Tag Archives: tahitian pearls

Covid: Effects on Pearlescence

Covid has affected us. But I also have some exciting news about new stock of Robert Wan Tahitian pearls. During lockdown here in the UK I worked alone to keep things going and now we are very much a ‘face mask and wash your hands please’ place. So far the horrible virus hasn’t managed to get to us.  The government is re-opening everything far too quickly so we have decided we are going to carry on being reclusive and very very careful. We hope you understand if that means some delays to shipping and making of custom orders.

The other big problem is that, while I went to Hong Kong in Feb/March and could buy Tahitian, freshwater and south sea pearls and findings, I don’t know of any akoya sellers based in Hong Kong. Plus around now we would normally be compiling a shopping list for a trip next month. But Hong Kong has been effectively closed down since mid March, since there is a mandatory stuck-in-one-room quarantine for incomers. (and who can blame them for people from the UK?)

Now Hong Kong is coping with a huge (for them anyway) break out of the virus, so a hoped-for easing of the quarantine rules to allow the cancelled September show to go ahead in November is increasingly unlikely. Talking with some of my pearl friends in America and Australia this morning we are hoping for a vaccine and a show to go to in Feb/March.

I wonder if we will have vaccination certification stamped into passports as used to be required for smallpox when I was a child (remember smallpox? Not enough people do!)

Anyway, the pearl point of this rambly post is to tell you that in a complete break with everything we’ve done for the last decade, I bought some pearls sight unseen last month.

The larger lot of Robert Wan dark tahitians. The smallest are 12mm, going up to 15mm. That’s some big pearls

Out of the blue I was invited to participate in the first ever Robert Wan online pearl auction. Of course I was interested and eventually and cautiously bought two lots. It’s very hard to evaluate pearl quality in a couple of indifferent quality photos but I decided to take a punt and I’m glad I did. Out of around 100 big pearls (12-15mm drops mostly) I’ve made the pairs you’ve seen appearing on the website in the last week or so, and picked out some huge single pearls for pendants and enhancers.


Same lot with the pearls moved around on the tray

The colours are darkish, mostly greens with a few minor flaws and reasonably good lustre. They aren’t clean and they aren’t metallic but they are big and well coloured and if they were clean and metallic and well coloured they’d have been three or more times the price. So good deal for me is good deal for you all.

There was also a lot of lighter, also big drops:

Lighter and lustrous Tahitians.

Read up on Robert Wan here – https://www.robertwan.com and you’ll be able to find out more about the ‘father’ of Tahitian pearls. He is the man. I have to say his Hong Kong office is a delight to deal with and the pearls drill like a dream. I don’t know what they use for nucleus but I wish every pearl farmer used the same.

Apology for absence

I offer today an abject apology to would be readers..in a whirl of Instagram, twitter and facebook my posting to this blog sadly slipped and slipped.

And I also apologise because this is going to be a bit of a rant. With a little time on my hands I spotted a pearl selling programme on a TV gem selling channel.

Can I please make very clear that these are grade D tahitians. This is not a perfect pearl.

tv selling tahitian pearl

Not round, not metallic and certainly not clean. note the huge flaws clearly visible on their studio demo pearl

What has me writing this is the claim that pearl professionals are buying these pearls. No-one who aspires to deal in decent pearls will be buying these . They are simply not good enough. Not good enough for Pearlescence certainly, and I sent these photos to a couple of pearl dealer friends and their comments cannot be included because readers are civilised people!

low quality tahitian pearl

Look at all the flaws on this poor pearl…And this was the studio pearl

It got worse. This was held to be perfect, just a few marks. ‘Worth Bond Street’.


Supposedly a pair. Different size and colour

Different size and different colour. ‘Great pair’

Our Tahitian pearls may indeed be dearer, but I would not even look at pearls of this low quality in a wholesalers in Hong Kong, let alone pretend to you that they were the best possible. Yes, our pearls are dearer. But these show you why.

(They’ve moved on to south sea pearls now, but I’m too cross to watch!)


Hong Kong, spring 2018

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.

edison, pearls, round, natural colour

Natural colour Edison round pearls size 11-12mm

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.

big natural colour edison pearls

Bigger colour metallic round Edison pearls 14-15mm.

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.

White 11-12mm round metallic Edison pearls

White 11-12mm round metallic Edison pearls

So..what else was a good find this time? How about this stunning strand of 9mm to 10.6 multicoloured metallic Tahitian pearls?

multicoloured tahitian pearl strand

This is a gorgeous strand of multicoloured Tahitians

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

natural white akoya

Natural white 7mm metallic strands. I grabbed the only two in town

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

Natural white round pearls

Natural white round pearls, all different sizes

And were there any pairs?


Then this lot of freeform baroques caught my eye. Incredibly metallic. natural white again

Natural white nuggets

Natural white nuggets


Lustre day 3

Tahitians are getting in on the act. More lustre. More colour. After sifting through nine lots of Tahitians of all shapes, sizes and colours, I, try the tenth and last, and it yields all the pearls I want, including some spectaular silver body and pink eye pearl pairs for studs, some more blues and a couple of huge drops.

blue tahitian pearls

Truely blue Tahitian pearls

The blues of these blues hasn’t really come through in this photo but they are a lovely royal blue and will look stupendous with the paler blues I got yesterday. I think I am building a necklace. No more of those pink ones though..

Those Tahitians were pure serendipity in one way though as I had no intention of getting any such at this particular seller’s. Once again i got stuck after planning just a couple of hours in that office. Many pearls, including some minute white keishi, probably 3mm, which will make some very pretty delicate bracelets, I think, matched with 7mm petal keishi discy lumps which will be drilled for stud earrings. That’s definitely the sort of drilling where you don’t actually dare look as you drill



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


South sea pearls and findings

A busy and successful day. Started with a visit to the main findings house, where an hour or so of browsing the many tiny drawers produces the stash of gold and silver to enable the making for the next few months. Thank the gods of jewellery that the price of gold has dropped. Plus I was able to get just about everything I had on the list. It’s so much easier to shop for findings in a cool atmosphere (literally, with aircon plus only me in the sales room)while the stand at the show is chaotic. I’ve never seen fights break out but there is some serious elbow action and shoving as peeps jostle to get to find the right tiny packets. One person came in while I was there, prowled around the room asked if they were going to be out at the airport for the show and then left…why would anyone do that? I was able to chat to the super knowledgeable staff and get some very good suggestions on what to use to achieve what I wanted. No chance of that with the scrum at the show.

It’s always so much more relaxed and friendly and calm at the offices before the show. Plus you get the chance to really poke around and find the good stuff.

After a couple of hours there I moved on to my favourite supplier of south sea and tahitian pearls. I was looking for some gold half drilled drops but no joy – no decent pairs for earrings. But I did find some lovely strands, including these two, at up to 17mm.

gold south sea pearls

Huge 17mm gold south sea with some whites in one of the strands. Great colour and lustre

gold south sea pearls

Same strands, head on

These two are both natural colour different gold shades with some white in one of the strands. They are huge – up to 17mm – with great colour and lustre. Yes, flaws but otherwise, wowser!

Also some smaller rounds strands, again great lustre and very strong colours.

Looking through the stocks in the wholesalers vault I spotted this collection of loose single undrilleds. Including bags of dyed gold south seas. Yuck. Whether they are dying freshwater or south sea to look like the rich high end golds, the colours are invariably horrible ear-was tones. Do not be fooled.

gold south sea pearls

It’s pretty easy to see which packets have the dyed gold south sea. Look for the extreme ear-wax tones

I’m afraid I passed on the tahitians. just didn’t get excited by them, though there were plenty.

tahitian pearls

Plenty of Tahitian pearls

Finally..a shot of the street outside the South Sea wholesalers. All tall buildings and a throng of people.


busy street in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon

I’m having a break on Tuesday, then the show opens tomorrow – lots of photos!

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

Earring pairs..day three Hong Kong

Today was mostly about finding pairs for earrings and stuff like that. Pretty intense pearl studying, scrutinising and sorting. I started at my favourite tahitian and south sea supplier.

First stop was the pearls for a custom commission 14ct and gold south sea station necklace. I had already got the gold, which set the pearl budget so we needed to juggle conflicting criteria. Bag after bag of various shapes and qualities of pearls. Bigger, smaller, round, drop, dark, light. It took about an hour for me and helpful wholesale assistant to settle on these pearls.. two more than in the request but the two tiny end pearls were so delicious I hope our client agrees to keep them in.

station necklace

Nine gold south sea pearls for a carat gold station necklace

The pearls had to be graduated, mixed colours (no two same colour next to each other} great lustre and smooth surface and roundish to ovalish. It got to be a bit like playing a game of solitaire as we switched pearls in and out, until..it’s like ‘click’ that’s it!

The wholesaler didn’t have a huge stash of good rounds for earring pearls so I’ll look on Monday at the exhibition when it opens.

Then we moved on to Tahitians. I love poking in the big lot bags of not perfect pearls to find the ones which can be set to produce great items- for example, grade A baroques can be ugly lumps but there are also buttons which make amazing huge button earrings – you ust have to find them

Some of the lots have -probably – over a thousand pearls and going through the lot takes time. I usually tip some out into a tray and then scoop some into a scoop and inspect each. Possibles and probables get put top right. I’m looking for possible pendants and earrings. Once I’ve gone through the whole bag I’ll look more closely at the selected ones. First check is for lustre. If a pearl isn’t metallic it goes back in the bag. Then I look fo shape and colour for pendants..for earrings it’s colour, shape and size. So irritating when two pearls are a great match but there is more than half a mm difference in size. Grrrr

Many Tahitian pearls.

Many Tahitian pearls.

After several bas full I was a bit pearled-out. Not so much that while my invoice was being drawn up I didn’t have a delve in the vault there for their top of the range pearls.


White south sea pearls

White south sea pearls

Perfect round white south sea pearls. The one on top was their best in stock – about £10k.

top quality Tahitian pearl strandtop quality Tahitian pearl strand

top quality Tahitian pearl strand

This strand of beautifully matched green peacocks would be about £7k

Lots of Tahitian strands

Lots of Tahitian strands

And, finally, some more tahitians.

Later, another freshwater supplier: This supplier had some white bead nucleated pearls which are getting close to south sea pearls in terms of colour, surface satiny texture, lustre but not yet shape. Here I found some very pretty round Kasumi-ish/ripples with great colour and – finally – some freshwater natural colour and black pairs. Not enough of good quality to buy in bulk by weight so I once again selected and paired up. This puts the price up but when you don;t think that the majority of pearls are good enough or will make matches then you’re wasting time if you don’t do this. I’d have loads of orangy drops for example.

After all that I was defo pearled out with whirly whirly cartoon eyes. Tomorrow is a day off because the wholesalers are packing for their move to the exhibition. No-one likes doing that!

Day Six – Unintended Peacock Tahitians and Other Pearls

Too many pearls..is that actually possible? Well, it felt like it today, mid afternoon when I just wilted. It’s been a pretty intense six days.

Anyhow, what pearl adventures did I have today? I got some lovely random shapes for pendants, similar to some from last year, which sold out in weeks, plus some white splatts. Flat pearls like tidy ink blots which will make great cuff links.

And, while waiting for my friend Katbran to be de-overwhelmed in the Tahitian supplier’s (only her second day ever of pearl office shopping) I got tempted by some delicious 9mm peacock rounds and made nine pairs for sumptuous earrings.

Tahitian pearls this year seem to be in light tones, no really dark greens or greys, with lots of colour. Very few good circles or big circles. Lots of little and very eccentric circles.

I found this bag of pearls and – reader I admit it -I could not stop myself from sorting out some pairs.

I sort through loose pearls by firstly pulling out all the metallics from a lot and then doing a second sort for quality. Then I start to pair them up if I’m thinking of earrings. It’s a process which, I suppose, demands a level of concentration. I can certainly spend time sorting and pairing up. The feeling when the pairs start to jump out at you is great! It seems to happen all at once. Perhaps there is some sort of critical mass thing going on. Before I started pairing them I had a pretty spectacular multicolour peacock necklace lined up!

There is also a growing shortage of smaller sized freshwater pearls in all shapes, colours and qualities. Prices have short up. Production – arguably over-production – has been cut right back. And pearls dyed in garish colours have all but disappeared. If you want them you’ll have to pay to have a hank at least dyed (20-40 strands)

Day Two – Tahitians, South Seas and Fireballs

Day two in Hong Kong and it’s still raining heavily. I squelched out (literally – when I got back to the hotel at 6.30 this evening I found that the dye from my sandals had turned my feet black) and went first to a Tahitian and South Sea specialist wholesalers to find the perfect pearls for a commission necklace.

The very best  bit about being a pearl purveyor is, for me, selecting pearls.

I went through just about every strand in the office first..nah, just not good enough, or not green enough or not colourful enough. Just not enough enough.

Plan B is to open up the lots. Now some dealers won’t do this. The bags of pearls are sorted into size, shape and quality. Prices reflect an average, while the bag is salted with some fabulous pearls to brighten the lot.

So the dealer doesn’t want me coming along and cherry picking those fabulous pearls right back out. The value of the lot drops.

But I can be a little bit pursuasive and the bags found themselves opened up and two pearl fugue hours later I had the necklace. 30 beautiful, colourtful, lustrous and smooth circle pearls.

Special necklace made from  individually selected. loose drop Tahtians, very colourful, near flawless and with great lustre. 28 pearls, size 13-14mm

Special necklace made from individually selected. loose drop Tahtians, very colourful, near flawless and with great lustre. 28 pearls, size 13-14mm

Not finished, I picked out some rather nice if a bit dented circles and some totally cute baby gold south sea circles.

tahitians and south sea pearls

Hours of intense concentration later – one loose pearl necklace, tahitian strands and pairs and gold south sea circle strands.


And then more lovely treats – pairs of huge rounds for earrings. And one beautiful really blue tahtian.

tahitian pearl strands

Some of the selected strands – I was looking for colour and lustre more than surface perfection and shape

Then on to a second wholesalers, this time for drops. I didn’t worry too much about finding pairs, just selecting some super metallic 10mm drops – white, black and natural colours. Some of the natural colour pearls have a graduated ombre effect. subtle and beautiful and such lustre. Last year there was a real lack of lavenders, and hardly any dark lavender. There were a few, but only a few. Hopefully I’ll be able to find some more as we go along.

Finally, having a poke around in a side office I found a bag with some natural colour fireballs. I’ve never figured quite why they are soooooo expensive but they are. I couldn’t resist half a dozen of them. (put many more back #pearlheroine )

fireball pearls

First and second stages of selection for fireballs from a huge bag of them

fireball pearls

The final two


That was enough for one day….