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.
The first step in the process is the separation. This process took us nearly a week.
Hisano works on sorting out the pearls by color for strands.
Not all "black Tahitians" are really black. Some are naturally pistachio and others are blue green.
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.
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.
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.
A few strands of circled and drop-shaped Tahitians with intense colors
Drop strands with lighter body colors and beautiful, subtle overtones
Round Tahitian strands showing off the tremendous color range
Colors can be so subtle, every strand needs its own individual photo.