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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pearls from China

My friend Doris Coghill spoke at the Upper Midwest Bead Society meeting a couple weeks ago, providing insight and information from her many years of beading, teaching beadwork, and selling beads.  When asked about beading supplies from China, she used a very bad word.  She explained that the Chinese government has recently forced the retirement of many skilled workers to provide jobs for younger people entering the workforce.  When many of those experienced workers left, with them went skills and ethical work habits. 

One of the results of this forced mass Chinese early retirement program is a flood of poorly drilled pearls on the market.  Earlier this fall I bought piles of pearls at the local Gem and Lapidary Workers Show when it visited Minneapolis.  I love to weave with pearls, but usually find I must buy them wholesale to afford them. Weaving eats up materials quickly, and the GLWS is a great place to shop.

So when the blitz of my fall costume work ended, I happily sorted through my goodies and got out my favorite 3 strands of golden bronzy 3mm-ish rice pearls and two pieces of Biggs Deschutes Jasper and set to work, with this result:

The jasper was pricey, especially the upper piece, but the pearls were very reasonable, so I had plenty to play with, and after configuring the focal section, I decided to drape the pearls on each side.  I liked the exclaimation point image I had, but wanted to soften and disguise it a little, so it had subtlety and invited a closer look, since the details in the focals were so lovely.  This is where my trouble began. 

When you are draping strands of anything, uniformity is critical to success.  And these pearls were far from uniform. I loved the differences in color, since they echoed the depth in the jasper.

But the differences in length were more problematic.  For what I had paid for them, I didn't think the size differences were unreasonable, and the surfaces were smooth and lovely and with a deep glowing nacre.  I sorted them by length, and realizing that I would not have enough of any one length to do the job entirely, tried to organize them in my draping to provide the best results.  They were visually deceptive!  Fatter ones looked shorter than they were, and vice versa.  But all that was 100% acceptable to me and my purposes.

What I found disappointing was the funky drilling of many of the pearls.  In my triangle weave section, it didn't matter, but in the draping, it did.

I did the left side first (ok, REALLY I did the right side first, hated it, and did the left side and got a better result, and then ripped the right side and re-wove it) and I was able to use mosly the pearls with the holes drilled straight through, but by the last strand at the bottom, I had to start encorporating the pearls with the angled holes.  See the one in the center of the picture? There's one in two strands from it as well.  Sigh. 

And the right side has more of those badly drilled babies.  I don't see this as a crisis.  My piece is still pretty.  But my friend was right.  Less care and skill is going into the drilling of pearls from China.

Now, maybe the specific Chinese supplier makes a difference, because I ordered the pearls for my Victoria's Secret piece from China, and I was really pleased with their quality, price, and super fast service with reasonable shipping costs.  Better than companies in this country that shall remain nameless.

So, for future reference, caveat emptor!  When you buy a strand of pearls, hold them up and look at how they have been drilled and consider your purpose before plunking down your cash.  If you want to drape them, you want the holes drilled straight.  Thanks Doris, for opening my eyes. 


  1. Good post great info and beautiful pieces

  2. What a beautiful necklace Marsha. If you didn't point out the inconsistencies, I would have not not noticed. I am lucky when it comes to pearls, because for bead embroidery the flat potato shaped ones are the best, and they tend to be less expensive then the ones you use, and I bet the holes are all over the place too, but they lay so nice and flat, I couldn't wish for better.