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.

Pearl Paradise Lookbook Fall/Winter 2013

Twice a year I go into hiding (primarily in my office) for about three and a half weeks. I take very minimal custom orders, take very short breaks to eat and go home very late. Excluding the November to December holiday season, it’s the busiest time for me and the creative team. We create Lookbooks; catalogs filled with new jewelry designs for the upcoming season. These lookbooks are aimed for semi0-annual events that our PR team holds in New York. We call it the “Editorial Event” and the team holds numerous appointments with stylists, bloggers and editors from magazines like Martha Stewart Weddings, O, Elle, and so on. Through these appointments our jewelry gets pulled for photo shoots and styling celebrities. We’ve been lucky to have our pearls on Angelina Jolie, First Lady Michelle Obama, Taylor Swift and Olivia Wilde to name a few.

When I go to Hong Kong for our buying trip, or to the Tucson Gem Shows, I am always on the lookout for unique finds that can be featured. We create 4-6 collections for Pearl Paradise for each lookbook. Fall/Winter 2013 we created 5 collections: Grand, Petite, Carved, Gray and Essential Collections.

On one of our Hong Kong trips we bought a loose lot of very large Tahitian baroque pearls and were able to create large strands that were up to 16 mm in size. We paired the pearls with findings that were black rhodium plated to give a dark edgier look – the Grand Collection.


Following the Grand Collection (and for my affinity for tiny pearls) I created the Petite Collection.
This collection was particularly a “win” for us. The Empress necklace was featured in Martha Stewart Wedding magazine recently. This piece was a challenge in all levels. It took me hours to knot and nest the strands and we had to re-shoot many times to lay the piece for photo. Angela spent a lot of time retouching the photo as well but worth all the hard work!

We introduced the Galatea carved pearls in our Carved Collection. We had never bought Galatea pearls before and we wanted to see what the reaction would be. Our PR team loved it, and they are currently working on some press coverage. I personally love the necklace with different carved designs on each pearl with a hidden magnetic clasp.


The Gray Collection is something very different from a standard Pearl Paradise items. We like to have pearls that are in natural colors (except for black Freshwater, black Akoyas and chocolate Tahitians) but when I saw these dyed gray fireballs I wanted to give it a try. I designed it with white gold and diamond link components to mix the organic curvy shape of pearls with geometric lines.


We are constantly getting “pull requests” for classic pearl styles. Through the years of creating these lookbooks, we’ve become sort of the go-to company for pearls. The Essential Collection shows our most popular classic styles and some with a little twist of imagination.

Our best seller Freshadama necklace in 7.5-8 mm


All of these styles are designed, made, photographed and cataloged in a short amount of time along with 10-15 collections that we make for our sister site Pearl Collective. We now have a team of five that work around the clock (while also working on the day-to-day Pearl Paradise operations!) to make this happen. It’s an exhausting project but always an exhilarating one!

Another live Pearl Chat!

We are so excited to have Pearl Queen Cynde with us again today hosting a live Pearl Chat with Google Hangouts.

Our apologies if the chat is full when you arrive, but we will be posting the full video later on this afternoon.

Click here to join the  chat!

Here is the YOUTUBE feed!

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

Behind the Scenes – Winter Pearl Promotions Photoshoot

We have a lot of new items that are going to be released soon as well as quite a few promotions coming up, so we decided to have another pearl-photog day! This time we invited a professional model and television personality to join us for an evening of cameras and pearls at a studio in Los Angeles.

Here are just a few shots “behind the scenes!”