Soufflé Pearls: Some things I bet you didn’t know

One of the most popular types of pearl that we’ve been bringing in over the past year have been those lightweight, hollowed out pearls popularly known as soufflé. The name, coined by friend and fellow pearl expert Jack Lynch of Sea Hunt Pearls, conjures up the image of the namesake puffy French desert.

Colorful Souffle Pearls

But what is a soufflé pearl? Is it the product of brilliant pearl farmer innovation or something else?

The name soufflé comes from the French verb souffler, which in English translates to blow or to inflate. Although this may not have factored in to the coining of the term, it’s actually even more accurate than most could have ever guessed.

Soufflé pearls are grown by inserting a substance into an existing pearl sac that looks much like some sort of earthen material – it sort of looks like mud. When the pearls are harvested, they are drilled, cleaned and voilà – a lightweight, hollow pearl.

two-toned souffle pearls

A few two-toned pearls

But guess what? That was not the original intention.

The earthen material that is inserted into the existing pearl sac – a nacre-producing pouch inside a freshwater mussel from which a pearl was already harvested – is inserted to “souffler” the pearl sac. The material, which starts out dry, soaks up the surrounding moisture and begins to expand. As the material expands, the pearl sac also expands. The pearl sac continues to deposit nacre over this now-much-larger nucleus – the birth of a soufflé pearl.

giant souffle pearls

Soufflé pearls tend to be grow quite large

After harvesting this pearl, the farmer now has a mussel with a pearl sac much larger than usual. In this pearl sac he is then able to place a large bead – the pearl sac must be large enough to envelope the entire bead – and grow a large, bead-nucleated pearl. Those large, bead-nucleated pearls go by names such as giant fireballs, ripples, Ming Pearls and Edisons.

In China, pearls are sold by weight, so some of the earliest soufflé pearls were harvested as quickly as possible to mostly be discarded, although some have made the way into the uber-low-end market (check out this disturbing image). When the pearls were cleaned out, they lost the value. Or so they thought! The soufflé pearls that were left in the shells long enough to attain a thick coating of nacre exhibit some of the strongest, most iridescent colors we’ve ever seen in freshwater pearls and now command a premium in the wholesale trade.

colorful souffle pearls

More colorful soufflé pearls

One of the most common questions I hear about soufflé pearls is whether or not they are durable – they are hollow so some worry that if the pearls are dropped, they might break. To answer that question, we cut a large, 34 mm soufflé pearl in half this week. The nacre thickness (pictured below) is more than 2 mm in the thinnest areas and more than 4 mm in the thickest – thicker than the nacre found on almost any beaded pearl produced today. It would take one part hammer and two parts intention to smash one of these beauties.

33 mm souffle pearl sawn in half

A giant, 34 mm soufflé pearl sawn in half

Bert Pearl

Pearl Paradise is pleased to announce the recent acquisition of The Bert Pearl. 

BERT!

 

As one of the largest muppet-shaped pearls in history, it has been coveted by man and muppet alike.

After passing through several royal dynasties, it was purchased by The Count Von Count, who after counting it (one, ah-ah-ah), made it available at one of Sesame Street’s premier auction houses.

 

300px-Susan-Sarandon-and-The-Count

This exquisite pearl is a White South Sea circled baroque that measures 14.6 mm, and features a naturally occurring 3.9 mm nose.

Bert-1

The Bert Pearl prior to its current setting

Our jewelers took great care in creating its current setting, which features white freshwater pearl eyes and ears, and a Sterling Silver unibrow and coiffure.

 bert down

 

Inquiries about The Bert Pearl can be directed to any of our team’s muppet pearl specialists.

 

Pearl Friends: Cynde Newberry

Cynde Newberry wearings pearlsFor our first interview in this series, I had the pleasure of talking to Cynde Newberry.  She’s a long-time friend and customer whose visits we always really enjoy.  Luckily for all of us, she brought in some of the breathtaking pieces from her collection that she describes in her interview below.  Once you see the photographs of these exquisite pieces, you’ll understand her advice on selecting pearls “that speak to you and make your heart sing.”  Thank you Cynde!

1. Let’s start at the beginning- where and when did your love for pearls begin? Did the women in your family own and wear pearls?

My birthstone is diamond, so my love of jewelry began with diamonds. Gifts and tokens of affection always were diamonds. The only pearls I wore were the costume kind from my mom – not a real pearl amongst them. I did collect vintage jewelry with pearls but they were made from glass. I never expected to be able to afford “real” pearls. In my late 20′s I finally got my first piece of real cultured pearl jewelry and I thought I had died and gone to heaven. For over 36 years pearls have been it for me.

A triple strand of round, metallic freshwater pearls

2. What was your first piece of pearl jewelry?

A good friend was a goldsmith and she made a custom designed ring with a Lake Biwa baroque pearl. At that time I didn’t think I would own any “real” pearls except for the ring. Then to my delight, my husband asked a friend to find a very special strand of akoyas for me. That strand became my signature piece of jewelry: 22-inches, 8.5 to 9mm akoyas. I wore that necklace daily for years. It didn’t matter where I was going or what I was wearing: shorts, jeans, or evening wear, I had that strand of pearls on. Diamonds were left in the dresser drawer after those pearls arrived.

Cynde’s Lake Biwa pearl ring

3. Since then, what direction has your pearl collection taken? Do you have a favorite kind of pearl?

My collection has taken many twists and turns. It seems to have a life of its own, continually evolving. It’s hard to say what kind of pearls are my favorite, but I do love my Tahitians and then there are the metallics … but the souffles are wonderful too … and what about the big, big Edisons, my first strand of akoyas … or my last - pistachio’s? I do enjoy them all.

A Tahitian pearl tin cup with random sizes and shapes

4. What do you love most about your pearl jewelry?

I love how I feel when I put pearls on. I love that depending on the light they are ever-changing. You can be dressed up or down and they’re always appropriate. I love that when I walk into a room or am sitting in a restaurant I catch men and women checking them out. It’s fun being out to lunch with a bff who will dive across the table grab my pearls and have to try on my latest find. They’re conversation starters. It’s also fun to have my hair stylist, or the checker at the grocers, or the postmistress say when they see me come in that they were looking forward to seeing which pearls I would be wearing. Pearls are approachable where diamonds aren’t.

A “harvest” strand of mismatched Tahitian beauties

5. Do you have a favorite piece in your collection?

No, that is like asking me which son is my favorite. I love them all except for three that remain on the top of the safe to remind me never to settle for get-by pearls. BTW they are NOT PP pearls either. I learned my lesson with those three strands.

6. Is there a special story behind any of your pieces that you would like to share with us?

Most of my pearls have a special story attached to them. Here are a few. 

I always had dreams of owning a strand of Tahitian pearls. The ladies at lunch would wear theirs, and once one lady had on a strand of big 15 mm silver stunningly beautiful Tahitians. The ones I would see in the BM stores were dark black orbs that I could never quite bring myself to wear. I was at a jewelry store and finally there was the strand for me … silver body color with a beautiful orient of peacock dancing across those pearls and a price tag of $25k that was not anywhere near my budget, so I kept on dreaming and dreaming of someday. 

Then one very special day I was at Pearl Paradise for the first time choosing a metallic 8-way roller freshwater pendant and earrings. Jeremy had just bought what seemed like thousands of Tahitian strands and he was eager to show them off. I was a very willing gawker. The show table was piled high. In truth I was beside myself seeing for the very first time Tahitians that were not dark black round beads. They had all the colors of the rainbow shimmering from their baroque shapes. I got to run my fingers through piles and piles of them. There were two strands I kept going back to and I asked how much they were, saying a prayer that one of them could be mine. When I was told the price I could not get my check book out fast enough and the first words out of my mouth were: “I will take both!”

My sweet husband was fighting leukemia at that time. My visit to Pearl Paradise had been planned in advance. My sweet husband Frank hid from me how badly he was feeling that morning so I would not cancel my visit. He had a massive heart attack that night and was gone the next month. Those two strands of pearls were my 26th anniversary present – the last present he gave me. That one day I was in both heaven and hell. His first present to me was a strand of pearls as well as his last.

My next strand of Tahitians came just a couple of weeks after his death. My anniversary strands were just too happy and bright so I needed a mourning strand. The mourning strand I wore every day for a year with my widow’s weeds.

When I was about to come out of mourning black I started to notice my dark-body green Tahitians did not look their best when paired with my favorite color: navy blue. So back to PP I went and asked if Jeremy had a strand that would look good with navy blue.  We cut one of his FedEx boxes up so that we had blue to lay strand after strand on. Finally he ran to his office and pulled out of his desk a wrinkled old brown sack filled with blue-body, peacock-overtone pearls. He poured them onto the cut-up blue box and now I have the most spectacular, special, rare strand of all: not black body but a dark blue body with bright peacock overtone necklace and matching bracelet. I am one very lucky girl with this strand.

Some of Cynde's Tahitian jewelry

Cynde’s custom blue body strand in hand, with her black body strand in background.

And a funny story: I  go to Pearl Paradise to choose my birthday present each spring. I was eagerly awaiting my new pearls to be strung and the delivery was scheduled for a day when I was going to be out of town. I called and made arrangements with FedEx to pick up my package first thing in the morning. I was like that woman in the Target commercial glued to the glass of the store saying “open, open, open.” Business men were lined up in front and behind me. By the time I had my package in my hot little hands I had an audience waiting to see what I was so crazy about receiving. They peered over and around my shoulders as the shipping box was opened. The Fedex clerk even did the honors slicing all the tape. None of the men in line with me left that day without examining each strand that came out of the box.  They were passed from hand to hand and I was even asked to model them. Many questions about choosing and buying pearls were asked. The power of pearls is amazing.

7. What is next? Are you on the lookout for the next special addition to your collection?

I won’t know until I see it and it makes my mouth water.  It will have to be very special for me to add it to my collection.

A large Edison Pearl

A large, rare Edison Pearl

8. What would you say to someone that was new to the world of pearls?

Buy the best quality you can afford and only ones that speak to you and make your heart sing.

9. What would your dream pearls be, if you could have any kind of pearl in any size or shape?

Because of Jeremy and Pearl Paradise all of my pearl dreams have already come true. But me being me I do have a small ever-changing list. 

Thank you Cynde Newberry! We’d like to close with just a few more of your favorites!

Cynde souffle pearl on starfish pendant

Exotic & metallic souffle pearl on a starfish pendant

Kamoka Keshi and Sea of Cortez pearl pendant

A pendant make with a Kamoka keshi and two Sea of Cortez pearls

A large fireball freshwater strand with enhancer

A large fireball freshwater strand with enhancer

Pearly Art

A pearl creation from artist Sheri Jurnecka

The Best Kind of Gems

A new series with Allison M.

Pearls are not just a privilege to work with or own.  They consistently give us the privilege of getting to know great people all over the world who share our love.

We wouldn’t be able to make the memories of a lifetime without our friends in the pearl community. We’ve decided to dedicate a series of blog posts to some of our nearest and dearest.  So keep an eye out for upcoming blog posts where we’ll be featuring interviews with some of our friends who have fascinating stories to share about their own love affairs with pearls.

It’s become clear to us that what makes pearls even more valuable is the people these gems attract, and the friendships we’ve formed.  It’s definitely something to celebrate, and luckily there have been so many reasons to get together and enjoy each others’ company over the past few years – not that we always need a reason!

Nevertheless, we’ve gotten to eat, drink, dance, and make merry in some of California’s most beautiful locations with some of our favorite pearl people.

The annual Pearl Ruckus is always a sumptuous event, with hours to relax, compare and discuss all things pearl over the eagerly-awaited caviar spread (one of our favorite Pearl Paradise traditions) with our friends from the Pearl-Guide.com forum community.

A pearl party at the offices of Pearl Paradise

We have been getting together with our pearl friends every summer since 2009!

In 2012, our friends and staff adjourned to an estate in Malibu to do just that.

Pearl Ruckus 2012 location

 

some of the delicious food served

Great food!

 

Our friends

Great friends!

That sure seemed hard to top, but the ultimate ruckus turned out to be Jeremy and Hisano’s wedding in 2013. Friends and family gathered next to a sparkling ocean to watch the couple exchange vows.

The happy couple!

Guests were then were transported to a breathtakingly picturesque barn, where the celebration stretched long into the night.

Goregeous barn where the wedding reception was held

We’re looking forward to many more celebrations, pearls, and new friends.  Thanks for following us!