Provoked Baroques: A New Tahitian Pearl on the Horizon

I love Tahitian pearls. More specifically, I love the dark exotic colors of Tahitian pearls – the colors found almost exclusively in smaller size ranges. Large Tahitian pearls are highly valued, but often lack the color and luster of their smaller counterparts because larger pearls most often come from larger, older pearl oysters. As the oyster ages, it begins to lose the ability to produce fine pearl nacre. But what if there were a way to induce small, young pearl oysters into growing larger pearls?
Provoked baroque Tahitian pearlsA company out of Japan by the name of Imai Seikaku has developed a new sort of nucleus that comes in the shape of a small blue pill. This is no ordinary nucleus, but one that is composed of a super-absorbent organic substance which soaks up surrounding liquids and expands. As it expands it begins to “blow out the pearl sac,” as my friend and pearl farmer Josh Humbert of Kamoka Pearls put it. It essentially induces even a small, young pearl oyster to grow a large pearl sac where an equally large nucleus can be placed.
Provoked baroque Tahitian pearl When harvested, the first graft pearl is free-form in shape and filled with liquid substance, which when drained, leaves a hollow Tahitian pearl. Unlike freshwater soufflé pearls from China, hollow pearls can’t be legally exported from Tahiti so they’re discarded. In their place farmers insert large, baroque nuclei. This second graft results in giant bead-nucleated Provoked Baroques that intentionally look indistinguishable from massive keshi pearls except in one way – they have screaming luster and intensely dark colors. They are even better than traditional keshi and much larger than average keshi.

Common keshi compared to this new breed of Tahitian pearl

Common keshi compared to this new breed of Tahitian pearl

The technology is still in its infancy and production to date has been very limited. Most pearl wholesalers have yet to hear about this new type of gem let alone offer them. Josh Humbert is one of the few pearl farmers that has been experimenting with the organic, shape-shifting nuclei and believes that there is potential to use the technology to eventually grow large, colorful round pearls. In the meantime, we get to enjoy a new type of pearl!

A full strand of giant, provoked baroques

A full strand of giant, provoked baroques

What to do with 5,600 peacock drop Tahitian pearls!

If you follow our Facebook page you would have seen the post below where Hisano and I were having fun sorting a peacock drop lot of just over 5,600 pearls. We decided to make strands with them, and they are ready as of today! Pictures are below the Facebook post!

We are planning a big Tahitian pearl promotion in August, so we’ll probably hold off posting them onto the site until then!

Approximately 150 strands of Tahitian pearls
Tahitian pearl close ups
Peacock Drops
More peacock drops

Hong Kong Jewellery & Gem Fair, June 2014

The Hong Kong Jewellery and Gem Fair, June 2014

Although it just seems like yesterday, we are headed back to Asia once again for one of the large, Jewelry and Gem shows in Hong Kong, taking place from June 19th through the 22nd.

In March, we brought team member Lynsey with us to experience what a pearl-sourcing trip is really like. This time we’re going to bring a team member who has been with us for nearly a decade now – Elia! This is Elia’s first trip ever to Asia, and we’re excited to have her along. She is going to be working on product sourcing for our July promotion and the September Connoisseur promotion.

We have one busy week ahead of us, but as always, if there is something special or something particular you would like us to look for, please drop us an email. We will do our best!

Jeremy & Hisano

Two special pearl commissions

Most of the pearl pieces we make on a daily basis are to us somewhat routine. We know the most popular sizes, lengths and styles and these account for probably 95% of what we ship on a weekly basis. But those that really know us also know that we love to create special pieces. Lately these have been pieces created from unique pearls Hisano and I find while pearl hunting in Asia, but often they are pieces that are a new take on the traditional.

This week we received two such commissions. The first was for a special Tahitian pearl strand and the second was for a very particular style of white South Sea.

This Tahitian strand is special. The request was 36 inches, AAA quality, straight-sized without graduation, exotic colors and matched across as closely as possible – the latter being the most difficult part of all, and one we called upon friends in Tahiti for a bit of assistance. Matching exotic colors across is the near equivalent of 36 inches of paired, exotic Tahitians.

36 inches of exotic Tahitian pearls

The result is one dramatic strand of incredibly exotic Tahitian pearls.  These colors are the reason I love working with Tahitians.

An exotic Tahitian pearl rope

36 inches of exotic, 11-12 mm Tahitian pearls

The second special strand is one that I handled personally this week. A customer in Australia asked our assistance in creating a special white South Sea strand for his 25th anniversary. He wanted the piece to be very special, so we decided to create a strand out of our loose pearl inventory – the pearls we set aside for rings, earrings and pendants. As I blogged about last year, this is the way to create the perfect strand.

But simply matching a South Sea strand out of loose grade pearls is not something terribly out of the ordinary for us. What makes this strand so different is the graduation.

We were discussing possible graduations (going minimum or dramatic) and I mentioned how dramatic the graduation was in the necklace featured in The Dark Man Rises. I remembered Ashley of Pure Pearls recently blogged about one, combining freshwater pearls with white South Sea. We decided to give it a shot – using only white South Sea pearls.

The resulting strand is a perfect 8.5 to 13.1 mm strand of top-grade selected pearls. We finished the necklace with a gold clasp engraved with a special, 25th anniversary message and it’s now headed over the pond tonight.

graduated white South Sea strand

A perfect strand of graduated white South Sea pearls

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