How to Create a Perfect South Sea Strand

Pearl auctions happen several times each year, primarily in places such as Hong Kong, Japan and French Polynesia. For the most part, these auctions offer pearls in what are known as “lots.” Lots are parcels of undrilled pearls that can be separated into specific sizes, grades or colors, or they may be “mixed lots,” with an assortment of grades and sizes.

The majority of lots offered at any given auction are commercial lots, or lots in the lower quality range. On the A-D scale, these lots are typically in the C-D range. These lots tend to be the largest and bidding can be quite competitive because these are the lots used to make strands of Tahitian and South Sea pearls for the wholesale market. This is why it is very difficult, in fact almost impossible, to find strands of true AAA quality at jewelry shows. The A and A/B graded lots aren’t used in strands. They are sold for things such as earring, rings and pendants. In order to make what I consider a fine grade strand, it needs to be made from one of those top-graded lots.

I received a special request for a custom, 17-inch, 8.5-9 mm white South Sea strand last week. This is definitely small in the South Sea pearl range, but it’s a great opportunity for me to write about the steps in creating the perfect piece.

Step One: start with a fine lot of small South Sea pearls

A large lot of white South Sea pearls

Fine Quality 8-9 mm White South Sea Pearls

 

 Step Two: sort the pearls for color and luster

Sorting the South Sea pearls by color

Sorting the Pearls into Similar, Smaller Lots

The Final Selection of Pearls for the Strand

After the pearls have been sorted and the size needed (8.5-9 mm) selected, they need to be matched in size order. Typically this is something I will do by sight and confirm and correct using a digital caliper. This particular project, however, had almost no graduation. I used a digital caliper to precisely order them into a long strand.

Step Three: create a longer-than-needed strand

Two rows just over 12 inches would knot to more than 27 inches

I like to go a lot longer than needed when making a strand. This gives me the option of removing pearls that just don’t work as well as others or pearls that aren’t quite good enough (dull spots, too many blemishes, etc.) to be in the strand.

Step Four: remove pearls until reaching the desired length

The stage above is just before drilling and if it is a custom strand, this is the stage I will usually take a quick photo and send it to our customer for confirmation.

When drilling, it’s vitally important to choose the perfect drill point. Most pearls will have at least one obvious drill point, but some pearls have only the smallest of pin-prick blemishes. I find it’s easiest to examine the pearls under magnification prior to drilling. Once the drilling starts, there is no turning back.

Step Five: find the perfect drill point … and drill!

Preparing to drill one of the pearls

Finding the perfect point on a pearl to drill is paramount

Drilling a South Sea pearl

Once the pearls are drilled, I will usually string them onto a temporary thread. This serves two purposes; it helps remove the pearl dust still in the drill holes and keeps the pearls together before they are knotted.

Step Six: knotting the pearls

Knotting the Pearls

A knot is placed between every pearl in the strand

After the strand has been knotted we take one final photo to capture the true beauty of the finished piece before sending the strand of pearls on its way.

The Result: a perfect strand of South Sea pearls

One perfect strand of white South Sea pearls

Click on the image to expand

Flower Island in the Philippines anyone?

Some of you may recall that I blogged about the ‘Pearl Trip Around the World‘ that took me to pearl farms in China, Japan, the Philippines, Fiji and French Polynesia. Our short documentary The Tahitian Pearl followed this trip, and eventually I plan to use the footage from the rest of the trip for something even bigger and better. I just need to find a 4-5 month window of extra time to put the work in!

(Be sure to click the images to enlarge)

During the trip there was one destination that stood out among the others as one of the most exotic, beautiful and far-flung places I’ve ever visited – Jewelmer’s Flower Island in Palawan, The Philippines. To reach Flower Island, we flew by helicopter for hours from Manila, even needing to stop once for refueling. It really is that remote.

Flower Island is owned by Jacques Branellec, founder of Jewelmer, a French Filipino company that specializes in the production of deep golden South Sea pearls. The island resort is located on one of Jewelmer’s many pearl farms.

I would like to help send someone to this tropical paradise.

Jewelmer has teamed up with the Cultured Pearl Association of America (CPAA) to send two people on an all-expense-paid trip for a vacation on Flower Island. The CPAA has printed a total of 5000 tickets and each ticket is selling for $10 apiece. But there’s a problem. The contest ends in a couple of weeks and there are thousands of unsold tickets left. This means that the odds of winning are better than anyone could have previously imagined.

I’ve decided to assist Jewelmer and the CPAA with those tickets. We’re hosting a contest on our Facebook page and another on our website. But I know that the people who would truly appreciate this trip are most likely those that read this blog. If you would like me to send you FREE Golden Tickets for Two, just email me your name, telephone number and address and I will drop them in the mail for you – jeremy@pearlparadise.com.

For the legal mumbo-jumbo, see the CPAA’s website: http://cpaa.org/goldentickets/

Gorgeous Golden South Sea Pearls

Golden South Sea pearls grown at Jewelmer’s Pearl Farm near Flower Island

It has been a golden (South Sea) month!

Back in late March we mentioned that we had added a new bunch of golden South Sea strands to inventory. These weren’t your every day round classic strands, they were unique, circled and free formed baroque strands. We listed around 20 strands on the site staggered over a two week period and watched them disappear nearly as quickly. Gold has been popular this past month!

After realizing that our baroque golden strand page was down to only two pieces, we’ve decided to bring in more strands.  Over the next week we will be adding them to the website. A quick sneak peak of a few is just below!

Baroque Gold South Sea Pearls

Hong Kong Jewelry Show 2013

The Hong Kong Exhibition Center in Wanchai

We’ve just returned from one of our largest buying trips of the year, the March jewelry show in Hong Kong. This is always an important trip because much of our inventory is depleted during the back-to-back Christmas and Valentine’s Day shopping seasons.

Hisano and I landed in Hong Kong at 9 am local time on Tuesday, and arrived at the Wanchai Exhibition Center at 11 am. The show lasts only five days and every day is important, so like usual, we set out as soon as we landed. That evening, and every evening that followed, we had dinners with friends and suppliers – four nights in all. Saturday, as soon as the show finished, we were back on an airplane headed to Los Angeles. It was exhausting, to say the least, but equally rewarding!

We had a lot of ground to cover in five days, and a lot of items on the shopping list. My job was to find the difficult lots that were needed to plug holes in our inventory, while Hisano spent more time finding new and special pearls. I have to admit that I was a bit jealous, but she does have the eye for it and my buying strengths are negotiating and name recognition.

Below is a breakdown of some of what we came home with this week.

Tahitian Pearls

In January, 2011, we had the opportunity to purchase the entire stock of AAA rounds from a large trader in Tahiti at a good discount. Because we were battling the rise in the Euro at the time and Tahitian pearl prices were starting to go up, it made sense. We still have thousands of loose rounds left over, but we were starting to run low on 8-9 mm and dark peacock in nearly every size.

This situation created a problem for us on two fronts; most Tahitian pearl lots come in sized lots of 8-10 mm and purchasing separated dark-peacock Tahitian lots can be very expensive. Furthermore, 8 mm Tahitians have become somewhat scarce over the past year, so most 8-10 mm lots contain very few 8-9 mm pearls.

Over the course of the week, I met with three different producers (including Alexander Collins from Takaroa where our Tahitian pearl documentary was filmed) and one trader, and was able to negotiate deals on six different Tahitian pearl lots. One was a dark, mixed lot of 8-9 mm, and the others were all dark peacock lots of varying sizes – exactly what we needed.

A selection of the 10-11 mm Peacock rounds that we brought back from the show.

Hisano and I also met with Chi Hyun of Galatea to examine (and ultimately purchase) his new line of hand-carved Tahitian pearls. Unlike the “carved” Tahitian pearls we’ve seen in the past out of Tahiti, Chi’s pearls are genuinely carved and not simply etched. Stay tuned for this collection!

South Sea Pearls

In the South Sea genre we went all out. We had every size of white rounds on our list, and purchased lots ranging in size from 9 to 17 mm, most from a single producer. We had good luck with golden South Sea as well, purchasing round lots ranging from 9 to 12 mm, a nice lot of drops and baroques, and even one lot of free form baroque and circled unfinished strands – something we rarely do, but as you can see from the previous link, our stock is low. We were so happy with what we found, we should be well stocked through the entire year!

Akoya Pearls

We didn’t have much on the list for akoya this trip, and what was on the list was in short supply. We needed to find some nice lots of 6-6.5 mm and 6.5-7 mm, but very few were to be had. In the end, we only returned with around 150 strands of akoya.

Freshwater Pearls

As usual, this is where Hisano and I had the most fun. While I spent nearly two full days separating out loose pearls for our freshadama and metallic white lines, Hisano visited at least a half dozen producers and processors looking for those special, must-see-to-believe pearls. I can’t go into too much detail and spoil upcoming surprises, but some of her finds included; giant black Edisons, some of the largest baroques I’ve ever seen, metallic fireball pairs, green-golds and even large, drop-shape metallic whites. This is going to be fun!

We did spend the last afternoon of the show getting in a bit of eye candy and visiting some of the well-known natural pearl dealers like Shanghai Gems and Tara and Sons. The conch, melo melo and other exotic naturals were amazing.

Every Day Pearls

I’m a girl who truly loves pearls, and being a part of Pearl Paradise has given me the ultimate opportunity to express my own style with pearls, many of which I would never be able find anywhere else.

Tiny size akoya pearl strandThe pearls I wear every day are rarely seen on the website, and this is partly because most of the pearls I prefer are a lot smaller than the average size.  My number one go-to pearl necklace is my 36-inch white akoya pearl strand on 14K matte ball clasp. I love how my outfit instantly polishes up with this necklace.  The pearls are AA+/AAA quality silver to silver rose overtone 4.5-5 mm akoya pearls from Japan. I wear it as a double strand or one long strand. It’s easy to carry when I’m traveling and very useful when I am out on vacation or attending a Hong Kong jewelry show.

Knowing my weakness with tiny pearls, our Akoya vendors started bringing in smaller sizes whenever they visit our office. My recent acquisition of tiny Akoyas was a natural yellowish golden 2.5-3 mm strand. I am still pondering what to make with it.

My tiny collection is not only in Akoyas. A few years ago, Jeremy told a freshwater pearl supplier that I love tiny pearls. The supplier sent us lustrous 2-2.5 mm white freshwater pearl strands that had strong silver overtones. I’ve made them into multi-strand necklaces that range from 16 to 26 inches. I’ve also made a multi-strand bracelet adorned with white diamond beads.

Another long necklace that I love wearing is a 16.5 mm, White South Sea circled baroque pearl on a 14K rose gold chain accented with tiny akoya pearls. We recently purchased a large lot of giant White South Sea baroque loose pearls. The sizes ranged from 13 to 20 mm. We made pairs and pendants for a monthly special. As I was picking out the pairs for the sale I found this plump pearl with a small tip at the top. There was something charming about this pudgy pearl with warm silky white body color with hint of rose overtone. I started to gather rose gold chain and findings along with rose tone akoya pearls that were left over from my wedding necklace. I randomly wire wrapped the 3-4 mm akoya pearls on the chain to make a 30 inch necklace. I took this design when I was working on the black Freshwater Edison pearls. I made a sterling silver version of my necklace accenting with small black Freshwater pearls.

This wasn’t the only time my own jewelry became a PP item. I found an amazing pistachio color Tahitian baroque pearl once sorting through a newly acquired lot. I had to make something simple to showcase the amazing color. I wire wrapped it onto a delicate yellow gold chain and dangled a yellow diamond briolette bead right next to it. Jeremy loved the simple look and suggested for a new item on PP. Since pistachio colors in Tahitians are rare I took smooth drop shape peacock tone and adorned the bale with a black briolette diamond. The Noir pendant is now a staple item on our Tahitian baroque page.

Pistachio Color Tahitian pearl with diamond briolette