Orient comes from the thin-film interference and light diffraction caused when light passes through the nacre of a pearl. The iridescence, or lack thereof, is caused by the size of the aragonite platelets on the surface of the pearl
Orient comes from the thin-film interference and light diffraction caused when light passes through the nacre of a pearl. The iridescence, or lack thereof, is caused by the size of the aragonite platelets on the surface of the pearl
A matched set of jewellery, which might include earrings, a necklace, brooches, rings, and other pieces.
A peanut pearl is formed when two nuclei in a seeded pearl stick and then grow together to make something which resembles the shell of a peanut.
Resembling pearl or mother-of-pearl in iridescence and lustre (or, of course, an excellent source of all things pearl)
Pick a Pearl
A marketing ploy used in some tourist shops whereby the customer selects a shell which has been pre-seeded with a pearl of some sort, and lo – there is their pearl. Look closely and the mollusc is preserved in chemicals and long dead and the pearls usually freshwater. Pearlescence heard of one operation in the UK where someone got a dyed green potato pearl and was told it was green because the oyster was sick. Pearlescence knows where to buy these seeded molluscs for under $1 a time in China. But wouldn’t.
Tinned pickled pearls………….
Nicknamed Pipi pearls. The smallest of the oceanic pearl producing oysters and possibly the direct ancestor of all of them. It produces bright, lustrous deep golden pearls but is too small to be farmed on a realistic commercial basis. The shells are only about 20mm and pearls range from 2mm to 5mm.
This mollusc produces the black Tahitian pearl in French Polynesia, the Cook Islands and Australia
A very common to routine treatment especially for akoya pearls whereby the pearl, after bleaching, is dyed so that it shows a tinge of pink.
Pondslime is the name given to pearls which show an unusual golden to brown coating to their natural colour nacre. These pearls used to be either discarded as junk or dyed dark colours to disguise what was seen as a failure in cultivation but now such natural effects are valued and desirable. The effect ranges from a dull nicotine brown to dazzling gold as if the pearl has a layer of gold leaf
Pearls of any shape on which the surface nacre has a granulated appearance so that they look like fresh popcorn. We call them granulated pearls. Also called rosebud or strawberry pearls and in China, mao-jyue or hairy pearls.
Any mis-shapen pearl is a potato pearl because it resembles a potato. Also called irregular pearls or nugget pearls. Cheaper potato pearls will have one flat surface but the better ones are rounded all around
Better quality potato pearls have smooth rounded surfaces and great lustre
Pteria sterna The rainbow lipped oyster which produces the pearls of the Sea of Cortez, Mexico These pearls fluoresce red under ultra-violet light.
Oval/elliptical shaped pearls. Considerably cheaper than round pearls.
Rice or elliptical pearls. Can also be drop/drip shape
Rice Crispie pearls
Chinese freshwater pearls were originally grown in the Cristaria plicata (cockscomb pearl mussel) and resembled rice crispies.
Typical rice crispie pearls
Ancient romans loved their pearls and pearl jewellery has been found in excavations. A pearl dealer was called a margaritarius
The marker for one pearl dealer, Gaius Ateilius Euhodus, is still standing just outside Rome.
Tombstone marker for Gaius Ateilius, margaritarius
Rosebud see popcorn
The more perfectly round a pearl is, the more valuable. A good quick way to assess roundness is to gently roll a strand of pearls. Irregularities will show easily to the eye
Loose undrilled white round freshwater tissue nucleated all nacre pearls
Fakes can sometimes be real pearls which have been processed to look like more valuable pearls. Popular on auction websites where people sadly buy Tahitian pearls for £5.
Two examples. The left hand pearls were described as baroque south sea pearls and the ones on the right as Tahitian blacks (this gets around the restrictions as they are describing the dye colour, not the pearl provenance) The Tahitian black pearls have some wear as they may look acceptable but the poor dyed fireballs pretending to be south sea pearls ended their days in the bin
These unhappy pearls were sold as baroque south Tahitian black – the label describes the dye
sea not the place of origin. The same stock photo
appeared at £6.70..or £7.10 from another
seller or 0.01p in an auction from a third
Note that some freshwater suppliers are working to dye big round bead nucleated pearls to resemble the finest gold south sea pearls. Individually strands look impressively close, but in a hank they look slightly ‘ear-wax’ yellow.
This photo shows loose genuine south sea pearls. Some are untreated
while others have been dyed to ‘enhance’ the colour.
Scottish River Pearls
Highly prized and very rare wild natural pearls. So protected by law that a licence is needed to sell them. The species is Margaritifera margaritifera . They are believed to live for 250 years! It is said that one reason for the Roman invasion of Britain was to gain access to the pearls.
Wild Margarififera Margaritifera pearls
Wild pearls live in several locations around the UK. All very secret
Sea of Cortez
One farm is producing mostly greys and blue shades in Mexico, re-starting a pearl history which was thriving when the Spanish invaded (see Cortez for more information)
What it says – a second graft happens when a mollusc is returned to the water after harvest. Its pearl sac is either re-filled, with a bead equal to the size of the pearl removed (so that the second pearl grown will be larger when that is harvested) or a keishi pearl will grow.
Tiny pearls weighing under 1/4 grain, usually 3mm or less.
Generally the rounder the pearl the more valuable the pearl is.
This chemical, the same as used in photography, darkens the appearance of pearls. The chemical penetrates the layers of nacre and has a chemical reaction with light and hydrogen sulphide gas to create a rich black colour.
Generally, the bigger the pearl the more valuable, however a smaller more perfectly formed round pearl will be more valuable than a big baroque one. Pearls under 3mm in size are increasing in price as their production is falling. Pearls are measured at 90deg to the drill hole (or where the drill hole would be if undrilled)
Very large freshwater pearls are being produced with pearls nucleated with a lump of expansive compound These pearls, third graft, can have stunning lustre and a rather keishi appearance so far. When drilled the compound and water is drained away so that the pearl is hollow and light in weight. However most freshwater cultured pearls are still solid pearl nacre, even pearls up to 15mm. This means that they are arguably more durable but the chances of non-perfect round shapes are higher.
South Sea pearls
Large South Sea cultured pearls (up to 16 mm), farmed in Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, range in colour from white to gold and to black. They can have a perfectly round to slightly asymmetrical shape and medium to high lustre Price varies depending on lustre. South Sea pearls are harvested after at least two years. They have a unique, satiny lustre that comes from the rapidly deposited nacre and warm waters of the South Seas. South Sea pearls also have a subtle array of colours, typically white, silver, and golden, Gold south sea pearls come mainly from Thailand and white south sea pearls mainly from Australia.
White round south sea pearl very baroque very blue south sea gold drop south sea pair
Baby oysters which are either artificially bred in a hatchery or spawn naturally and are attracted to collection points are called spat. They will be grown on until big enough to be implanted
Spat – size of a thumbnail
Sterling silver is a mix of 92.5% by mass of silver and 7.5% by mass of other metals, usually copper. The copper is added to make the metal harder. All Pearlescence Sterling silver over the required minimum weight carries the London Assay office hallmark of owner Wendy Graham (Initials wmg in an oval cartouche). All silver from Pearlescence is nickel-free.
Any long thin and stick or twig like pearl, They can be drilled at the top or middle and through the wider or narrower faces to produce different looks.
Matched large thin sticks made into earrings
The smoother and more perfect the surface of a pearl, the higher the value
are produced by the black-lipped oyster (Pinctada margaritifera). They have been produced for almost exactly 50 years now in French Polynesia, in the lagoons of remote coral atolls and islands – everywhere except on Tahiti Itself!
Kamoka pearl farm,. Ahe atoll, French Polynesia
Black Lip Oysters are now also being farmed in a small way in Australia. The oyster itself is quite large — sometimes up to 12 inches across and weighing as much as 10 pounds — which often results in much larger-than-average pearls. The pearls are unique because of their natural dark colours. Most “black” Tahitian pearls are not actually black, but are instead grey, silver, charcoal,chocolate brown, blue, purple, aubergine, pink, beige or even off-white Truly black pearls are extremely rare.
Tahitian pearls are grown around a bead so are often round but can be semi round to drops as well. Circles are common, and some prefer circle pearls because they are clearly real and not imitation. Tahitian pearls go through x-ray inspection before legal export (ask to see their export certificate and confuse most jewellers!) and have a different grading system A-D where A grade are the best pearls
Sometimes molluscs yield pearls of such quality that farmers put them back in the water for a third time. Third graft pearls will be very large indeed, and the mollusc could be ten years old.
Asymmetrically drilled pearls, often oval. If strung un-knotted they tend to move around against each other on the silk and then are called dancing pearls
Vermeil is a plating of gold onto sterling silver. It is hallmarkable and a response to the high present cost of gold. All Pearlescence vermeil is nickel-free. Nb American Vermeil often has a layer of nickel.
Please do not put any hairspray, make-up, perfume or any other such substances where they could contact and be absorbed by the pearls. Pearls are a natural biological substance and are porous, so avoid anything which could be absorbed by them. We have reeled back in horror when opening envelopes for some pearls returned for re-stringing where they seem soaked in perfume.
See pick a pearl.
I only just caught up with this piece which I wrote for the UK trade magazine Retail Jeweller earlier this year about the big pearl adventure to the pearl farm on Talesei island, Indonesia this spring (see a lot of blog about it)
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.
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 shell..it’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)
What do you say when a pearl company asks if you want to help with harvesting south sea pearls on their farm in Indonesia? You say ‘yes please’ and ‘when?’ and immediately buy plane tickets. Well, Betty Sue King and I did, anyway. Let me take you with us on an amazing adventure where we worked hard and learned so much (…and were wet a lot of the time).
Our adventure started very early in the morning with a taxi ride to Hong Kong airport to fly to Jakarta and then Manado airports in Indonesia. The next day we set off to the farm itself, on an island to the north of Sulawesi. A car ride through twisty country roads where, if a dog, piglet or human felt like walking in the middle of the road or have a bit of a sleep in the sun, well, the car went round them. As a UK driver I was …. arghhhhh…but it all seemed to work out somehow. Then, after a short wait, a tiny wooden boat appeared which was to be our ride to the farm. Again, thoughts of health and safety were quickly squashed. Everyone local seemed perfectly happy with the boat so..
Happily the sea was smooth and the trip uneventful, as Betty Sue and I pinched ourselves. We’d been excited about this trip for months and now, here we were. Our eyes strained for our first glimpse of the farm as we skirted numerous small islands, all covered in dense green lush trees and with the occasional village on the shore. Finally we were there.
(How to scramble off the boat with some semblance of dignity and along the dock – slippery and wet, without falling back into the sea?) (especially the short section which was just three planks)
Our host, Dev, shows us round, from one end of the farm to the other – there’s a hatchery, the harvest has started, there are baskets, floats,nets piled everywhere, men being purposeful at their tasks, and finally we are shown the first pearls harvested, that very day.
The farm has four technicians who split grafting duties – two from Japan, who are the farm manager Hiroshi and his deputy Kudo and two local girls still being trained (who will have a worldwide transferable skill)
The main problem with training, indeed with any innovation or change in technique, in grafting with south sea pearls is that the time between carrying out the operation and the harvest, when you find out if the idea is good or the technique is sound is 18 month. Every technician takes copious notes of what they have done all the time, but it is a long time to wait..
This farm is doing a lot right though, because the survival rate from graft to harvest is 80%. Grafting is done when the oysters are around 7-8cm in size and around 10 months old.
First thing on our first full day on the farm we visited the hatchery. The farm raises its own baby oysters from eggs and sperm. They’re cared for and cosseted in a controlled environment with great food and no predators. Even at microscopic size they are recognisable as oysters – you can’t see anything when they are few days old except with a microscope.
Baby oysters start their life in the ocean attached to these plaited ropes, tucked safely in rectangular cages like squared off lobster pots.
After visiting the hatchery we were put right to work. Out over the sea is a rectangular room where the harvest is done. The skiffs bring the baskets with the oysters right to the door, the oysters are removed from the baskets and the oysters opened. Then the flesh is scraped off into a bowl (yes, harvesting is brutal, there is no way around this) and when the bowl is full..that is where Betty Sue and I came in. Twice a day the whole room is washed down and cleaned.
We were placed at a small table with three bowls. One full of oyster bodies, one for pearls and one for the harvested bodies.
A brief lesson in where and how to look and feel for the pearls and we were away.
At first we were, of course, hopelessly slow. I was concerned that I would miss a precious pearl – some oysters manage to discard their nucleus even after they are x-rayed. But practice made much nearer to perfect, especially encouraged when I found a series of tiny keishi, some no bigger than 1mm. Most of the keishi are in or right by the pearl sac and simply pop out at the same time, but some are hidden in the body of the oyster or around its mantle. These are, to all intents wild or natural pearls, even though CIBJO says they are cultured. (mostly I suspect because it would be next to impossible to verify provenance successfully and credibly)
It’s not a bit glamorous. Your feet are wet the whole time as the floor is continuously washed down and the oyster goo gets everywhere (however we both noticed it had a wonderful effect on the skin on our hands – beautifully smoothed and not wrinkled) Some pearls are easy to find, while others hide away deep in the body.
Neither of us could resist studying each and every pearl as it appeared in our hand, and I noticed that even the fastest and most experienced harvesters also looked carefully at each pearl before dropping it into the bowl to be quickly washed and then whisked off to be cleaned and sorted. There were pearls of all shapes and sizes, rounds, near rounds and drops, circles, deep and pale golds, champagne pearls and whites, up to 12mm and down to 1mm. I would have been very happy to bring every single one home with me. Each one was beautiful.
I never got used to feeling one of these shrimps in the oyster bowl. The shrimps live in and around the oyster nets and every so often one would be in the bowl. I couldn’t help squealing like a baby when I felt it wriggle against my fingers, much to everyone’s amusement. I must have very sensitively tuned scaredy dangerous shrimp reflexes is all I can say
The adductor muscle – the meat of the oyster – is collected at the end of the day from all the oysters and is sold on as meat. We had some several times at the farm – delicious and you couldn’t really get fresher!
Very little is wasted. The shells go for mother of pearl or are polished and sold.
Remember that the colour of the shell is no guide to the colour of the pearl though. The colour of the pearl is solely dependent on the colour genetically coded into the donor mantle tissue. To grow each pearl a nucleus is inserted into the gonad of the oyster when it has grown large enough. Between 18 and 20months at this farm.
It is a delicate operation. The nucleus bead and tiny sliver of mantle tissue need to be placed just exactly so, so that they are not rejected and the graft tissue does not die (a few un-nacred nucleus came out where the tissue had died). A couple of weeks later all the oysters will be x-rayed to check that the insert has been successful. Any where the oyster has managed to reject the nucleus (and who can blame them really?) will be rested and re-nucleated in due course). Pearls tend to grow larger in gold shells and smaller in white shells, although this is not a fixed and absolute rule.This farm uses a 6mm bead for nucleating. While the farm has tried second grafts they have found that they are not very effective against the extra time needed for harvesting so usually make only one harvest.
When they are little babies the oysters live on plaited ropes in protective baskets. Then they graduate to individual spaces on hanging flat pouch baskets – first eight then six to a basket.
The baskets are covered with nets to protect the oysters. The nets are changed every three months when all the encrustations are removed. Betty Sue and I went out in the skiff to help with this the day after the end of the harvest. We held the clean new bags open for the farm workers to slide the baskets in. Even though it was only 9am and I had applied factor 40 when the sun came out I could feel my skin starting to burn – factor 50 applied. Kudo was so worried about my anglo-saxon winter white skin he came and got us after about an hour. I wanted to stay out but he was right.
Both male and female oysters are grown. Theoretically male oysters grow larger and better pearls because the female oysters have eggs in the gonad taking up space. At one time the eggs would be removed but that left a void and the nucleus often moved. We never noticed that gender made a big difference to the pearl. Certainly size of oyster was not related to size of pearl. sometimes the biggest oysters produced small pearls, and the smaller oysters produced big ones.
At the farm the pearls are simply washed in rotating barrels to remove the oyster goo, then sorted and put into lots for auction. I have brought back a few pearls which I can guarantee have had no treatment whatsoever apart from this brief wash
I picked out these keishi for myself
and these few pearls will be available in due course. For those pearl lovers who want pearls with no treatments – I can guarantee that these have had nothing apart from a quick wash to remove oyster goo.
During sorting careful note is made of who nucleated which batch and when in an attempt to work out successes and failures
One example of this careful tracking . Betty Sue and I were given the honour of harvesting a special lot of oysters which had been grafted with akoya pearls as an experiment. Sadly the pearls were largely unremarkable and mostly not as high quality as the regularly nucleated ones. There was some discussion about trying freshwater pearls.
The harvest lasted three days. We spent most of the time in the harvesting room, but were also allowed out on the boats to see the baskets hauled up for harvest and then to help put new nets on the baskets once the harvest was over. During the three days 15,636 pearls were harvested, with an average size of 11mm (excluding keishi from the calculation)
Huge and lifelong thanks to Devchand Chodhry, Hiroshi Imaizumi and Shigekazu Kudo and all the staff on the farm for their patience as I blundered around trying to join in everything and, I am sure, getting in the way of their skilled work.
Prices for round Edison pearls have dropped massively – they are now about a third of what they were last year, due mostly to over-production, coupled with a slowing of demand. Oddly the price of Edison drops has gone up. At the same time I picked up more rumours and some confirmation that very dark Edisons are indeed prone to colour fading.
This has been going around for about six months now and I was told that some Edisons have faded by firstly a seller and then by someone within Grace Pearl. This is happening possibly, I was told, because Grace are pushing the processing and treating the pearls too quickly and heavily, which is damaging their colour durability.
It may well be, however, that they are learning and backing off on these treatments and durability will therefore improve. Time will tell. Only the natural dark purple shades are apparently involved, not the pale ones, or whites, or ripples. Anyhow, I matched up some pairs of nice big natural colour rounds and some really clean round whites.
So..what else was a good find this time? How about this stunning strand of 9mm to 10.6 multicoloured metallic Tahitian pearls?
Then I was browsing through some multicoloured akoyas (very nice) when I spotted a couple of white strands in with the natural coloured ones. ‘oh’ says the seller, ‘they shouldn’t be in there’..then he looks at the label and ‘oh, yes they should: they are natural colour whites’.
My hand shot out and grabbed them instantly. Natural white akoyas…natural white are so rare and hard to find. They haven’t been bleached and they haven’t been pinked. They are naturally white. These are 7mm, round and metallic. Little beauties
I have fallen in love, apparently, with any and all natural white pearls. This little lot of natural white freshwater rounds of different sizes literally fell onto my foot in a wholesaler’s office where there were all sorts of interesting odds of pearls tucked away under the big sorting table. So of course I had to have it
And were there any pairs?
…natural white freshwater pearls, all nacre. And now I have a totally stunning necklace of these very special pearls.
I had spent the day at my favourite suppliers, head down and matching up all manner of pearls. Intermittently throughout the day the owner of the company, Michael Sze, sat opposite me, making up necklaces from loose undrilled pearls. I watched him as I took a break from matching pearls (you have to look up sometimes otherwise your eyes will fall out)
Michael worked his way through a bag of smaller bead nucleated smooth ripples, then a bag of large pale ripples (he liked that long endless necklace so much he had it drilled and knotted up immediately – you can see the knotting start to finish, including a huge tangle – in a video in the main P video listings. The knotting method is completely different to how we do it, but then I think there are as many different methods as there are knotters)
Finally, as I was thinking of finishing for the day, he brought out a small bag of maybe 500 or so white pearls…natural white pearls and started sorting them. My tired eyes went on stalks. These were simply beautiful pearls.
I started to camera phone video his selection of the choicest of these choice pearls and before I knew it I had fallen in love. Me – the queen of the bigger the better and natural coloured pearls.
By the time he was arranging them as a necklace I was buying them.
Even my daughter, who isn’t remotely into pearls (!) commented ‘oh that is so beautiful, you can see the quality’
Why is it called the Romana necklace? Because it was bought with the proceeds from the sale of my 1973 Mini Clubman car ROM 308M…As a Dr Who fan, that was immediately Romanadvoratrelundar.
Updated October 2017
I made up the necklace finally
I’m so in love with these pearls still!
There are times when I wish with all my exhausted being that Hong Kong was a bit nearer…sort of like the Isle of Man really. But it is probably just as well that it isn’t, because if I could just pop to the wholesalers every few days Pearlescence would probably be bankrupt within the week. It’s so easy to buy pearls. You just say ‘yes’ and hand over money.
We had a great time. Hard work for many hours but there were pearls. There were friends and there was round the world food. Hong Kong takes its food very seriously. There are a myriad of great places to eat, with examples of every cuisine within a few streets where ever you are. We had Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese (of course) and Nepalese.
So, what about those pearls. Quality is advancing by the month, but at the same time production is down and prices are consequently up. Throw in the drop in value of the £ against the USA $ and the Hong Kong $ and I have brought back a stash of stunning metallic pearls in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but the sadness is that prices must creep upward. When I first went to Hong Kong the HK$ exchange rate was 14HK$ to the £. Now it is 10.
Highlights from the trip.
1…Finding out that love of pearls does not necessarily fade with years
watching the President of the Hong Kong Pearl Association, Michael Sze, putting strands together from bags of loose pearls and clearly enjoying himself. Michael’s company is probably the supplier of the best quality freshwater pearls (no, not Grace) and he’s been in the pearl business well over 20 years but was still clearly enjoying himself putting strands together to take to the show which started in a couple of days. I spend a couple of days there, sitting opposite him for much of the second day as he made strands..watching and learning.
Qne special necklace made by Michael will be getting a blog entry all of its own
2 Huge Tahitians are coming soon
Catching up with Hisano Shepherd, of little h, and her strand of (souffle though they are not souffle) Tahitian pearls.
These Tahitian pearls look like freshwater souffles and are as big and as lustrous but the growing method to force the rapid growth and large size and different. Hisano and husband Jeremy Shepherd found this strand in Tahiti when there recently. There were a few loose similar pearls on sale at the show from one seller, but the prices were very high. Betty Sue King has taken a few to be assessed and investigated by the GIA.
Selling these enormous pearls has only been possible in the last few months since the legal requirement of a certain depth of nacre over the nucleus for export has been abandoned. These pearls would fail and not be exportable as they have no solid nucleus. I’ve seen similar growing efforts with south sea pearls, although weirdly, some of them also have a regular nucleus. Farmers are clearly experimenting. These will be exciting pearls, and indications are that once they start appearing in numbers in the market the prices will be affordable.
3 Freshwater Souffles
If you love freshwater souffle pearls stock up now as they are not being grown, at least in any numbers. Indeed the wholesaler who was the major supplier did not have any. But big beaded pearls and smaller beaded pearls are as common as all nacre freshwaters now
4 what is that noise?
The first show I went to had this clatter clatter shake noise echoing round the hall occasionally. I didn’t work out what it was. It was only at my second show I managed to catch noise and action together. Pearls being sieved. Pearls are sieved to sort them into sizes. The noise is distinctive and now, when you get to attend the Hong Kong show you’ll know exactly what it is first time!
There are lots more short videos available on the Pearlescence Facebook page – here
Occasionally we have to trim back an irregular top on a drop pearl so a finding will set better.
I was filing a pointy tip off a blue south sea pearl today when the nacre ran out and i could see what looked like compressed peat inside.
Curious..of course.. I poked around inside.
There was fibrous peat like stuff brown
White waxy stuff in lumps.
Flakes of thin plastic like cling film
Flakes of plastic with fibres that looks like medical dressing tape
What was any of that doing inside a pearl?
Is this some sort of an attempt at a souffle south sea pearl?
I’ll take the pearl and its contents to Hong Kong with me and ask around, see if anyone has a clue
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
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
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
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 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.
So, there we go. Blue pearls are possible in all pearl types. But as colours go, they are the exception rather than the rule.
Head of Amsterdam Pearls Cees Van Oije invited me to visit Bangkok and to go around a sea pearls processing factory in the city.
This was a much bigger operation than the one I visited last year in China. It processed Akoya, South Sea and Tahitian pearls. Nevertheless the processes were just about identical. Pearls came in, were cleaned, sorted, drilled or not drilled, strung, graded and readied for the wholesale market.
This is a combined entry for the first two days here in Hong Kong at the spring jewellery show as this is the first chance I have had to write anything. It’s been busy since I arrived on Tuesday morning and went straight from Hong Kong airport to the show at nearby Asia World Expo centre .
I’ve spent the time finding some very special pearls..mostly some gorgeous south sea blues, golds and yes, some greens. I haven’t even tried to make pairs yet, just gone through bags and bags and bags of pearls to find those few I want to bring to you, as well as work with myself. One of the exciting side effects of being here is that my design brain wakes up and I find ideas popping up..(sometimes in what is the middle of the night here, but daytime in my head still) Of these ideas more in due course as they blossom.
The £ is sickly here…only three years ago one GBP bought $14.5HK and $1.60 USD. Now when I changed my money last night the best I could find was $9.56.HK and the USD is at 1.22. So prices will have to rise.
Breaking today’s HKD rate is 9.53. It just gets worse)
Anyway.here are some photos of the pearls!
I’m dashing off now for day three. captions etc later!
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
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
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.
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
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 https://www.classaction.org/vantel-pearls-lawsuits 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.
When I’m not up to my elbows in pearls I try to catch pokemon. When I was in Hong Kong I was struck (although not literally of course!) by how some pearls resemble pokemon. I came up with the idea of Poke pearls.
I spent several hours on the last day of the show delving around the show to find the quirkiest of the tahitian and south sea pearls. They made me smile. They are not serious grown up pearls, they are silly and fun pearls, but if you are a pokemon trainer..maybe you’ll enjoy too. I hope so!
We’ve given them their own section on the website
(Thanks to Jack Lynch of Sea Hunt Pearls for permission to use this silly fireball pearl photo)
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.
We’re so jealous that they have the skills and kit to create such stunning pieces. Enjoy the video.
I’ve had several enquiries recently about sustainable pearls and/or ethical pearls. (the terms seem to be used interchangeably). The standard pearl industry answer is that it is impossible to supply sustainable pearls or ethical pearls because pearls from many sources get mixed together indistinguishably in their journey between farm and wearer.
Most pearl farms are sustainable and ethical because they are often staffed by family, or with a small local staff which helps the local economy and in any case pearl farms have to be environmentally pretty sound because all molluscs are ready to die off at the least excuse – too hot, too cold, too salty, too brackish, too freshwater (sea pearl farms can be wiped out by a series of thunderstorms inland diluting the saline environment near a delta for example). They are all like Goldilocks, everything must be just right. Then they can reject the graft, get infected, get choked by weeds so they starve.
But most pearls on sale travel from farm to pearl factory to wholesaler to importer to local wholesaler to retailer. At Pearlescence we cut out a couple of those stages as we usually buy pearls which travel farm to factory to wholesaler to us. For most sea pearls – gold, blue and white south seas, Tahitian and Akoya this is true, and for all freshwater pearls.
But, on the plane on the way to Hong Kong I had plenty of time to think (oh how I wish Hong Kong was a bit nearer!) and realised that I know enough sea pearl farmers and farms individually to cover most types of salt water pearls (yes to Tahitian, Sea of Cortez and Vietnamese Akoya) . Freshwater pearls were going to be the problem, simply because they invariably go from farm to pearl factory where the harvests from many farms is mixed, graded, blended, treated and turned into wholesale-ready product.
(This blog post will also dispel the myth put about by some freshwater pearl seller that they buy pearls direct from the farm and their stock is full of strands)
As the flight progressed I remembered that I know one family with its own small factory. The result was that before I left a 1 kilo scoop of pearls had been taken from a lot of pearls as they came into the factory, before any treatment, mixing, sorting or anything was done to them. Nothing done except a quick wash.
The more I look at them the more fascinating this snapshot of the production from one Chinese pearl farm is. The colour is predominantly a pale peach, with degrees up to pretty orange. Most of the pearls are elliptical or potato, with lots of buttons too. Sizes range from a couple of mm to about 12mm with around 7mm to 8mm being the average. Most pearls have a decent surface, although some have rings. But it is the quality of the lustre which is most intriguing. Most of the lustre is around A+ or AA. There are quite a few pearls with no lustre at all, completely flat and dull,while maybe a hundred have enough lustre and colour for me to buy them. There’s even a single white tiny rosebud/granulated pearl!
The bad pearls really are dire – as the photo shows. Some of them look like teeth which have been left to the mercy of a really incompetent dentist, who has made merry with old fashioned amalgam, which others are completely without any lustre, just chalk. There’s one of these which is nearly all completely dull but with an intensely metallic tip.
Anyway, we are going to attempt a few pairings and see if we can make some single farm source stud and dangle earrings out of the better pearls.
We also brought back some of the crushed walnut shell used to buff the pearls so I intend to try doing that to see how the average pearls and the good already pearls are improved. The buffing is allowed (maeshori) as it is no different to buffing up your fingernails to put a shine on them
What this experiment shows mostly is that pearl factories work; the good quality pearls which Pearlescence offers really are the top 0.5% (or less) of any general pearl harvest, and that you can find single farm sustainable pearls if you have the contacts!