island and the coastal communities of Qamea and Naqelelevu will benefit from this long-term project by receiving yearly allotments of clams for their development.

baby giant clams

The giant clam hatchery. Double redundant fresh water system to ensure the clams are as happy as..well…clams

Civa (Fiji) Pearls Ltd owner Claude Michel Prevost said they are happy to follow up on their promises to deliver to the local coastal communities their share of this commodity.

“We are happy to see this happening. We think that it is important for companies who benefit from the development of this resource to include the traditional custodi­ans in the development of this resource.

“The development of aquaculture is in its infancy with few players. The Ministry of Fisheries is sending signals that it wants to develop aquaculture and this is great news.

giant clam

Aren’t they pretty?

Civa (Fiji) Pearls Limited was founded in 2006 by two Canadian expats Claude Michel Prevost and Danielle Belanger.

Lured by the extraordinary colours al­ready in production in Fiji, Claude and Danielle began their own pearl production in 2007 with a subsequent first harvest in 2010.

Most of this production is currently ex­ported to Europe, with a small amount retained and available from partnering re­sorts here in Fiji.

The pearl farm is situated on the wind­ward side of Taveuni.


Fiji pearls, civa

Civa pearls – fiji pearls are distinctive

Should we try to stock some?

If you love keishi pearls – this SS oyster is your hero of the day

Thanks to the amazing pearl farmers at the Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm in Australia we heard about a single SS oyster which produced 10 keishi. Single round pearl neatly in pearl sac ..ptoouie, not having any of that. Spat out the implanted nucleus, tucking it against its shell to make a blister pearl, then proceeded to make a seedless pearl in the pearl sac, and 10 pearls were growing in the mantle tissue as a natural pearl would. Being pearl farmers, it is hard to certify a natural pearl so they will all be valued and sold as Keshi pearls.

all the pearls on the half shell which is clearly all white

Now CIBJO won’t allow these ten beauties to be classed as natural pearls but, to all intents they are naturals which happened to have happened in a farmed’s the certainty which is lacking

(Ten keishi is remarkable. I remember the excitement in finding just one bonus keishi hidden in the mantle tissue when I was working at the pearl farm in Indonesia. You find with your fingers and not your eyes, by the way)

Thanks to for permission for the photos and the story

Blue Pearls…rare?

Blue pearls. Really rare. Right?

The answer to that is both yes..and no. Blue pearls are possible in every pearl type – akoya, South Sea, Tahitian and freshwater. But within each type they are ..yes..rare.


Until quite recently akoya pearls were white and round and that was that.  Pesky pale pastel colours were bleached and then usually a delicate pink blush was added. That is how akoya pearls had been for decades. Round and white with a hint of pink. Then around five years ago akoya growers and dealers started to notice that freshwater pearls were selling by the hank in natural colours, not dyed or treated. The first natural colour untreated akoya pearls appeared at Hong Kong. They were sort of under the counter or right at the end, sort of an apology, next to the seas of white and round and shiny. They were also very cheap compared to their white relatives.

I had avoided the white and shineys…simply other sellers could hold stocks of all the variations of white, size, grade etc and do it better than me. But these pastel colours, well, that was me and I bought several strands just to see what they were like and if my pearl loving customers would love them. They did. Within a couple of weeks they had all gone. And the same at the next show. By the time around two years ago the akoya wholesalers were well wise to demand and those untreated pastel shades strands had shot up in price

Amongst the other pastel shades were faint blues . really really faint blues. The pearl was feeling-a-bit-chilly faint blue

natural colour chinese akoya rounds

These are natural chinese akoya round pearls. there are some touches of blue/grey colour..patchy and faint

Then Vietnamese akoya pearls appeared. And boy some of them had the most beautiful and indisputably blue shades of colour

I looked for the non-round strands and the baroque single undrilleds

vietnamese akoya

Strand of roundish elliptical blue/grey Vietnamese akoya pearls

blue akoya pearl

Single blue Vietnamese baroque akoya pearl.







One of the things I noticed last March in Hong Kong was a few – a very few- freshwater blue pearls. Blue pearls have been foreshadowed by the blues in ripple pearls for a couple of years. Some ripples have displayed patches of strong blue colour but blue freshwater pearls. That is something quite quite new.

I saw only a few, and then not really strong blue, as in the blue of facebook, for example, but in terms of gentle but definite blue – here is an example

Deeper blue solid nacre freshwater blue drop shaped pearl

Deeper blue solid nacre freshwater blue drop shaped pearl

freshwater hollow blue pearl

Huge 12 by 15 hollow freshwater pale sky blue south sea like pearl

There are, of course, still dyed blue freshwater pearls around, but, in a huge evolution to the market in the last few years, and apart from greys and blacks, it is really  rare to see the sort of garish dyed colours so common before. (and if we do see them at wholesale they are probably very old and dusty stock)




Tahitian black pearls are, of course, never black. Mostly they are greens, but very very occasionally there is a blue one. Often the blue is a patch, almost just a glimpse in a peacock effect on a green pearl, or a shimmer of overtone from a certain angle, but just occasionally a really individual oyster manages a true blue pearl such as the one shown here.

blue tahitian pearl

That blue tahitian was the inspiration for this handmade chain necklace in white gold.


Blue Tahitian pearl

Blue Tahitian pearl






Blue South Sea Pearls

Blue pearls from the south seas are perhaps the pearls we all think of when we think ‘blue pearls’. They are nearly the rarest of the south sea colours (the greens which are actually blues with organic reside inside (!) are probably the very rarest) and hauntingly beautiful. They come in shades from the palest blue – almost just a blush, to a deep dusty blue, but Royal Air Force uniform blue is the usual shade.

Charles Rennie Macintosh pearl - because the markings on the top are so like his classic art nouveau rose design

This is what I call the Charles Rennie Macintosh pearl – because the markings on the top are so like his classic art nouveau rose design

Huge hollow blue south sea baroque pearl.

Huge hollow blue south sea baroque pearl.

blue south sea pearl

We had some fun with some mis-shaped Blue south sea pearls I brought back from Hong Kong last trip and made them into what we’ve called ‘pokemon’ pearls – this is a little dancing man!

round blue pearl pendant

A pendant or enhancer is a great way to get started with blue south sea pearls. (This is a more classic simple round pearl if you aren’t a poke-fan)








So, there we go. Blue pearls are possible in all pearl types. But as colours go, they are the exception rather than the rule.

Pearl opening parties – a new scam

Pearl opening companies seem to be popping up all around the world, certainly in the UK and on facebook in the last couple of weeks or so.

This pearl opening thing has been around for years. Every so often someone will come up to one of us and say they got this pearl at some place which had a tank of oysters and they picked one and it had a pearl in it. In one place in America I heard of boys diving off a pier to get the shells, which is a dramatic bit of scene setting.

They cause our hearts to sink. The pearls are invariably low quality freshwater pearls, but the customer will have been told that the pearl is worth £££ and is rare and very valuable. I never know whether to be honest and blow the smoke away or just gush about what a wonderful pearl etc etc

pearl opening

You can have the poor oyster in a tin – $1 a time.

These set ups are always a money making scam to some degree or other. I have yet to see one which sells genuine akoya pearls of any value. Mostly they sell low quality freshwater pearls in plated findings for – I just saw one on facebook – £35 which is outrageous





pearl opening

You can have them in a box, with a silver tone finding for $1.30 (min order 100)

The scam goes like this. The operator buys pickled oyster shells from either a wholesaler in the UK  or America or direct from china. They are vacuum packed and dead. The poor things have had a random freshwater pearl shoved into them. The process is that the pearl is inserted into a live young akoya oyster shell which opens as it dies. The corpse is then dumped into a chemical bath which shrinks the adductor muscle so it slowly closes,  and preserves it. Then it is vacuum packed or tinned and sold to one of the companies at the top of the supply pyramid.

There is one company which has been recruiting sellers hard and promoting these parties, because they are selling the preserved shells and findings at a huge mark up and controlling the drilling and setting of the pearls. Big profit for them.

The party works by someone signing up to buy some of these tinned oysters and associated stuff and told a load of nonsense about what they are. They organised a website and facebook page and get people to join an online  video ‘party’ where with a lot of whooping and hysteria, the huckster then opens one of these in front of a webcam and  – wow – you have this pearl. The huckster will give a ridiculous appraisal that the pearl is worth much money. (no it is not)

Or the opening is done in the shop or the end of the pier. But the pearl inside is yours. And, not only do you have this pearl now, but you can buy the finding -some basket pendant holder usually – to display it. And it only costs £££.

I tracked down one UK wholesaler. These pickled and vacuum packed shells cost between $1 and $2 a pop. Never more, even when packed individually in a box with a silver tone finish pendant finding. That wholesaler is selling them for £80 for five! I am in the wrong business.
The operator opens the pearl and tells you your pearl is worth £££.
It is not.

pearl opening

Vacuum packed, so you can opening them in front of a webcam- popular on facebook. $1.20 each

There are also suspicions that there is some pyramid selling going on, and I heard over the weekend of two people in America who have thought they would start up these horrible operations and have lost their money by being sent empty boxes

I’ve not yet seen a website with one of these companies which complies with UK and EU law on returns or on contact details . These are invariably low quality freshwater pearls – akoya pearls do not come in shocking pink or peach, and certainly not ready dyed black! Plus the chemical liquid in which they are preserved is probably toxic.

If I sound cross about this nonsense and scam it is because I am. It is dishonest and wrong

pearl opening

Just another example. These were the cheapest – 85cents US each

If you want great pearls talk to us – We go to Hong Kong to personally select every single pearl on the website. Our business is open, pays its taxes, is a ltd company with bona fides, complies with all the UK law, you have an address for me, you can talk to us, make returns, and we’ve been going for more than 15 years.

Shop here for finished jewellery

Shop here for bespoke commission work

Shop here for loose pearls to make into jewellery


Information for a class action is being gathered in the USA. If you have had involvement with this nonsense either as a buyer or seller in the US please contact who will be taking action in the ninth circuit.

In the UK contact Trading Standards and the Citizens’ Advice Bureau


There’s a new video on youtube debunking the claims by sellers of these pearls that pearls change colour when wet/dry .They don’t. The sellers are lying, they are sending out different pearls to you. More scam, more deceit. Pearls do not change colour when wet.

There is no such organisation as The National Pearl Association of the United States. In America you have the Cultured Pearl Association of America. In the UK we Have the British Pearl Association. The NPAUS is a made up thing to try to add credibility to a pearl opening wholesaler company’s totally ridiculous and fraudulent pearl value chart.

This chart, being shown to pearl opening punters, assigns values to pearls. The values are absurd, not going to happen. No respectable pearl dealer would have anything to do with such a chart. Every pearl has a different value. arrived at by negotiation and with experience. If you are shown such a chart it is okay to laugh. Tell the person showing you that we said it was okay to laugh cos the chart is a joke with no basis in an honest pearl business

Finally…We’ve looked at some of the websites supplying pearl parties. They hide. They want your money but they do not give a mail address, just email. Ask yourself – does any reputable business hide where they are? Of course not.


November 2017 update

Remarkably I am still getting emails and enquiries about this. People still starting up businesses ( not spotting that their next big thing is the week before last’s fading craze).

There’s also been a revelation that the preservative liquid is definitely toxic in at least some shells – it is formaldehyde. Used to preserve tissue . UK safety people are investigating and import may well be banned

Finally for this update I got this email this morning from a pearl opening supplier. These are the prices your pearl opening facebook lovely friend is paying for these shells – work out their profits for yourself then browse our website for genuine top quality pearls at great prices…pearls selected carefully and in person by us.

work out for yourself that you are being played for a mug by the pearl openers

Jewelmer new collection

South sea pearl company Jewelmer has launched a new collection. The pearls are, of course as stunning as you might expect but what has Pearlescence drooling in this video are the workshops and the craftsmen and women.

Jewelmer launches the Wynn Wynn Ong collection

We’re so jealous that they have the skills and kit to create such stunning pieces. Enjoy the video.

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

Two stunning pearl necklaces.

Not posted for a while….it’s been busy but uneventful, with added stock sorting. And compiling lists of wants and needs and requests for Hong Kong next week.  Wendy will be making blog entries every day, with photos so follow the first pearl adventure of the year

Until then, here are two stunning necklaces sold by pearl friends

First is a necklace of perfect archetypical peacock Tahitians from one of the world’s biggest wholesalers of Tahitians, Wiart Loic.

peacocks Wiart LoïcThe green body colour and aubergine ‘eye on each huge perfectly round tahitian is …….oh…….perfection.

Second, this necklace of huge white round pearls is made up of freshwater pearls..yes, really, freshwater pearls.  It comes from lovely Jack Lynch of Sea Hunt Pearls. He’s the man who coined the name ‘souffle’ for the huge hollow pearls.

jack lynch sea hunt freshwater 15.4-19.3 $20kThe pearls are 15.4mm to 19.3mm and would have been yours for a modest $20k, if you had got to him before his buyer..but it does go to show that fabulous freshwater pearls are just as much fabulous pearls as their equally bead nucleated cousins these days.

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,


Caveat emptor – buyer of pearls beware

Some of the internet is awash with rubbish pearls. (Not of course!) (Yes, I would say that) The problem we have with these rubbish pearls is that people see Tahitian pearls for a tenner on eBay and wonder why we have strands for £3k. While I was at the London Assay office a week or so ago I took the opportunity to check up on some clasps which we had recently acquired. Last month we decided to do a little research and buy some pearls off eBay and off Aliexpress. We chose ripple pearls as they are the pearls currently hot in fashion terms so likely to attract all manner of sellers.

Ripples seem to be described either as Kasumi pearls (which they are not) or as nuclear (presumably a mistranslation of nucleated). We forgave the latter but not the former. Along the way we also bought a couple more strands which looked interesting.

Without exception the pearls in no way measured up to their (stock) photos (which appeared in many different listings at different prices). They were invariably of poor colour, smaller, with many flaws and generally worth very little. Some, which had been sold as finished necklaces, were a total mis-sell since the silver and gold clasps were plated – and this was inarguable since they have been checked at the Assay office itself.

For example, these sorry pearls were described as south sea pearls…They are big, but they are clearly nucleated freshwater circley pearls, with some satiny lustre but with a preponderance of nasty chalky areas and some ear wax yellow colour splodges instead of the deep gold of the photo. The clasp was plated and to add insult the silk was too thin and the knotting slack. Poor things

mis-sold pearls

poor things – note the complete lack of any lustre in the base of the pearl at 9

Others in the world of pearls spot freshwaters dyed to resemble Tahitians and south sea pearls with varying degrees of success on these websites.

fake tahitian pearls

Listed on eBay as I write this entry – for £6.70..or £7.10 from another seller or 0.01p in an auction from a third

So..buyers beware. Most pearls I have seen on eBay and other mass selling sites are rubbish. There are a few honest sellers on them, swimming against a strong tide, but no-one is going to sell a. Tahitian pearl necklace with a gold clasp for a tenner.

So, what happened to the pearls and clasps we bought? In the bin

Bead nucleated pearls and tissue nucleated pearls.

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) 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 freshwaterpearls)

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.

The new big thing (last three or so years only) in pearls are the big freshwater bead nucleated pearls from China. These are branded as Edison pearls or Ming pearls or are described as ripple pearls. They are big – up to 17mm, round or symmetrically baroque (because of the bead inside), have a lustre ranging from metallic to gloriously satiny, and a smooth to convoluted or rippled. They come in a range of natural colours from white to pink, purple, peach, gold, with greens and blues. (you can see our ripple pearls here and we have smooth surfaced Edison and generic bead nucleated pearls throughout the freshwater section is one beautiful example of a bead nucleated Edison pearl necklace









Huge record breaking oyster

Not strictly a pearl matter since it isn’t a pearl producing oyster but we can still note this huge record breaking oyster which is reckoned to be possibly as old as 20 years.

world record oyster

world record oyster

The oyster is a Pacific Oyster (Crassostrea gigas), found in the Wadden Sea, off southeastern Denmark and part of the North Sea.

It is still alive and growing in a sea centre. It is 35cm and 11cm wide. It’s attached to five other oysters, so the total weight is 1.62kg

It will now live out a comfortable and cosseted retirement in the sea life centre in Denmark, fed on plankton and algae.

What’s the Difference Between Wild Pearls and Non-Nucleated Pearls?

What is the difference between wild pearls (natural pearls)and non-nucleated cultured pearls? At the moment it is thousands of £ and an educated guess without 100% provenance.
Telling the difference between a pearl which has come about in a wild shell as against what could be called a keishi or simply a tissue nucleated pearl is sometimes impossible. But necessary because the true wild pearl – usually called a natural pearl in the trade – can be worth a huge amount of money.
It has been a problem since culturing began about 80 years or so ago.
The Gemological Institute of America and Australian South Sea pearl company Paspaley have worked to collect natural pearl samples from Paspaley’s wild Pinctada Maxima beds. Australia’s wild pearl oyster beds have been fished continuously since the mid-1800s

In 10 days aboard a Paspaley ship GIA researchers collected 776 natural pearls from 20,488 large wild oysters. Most were were small “seed” pearls, with the smallest measuring under 1mm ir, and the largest was 16mm.

south sea wild pearls

The 776 swhite south sea wild pearls

Since these pearls have a clear provenance they can be used to establish benchmark criteria for future pearl assays and for now extensive research will be carried out using in-house high resolution real-time microradiography and micro CT imaging, as well as detailed chemical analyses and other tests.

The research will be published when completed.