Two years of Covid. Or. Hong Kong I miss you

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.

Ah Hong Kong I miss you. View from Tsim Shah TSui across to the Island. Note the classic junk sailing majestically past. This photo also shows the classic faint fug which is often mistying Hong Kong, and also how the buildings are all along the shoreline, while the island is mostly steep woodland. Hong Kong is mostly…up.

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.

Buying remotely does not allow sitting for hours with a pile of shiny big Tahitians looking for just that pair, or the super-colourful single with the perfect shape.
I might sort through a few of these bags to find the one or two best of the bunch strands. Reality is that if I order remotely the wholesale staff member making up my order is only going to pick the first one from the top of the first bag. Maybe a perfunctory glance to make sure no disaster but not selection or scrutiny.

So. The Far East is still mostly closed off for travel. Maybe September for the big trade show…or anytime tbh.