I first came across an eBay merchant, a father and daughter team called Pearl Emporium about a couple of years ago. I am not affliated with them in any way except as a satisfied customer - nice pearls at great prices! Nor did they approach me. But when I approached them with my idea for a blog post, they were most prompt and gracious in their reply - believe me, not many merchants would bother.

Dad is based in the Philippines where he makes frequent buying trips to China for freshwater pearls. Charlotte is his daughter who is based in Florida where mainly pearls, some gemstones and glass beads are shipped to for sale in North America.

Over the years, I have read virtually every one of Dad's newsletters and his informative eBay guides. The email newsletter subscriptions I receive tell of the ups and downs of doing business in different countries. I remember the time Dad struggled trying to do business painfully slowly on dial up for a while when the major internet cables he relied on were damaged in a Taiwanese earthquake. Or his chagrin at the two week absolute shutdown of all business dealings over Chinese New Year - not even a teeny-weeny phone call! I also rejoiced for him when he wrote Charlotte had safely delivered her child.

But most of all, I've enjoyed and learnt from his first hand accounts of the pearl industry in China. So often, we jewelry artisans have no idea where our materials come from or about the people who produce it.

Dad wrote in one of his ebay guides the majority of working pearl farms in the Zhejiang Province, where nearly 90% of the world's freshwater pearls are produced, are actually old rice fields simply made about 1- 2 metres deeper like the one above left. He has come across a few farms in beautiful surroundings but they are the exception rather than the rule. Beautiful pearls take a long time to produce - the longer, the better - the best pearls are harvested after 3.5 - 7 years.

In another guide, he explains a single oyster could contain anything from one to one hundred pearls! The middle picture of a freshwater oyster above shows several on both shell halves. The women in the picture on the right are harvesting the pearls from oysters that have been out of the water for three days. The workers are older women because none of the younger generation want a stinking job like this!

The pearls then go through a crude drum-like agitator where the remaining tissue is removed. Meanwhile the women still sit amongst the now huge mounds of leftover shells for they have to cull the mabe or blister pearls. The umbrellas must provide them with some shelter from sun or rain but they do nothing for the stench! The leftover shells then go for cutting into the mother of pearl beads we all love so well.

The pearls are then sorted and then strung by the women shown above. Notice how thick their coats are? Dad said he has never seen a single heater in some 400 farms he has visited even in the dead of winter!

What's the latest about the pearl industry in China? Dad says with the rising value of the yuan, a 20% increase in wages, a diesel fuel shortage and increasing government regulations, expect pearl prices to rise in the future. That's true for other goods coming out of China like toys. The decreased value of the US dollar and rising fuel costs are also factors. He also predicts trouble brewing ahead with the government closure of the old Zhejiang Public Pearl Market to a new one with higher rentals which is deeply resented.

Pictures with kind permission from Dad. Keep those guides and newsletters coming!!

UPDATE : This store is no longer in operation on eBAY.
The Beading Gem's Journal