Tag Archives: bead nucleated pearls

One of those weeks…!

It’s been One of those weeks here in the Pearlescence Workshop. We’ve had a real masterclass week of everything which could go wrong has gone wrong. From things being dropped and lost while in plain sight to loose rattly nucleuses – five in one strand of south sea pearls. Plus silk stuck in a necklace in for its triennial re-string…plus even a tahitian pearl with (apparently) the hiccups.

So it seemed a good plan to sit back and write up how to deal with these things for those of our customers who are starting out as makers themselves.

Rattling/spinning nucleus

This happens when the nucleus of a bead nucleated pearl comes loose – when the nacre, for some reason, isn’t stuck to it at all and the bead inside the pearl can rattle around freely. It’s a total pain because it means that that pearl cannot be strung as it is, because the drill hole through the nucleus will invariably have spun out of line from the drill holes in the nacre. The first you usually know of it is when you are sitting there, knotting away in a sort of knotting fugue and suddenly you’re poking at the hole with your beading needle and nothing is happening.

First thought is that something is jamming the drill hole, a remnant of silk from the previous knotting or from the temporary strand but the clue is that the needle only goes in a short way from either side. If it’s a bit of silk then the distances will be unequal and one side will go in much further than the other.

I’ve heard of people willing to sit and fiddle and poke with the pearl until they ‘catch’ the inside drill hole but life is a bit too short and I am far too impatient to do that. I just slap a 0.7mm drill bit into the workshop hand held drill and drill a new hole. The cunning bit comes from keeping the bit in the hole so it doesn’t just spin off again immediately, then plug the holes with a headpin or bit of wire until you can get that needle in and through. It’s definitely one of those times when three hands are useful.

Not only have I had the mega south sea rattly strand but also a freshwater bead nuked   and an akoya, one of the baroque blue strands we found in Hong Kong last month and which sold out within twelve hours of listing them!. I think that is probably my quota for the whole year

Knot or silk stuck in drill hole

However much we’re careful when taking a necklace apart for re-stringing it sometimes happens that a remnant of a knot manages to get itself pulled into the drill hole and then jam. Or some really cheap temporary silk shreds and a snarl ends up inside the pearl.

Sometimes a firm application of a head pin into the drill hole will shift something. The best way to do this is to insert the pin then hold it with a pair of pliers just about one mm away from the nacre at the hole and firmly shove. Holding it just outside usually stops the silver from bending and sometimes this is enough to dislodge the obstruction.

If that doesn’t work then the easiest way to clear to blockage is to use an 0.7 drill bit and simply drill out the silk.

Glue misadventures

We switched from two part epoxy glue to gel superglue about six months ago and it’s working very well so far..with the added bliss that there is a release fluid.

The gel superglue is very controllable and easy to use…more so than the usual liquid which can go everywhere. But sometimes things go wrong

I was making up some tahitian pendants last thing yesterday and left them to set really well overnight. When I came to check them one was like this:

Tahitian pearl with glue hiccups

Tahitian pearl with glue hiccups

Every other pendant was fine. What had happened was that a pocket of air had been trapped at the bottom of the drill hole (It’s half drilled) and when I put the finding and glue into the drill hole the air was compressed.

Then when I let go and set it down the compressed air pushed the finding back out again. Usually when that happens it isn’t quite as spectacular as that, it will just move by a mm or so. This one was very nearly out altogether.

Thank the gods of pearls that there is magical unglue liquid. A quick dab and a wriggle and the finding is out…drill the hole clean again, make sure any glue is off the finding and re-do

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,


Day five.. pearl finding

White mirror metallic rounds.

White mirror metallic rounds.

A busy day again, full of pearl finding. I picked up where I left off, working through the wants list of loose single and pairs. It took more than an hour to find ten perfect pairs of AAA white mirror metallic pearls. It is staggering how many variations are possible in what should be a simple task – after all, how much variety can there be? Well the answer, of course, is zillions. For perfect pairs the size, colour, overtone, lustre and mirror size and quality must all match perfectly.

Of course that is perfection. Later in the day Betty Sue King and I were sadly contemplating some big round bead nucleated ‘pairs’ most of which were sort of maybe something like.  Betty Sue is a leading American pearl supplier with a lifetime of knowledge and skill in the pearl world. I just sit there learning when she is in the room.

Before that though one of the highlights was a collection of nuggety ice cream coloured 10mmish undrilled mirror metallics. Not sure what I will do with them, but at the moment I’m thinking some pretty and feminine station bracelets with silver chain.

Once I had paid for the pearls at the morning supplier I moved on to a second. Poking around the shelves, I pounced on some big and colourful bead nucleated baroques. Some of them huge -30mm and more. They were bead nukes gone a bit wonky.

Huge baroque bead nucleated pearls

Huge baroque bead nucleated pearls

Variable in quality, never the less, there were some big colourful baroques for some dramatic earrings. There were two bags of those, and then one bag of pretty rubbish pearls in which was modestly sitting this huge true blue pearl

The pearl is a true blue, not a grey with a blue overtone. It is truly blue

The pearl is a true blue, not a grey with a blue overtone. It is truly blue

The wholesale staff member and I both gasped. You can see how how big the pearl is. There are a couple of fairly big flaws but ..oh that colour!

It’s now mine (of course!)

For the last hour I dashed off to the findings supplier and grabbed silver, vermeil and gold clasps, earrings, pendant fittings, rings, enhancers and so on.  Oddly the staff wanted to go home, so I left my basket. I’ll select some of the beautiful Italian-made and designed woven silver necklets



Nacre depth on bead nucleated freshwater pearls

There’s been a lot of debate recently about the nacre depth on bead nucleated freshwater pearls, along with concerns about the materials being used as the nucleus.

Rather fortuitously while we were making up some necklaces recently and enlarging the drill holes so the silk can be doubled back and hidden two pearls split neatly in half.

One was a white 12.6mm Ming  – metallic lustre with rainbow overtones and the other was a prototype small Edison white round of 9.5mm and rippled creamier nacre (If you don’t know the two pearl brand names don’t worry, just ignore).

Nacre depth is a real problem with saltwater Akoya pearls. Some pearls spend such a short time being grown that you can see the bead through the nacre (this is known as blinking because the pearls appear to blink when rolled back and forth). Thin nacre is one of the reasons why we have not carried an extensive stock of Akoya pearls up to now – although having found a couple of suppliers who guarantee decent nacre we will be stocking them more in future)

Tahitian and South Sea pearls are always grown on an inserted bead

But bead nucleation has exploded onto freshwater pearls in just the last few years. With large grower to wholesaler Grace pearl leading the way Chinese pearl farmers are producing huge round pearls from a schegeli/cumingii hybrid in the most amazing range of colours, some pastel and some deep, such as deep purples, as well as rippled surfaced pearls, nicknamed ripple pearls, with shimmering play of colours and often an effect like gold leaf has been added in patches.

ripple pearls

Classic ripple pearls – pink, lavender, blues, and the gorgeous gold leaf overlay effect

Anyway, here is the result of the two broken pearls…

bead nucleated pearls- nacre depth

broken white bead nucleated pearls

You can clearly see the beads and the layer of nacre. In the smaller pearl the nacre is just 0.6mm thick (minimum depth for a Tahitian pearl is 0.8mm over 80% of the pearl surface) so that would be a fail, while the larger pearl has a happy 1.23mm of nacre. Plenty.




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 ..here is one beautiful example of a bead nucleated Edison pearl necklace









Quirky Pearls

I’ve called them quirky pearls for want of a better name. They’re bead nucleated little shiny mis-shapes which i found in amongst hundreds of strands of really junk pearls – pearls so bad I was surprised they were allowed in the office.

I pulled about eight strands out of eight large dustbin size bags and then cherry picked the best pearls to make these three longish necklaces from the pearls now that I’m back at the workshop.

Probably not the best use of my time but I wanted to see if I had anything useful. There’s enough for a couple more necklaces and then that will be it

There’s one strand of what looks like natural white with mixed overtones and patches of metallic lustre ….

White quirky pearls long necklace

White quirky pearls long necklace

Then two of natural colours pearls, with some fabulous gold patches and drop-ish shapes with lumps and bumps – all sorts of character

quirky pearls

Natural colours – mostly golds and pinks


quirkly pearls

slightly lighter tones, still gold and pinks mostly

Technically they are pretty poor pearls, but they are idiosyncratic, with colour, lustre and texture and bags of character – get these and you won’t see any more similar.