Nontraditional Tahitian pearl pairing that works

Baroque Tahitian pearls are among my favorites. The best tend to have colors and combinations of colors within individual pearls that are nearly impossible to achieve with traditional rounds. The uniqueness of each pearl means that a full strand can never be perfectly duplicated (hence the need for individual photographs) and pairs are very difficult to make.

A good customer reached out to me earlier in the month and asked me to find a pair of Tahitians on the smaller side that had amazing colors. While I could have selected something extra special from the rounds, my first thought was to suggest a pair of drops or baroques. We had just finished separating a large lot of Tahitian pearls for the holiday season and I had set a few special lots aside.

Baroque Tahitian pearls with intense colors

My suggestion of using colorful baroque pearls was well-received but created a dilemma; she only wore stud earrings and drops and circled pearls are traditionally set onto dangle settings. We decided to try something more nontraditional and find pairs that would work set as studs.

An intense blue-green pair and a super-peacock pair.

Blue Green and Super Peacock Tahitian pearl baroque pairs

A pair with color so intense, the oil-slick effect is visible on the pearls

Oil slick peacock colors on a Tahitian pearl

I ended up matching a couple of pairs of drops too, and while the colors were striking, I had to recommend going with one of the less symmetrical pairs.

Given that her two favorite colors are blue and green she opted for the first pair. I love the result.

Baroque Tahitian pearls set as traditional stud earrings

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.

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

A Pearl Trip Around the World

Two years ago I was approached by a board member of the Cultured Pearl Association of America about a project that they had in mind. They wanted to send a film crew around the world, shooting pearl farms in China, Japan, Fiji, the Philippines and French Polynesia. I was asked to accompany the team to be the guide/interpreter/pearl expert.

My first thought was that it would be impossible to leave my company for the full month it would take to film in so many different locations, but after careful consideration I decided that not only should I go along, I had to go along.

As part of the deal, I have full rights to all the film shot on the trip and now have hard drives with hours upon hours of footage shot in some of the most exotic locations on the planet. To date, I’ve only used the footage from French Polynesia to produce the video below, but more videos are coming.

This was shot on the atoll of Takaroa in French Polynesia. Takaroa is a two-hour flight from Papeete and is as remote as it gets.

I hope you enjoy the show!