The real art of making Tahitian pearl strands

A loose lot of undrilled Tahitian pearls

As I blogged about in June of this year, there are two ways pearl dealers are able to source Tahitian and South sea pearls; either in finished strands or loose pearl lots. When selecting finished strands, dealers purchase just what they need without making a large investment or having to work with the pearls … and pay a hefty premium. When dealers purchase lots, they have to separate, grade, match and drill in order to create strands.

Since 2007, we almost exclusively purchase loose lots to create our Tahitian strands and jewelry from scratch. The primary reason is we prefer to use  ”A/B lots.” These lots are a mix of pearls that have one to zero spots that drill and set clean or set clean face up – very close to perfect . It’s nearly impossible to find finished strands like this from pearl wholesalers (primarily located in Japan) because C and D grades are considered “necklace material.” A/B lots are sold loose – for use in earrings, pendants and rings. They are essentially the cream of the crop.

At the September Hong Kong show, Hisano and I purchased several lots from a broker and a producer from Tahiti. Shortly after returning to Los Angeles, another farmer/friend from Tahiti came with a single, large lot of round, circle and drop Tahitian pearls. These lots combined are the pearls we are sorting and turning into strands for the upcoming holiday season. Because we typically only do this twice per year, I’ve decided to document the process here.

To begin with, we start with a lot of loose, undrilled pearl lots.

Thousands of loose pearls from Tahiti in separated lots

The first step in the process is the separation. This process took us nearly a week.

All the pearls must be sorted by their different attributes

Hisano works on sorting out the pearls by color for strands.

Sorting the Tahitians by color

Not all “black Tahitians” are really black. Some are naturally pistachio and others are blue green.

Natrual color pistachio and blue-green Tahitian pearls

My job was examining every single pearl and separating them into surface quality categories. This can be very tedious work because some spots may be smaller than a pin prick. But each spot counts, so each has to be counted.

Examining each individual pearl looking for any surface blemishing

The next step is separating out all the round Tahitian pearls that we’ll need this season for earrings, pendants and rings. We select by color and overtone, and as you can see, the color differences can be quite subtle.

The pearls must finally be drilled and matched onto temporary strings. From here, they will be graded once again, individually photographed one-by-one, and then added to the website over the course of the next two weeks.

Examining the first drilled and matched strands of Tahitians

If we did our jobs right, each strand will have its own unique color combination and character. Very few other pearls cover such an array of dazzling colors.

Circled and drop-shaped Tahitian strands

A few strands of circled and drop-shaped Tahitians with intense colors

Silver-peacock drop strands

Drop strands with lighter body colors and beautiful, subtle overtones

Round Tahitian Strands

Round Tahitian strands showing off the tremendous color range

Colors can be so subtle, every strand needs its own individual photo.

A Custom Beauty

Every time Hisano and I head to Hong Kong we bring “the wish list.” We have items on the list that have remained there through multiple shows. But every time, we spend a lot of our time trying to find those extra special pieces.

One of our friends had seen a necklace a Mikimoto that she was hoping to duplicate, only better. The necklace was three rows of akoya strands, graduated in size from the center strand to the outer strand. These sorts of necklaces can be difficult to make. Hisano made something similar in 2.5-5.5 mm akoya pearls for our Tokyo wedding in 2012.

I thought this piece would look amazing if we were able to match three strands of white metallic, freshwater pearls. We are always looking for white metallics when we are in Asia, but they are so few and far between, finding three matching strands in graduating sizes would be a challenge.

Our first attempt was at the June show. While we did collect some white metallics, none of them matched the way we were hoping they would, so we shelved the idea until the September show.

Because we deal with so many processors, and sometimes we may only find one or two from a single company, we weren’t sure whether we would be able to make the piece after this show either until all the shipments had arrive to Los Angeles. When they did, I separated all the metallic whites and found these!

Metallic White Triple Strand Strand of Freshwater Pearls

The center strand was not quite as perfect round as the inner and outer strands, but the luster and color was nearly a spot-on match, and the three strands were perfectly size-graduated.

Today the strand was finished, and tomorrow it will be on its way!

Three-row metallic freshwater pearl necklace

A three-row necklace composed of metallic white freshwater pearls

September Hong Kong Jewelry Show Recap

Hisano and I finally returned from Hong Kong last week and have been busy sorting pearls as the the shipments come in. We spent a full eight days in Japan and Hong Kong filling the vault with new freshwater, Tahitian, South Sea, akoya and even Galatea carved pearls.

On the first night of the show, we met up with our friends from Pearl-Guide.com, who came from quite literally around the world to see the show. We hosted a dinner on Knutsford Terrace in Tsim Sha Tsui. It was a great kick off for a successful week.

Our friends from Pearl-Guide.com’s discussion forum

The September show is the busiest one for us because we are stocking for the holidays, so we were selecting pearls from morning until evening, every day for the entire week. We were fortunate to find nearly everything that was on the Christmas “buy list,” and nearly everything that was on the pearl “wish list” for our friends who contacted us before we left (and those who contacted us while we were there)!

A usual, most of the excitement was in the freshwater pearl category, although we spent the majority of our time sorting and selecting Tahitian, South Sea and akoya pearls. That said, we did find a very small lot of something extraordinarily special from a Vietnamese pearl farm. The pearls were so special, they were really only for show. On the last day, however, the farmer agreed to sell them to us. Hisano is going to blog about the show soon, so she will be the one showing those beauties off, as well as the special Edison pearls she selected.

Hisano Selecting large Edison single pearls and pairs

Hisano matched a fireball strand for a special customer

Two of our friends had requested special strands; one a unique fireball necklace like the necklace Hisano matched at the June show, and another with very special Edison pearls. Hisano went through a large lot of fireball pearls with a greenish-copper coloration to remake one very special strand. I re-worked and matched the metallic, slightly drop-shaped Edison strand below with whopping 14-15 mm pearls. The size is actually quite special as the standard size in matched strands is 12-15 mm. What this actually means is that the entire strand is made up of center “hero” pearls. Most Edison strands only get one! This is going to become someone’s statement piece, no doubt.

A 14-15 mm, giant Edison metallic pearl strand

A 14-15 mm, giant Edison metallic pearl strand

The loot that I am probably most happy with was something I’ve been seeking for years, since the time we first made metallic round strands – uniform-color, perfectly round metallic strands.

When we arrived in Hong Kong, a good friend of mine and owner of the farm that gave us soufflé pearls called me to say he had something he really wanted me to see before the show got under way. He has always been our best source for metallic pearls, separating out everything he thought we would like. What he had matched this time blew me away. The strands are perfectly round, graduated and metallic, and of Freshadama grade. We selected 58 strands, including just a few mixed-color strands that were just too special to pass up. Our friends from Pearls of Joy selected a few as well, and between the two of us, we took everything he had made.

Uniform color, intensely metallic, perfectly round strands of freshadama grade

For those of you waiting to hear from us, we have nearly finished sorting through everything. If we haven’t reached out to you yet, we will soon!

 

Welcoming On The Reel Production & Power of Pearl

Two and a half years ago I took a trip around the world with a film crew, shooting pearl farms in some of the remotest reaches of the world. It was on this trip that our short Tahitian Pearl Documentary was filmed – the same documentary that went on to win the 2013 IFFF Short Film, Documentary award.

The crew that I traveled with, from On the Reel Productions, is still traveling and shooting today, most recently on a pearl farm in Northwest Australia – beyond the outback, where crocodiles outnumber people.

On the Reel Productions is owned by Ahbra Perry and Taylor Higgins, a pair of young filmmakers that have spent the past four years working closely with the pearl industry, visiting a total of 11 different countries. They’ve succeeded in capturing the real story of pearl production and the relationships pearl producers have with local communities and Mother Nature, with boots on the ground and flippers in the water.

Ahbra and Taylor’s film, “Power of Pearl,” is now in full production. If anyone would like to be a part of this film, sponsor information can be found here.

I’ve also invited Ahbra to do a short series of guest posts on our blog, detailing a day in the life of a pearl farming crew, as told by her experience in Australia. I hope everyone enjoys her story.

We are Heading Back to Asia Next Week

The Hong Kong Jewellery and Gem ShowNext week, Hisano and I will  be heading back to Asia for the biggest pearl-buying trip of the year – the Christmas buy! We will be heading first to Japan, followed by a week in Hong Kong for the large, September jewelry show. This show attracts nearly 52,000 buyers from around the world, including a lot of our friends from Pearl-Guide.com’s forum, turning the week into a family reunion of sorts.

The September show is split into two parts; one at the Asia World Expo at the Hong Kong International Airport, and another at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wanchai. The most important show for us is the one held at the Asia World Expo. This is where the pearl producers exhibit and where jewelry manufacturers go for loose pearls. Finished jewelry is more prevalent at the latter show.

This past June, Hisano and I collected as many truly unique, one-of-a-kind pearls as we could find for the ‘Pearl Connoisseur’ selection we put together early this month. We were thrilled with the overwhelming response, and are now considering doing similar promotions in the future. We will still be on the lookout for the new and the unique this trip, but our main focus this time is going to be on traditional inventory.

As I mentioned in June, if you have something on your wishlist that you would like either one of us to find, drop either one of us an email and we will do our best.

Lastly, I will be speaking at the Wanchai Show on September 16th. If any of our friends are at the show and would like to attend, we would love to see you!