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  1. #1
    Pearl Maven Senior Pearl-Guide.com Pearl Expert Caitlin's Avatar
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    Default Fireball Cultured pearls & quotes from Jeremy Shepherd

    http://studiopjj.blogspot.com/2006/12/fireball-cultured-pearls-learning.html
    Friday, December 22, 2006

    Fireball Cultured Pearls: Learning Curves

    David Federman writes:


    Let's do some role-playing. You're a pearl dealer visiting
    Hong Kong. You've just been shown some eye-popping white baroque pearls that you would swear come from Australia. Hey, they've got the size, the shape, and the sheen.

    The seller smiles. He knows what you're thinking. Then he tells you the price, which is a fraction of that quoted for bona fide
    SouthSea baroque strands. You have a sudden moment of cognitive dissonance as you puzzle over the cost of these pearls. But just before you hear the price explained, you guess their true origin. It's China
    . How is this possible, you wonder. Are you sitting down?

    They're bead-nucleated. You heard right: These pearls were grown in freshwater mussels implanted with 7 to 9mm balls of shell, along with pieces of mantle tissue, and then put in the water for two years while a cultured pearl grew. Now you're really confused. Aren't bead-nucleated pearls supposed to be round? Why are these misshapen?

    So far, no one knows for sure. Fuji Voll of Pacific Pearls,
    Mill Valley, California
    , who has been predicting breakthrough pearls like these for some time, thinks farmers may be trying to avoid the high cost of training workers to be accomplished nucleators. So, instead of placing beads in the body of the mussel, they tuck nuclei just under the shell in easy-to-reach mantle area. There, unfortunately, beads can't keep pearls from going haywire.

    Of course, few are complaining just yet about the failure to produce rounds because baroques are among the most popular pearls these days. At first glance, these first-ever top Chinese bead-nucleated freshwater baroque strands, especially if white, look like they come from the
    South Seas. In fact, the best of these freshwater baroques are being strung with their SouthSea
    counterparts to make mixed-breed strands selling for $3,000 to $6,000. Available in 18 by 12 and 17 by 11mm sizes for under $200 per strand, the new Chinese baroques are easy to retail at three and four times their wholesale prices—and still remain bargains.

    As you look closer and longer at these Chinese newcomers, you notice something distinctive about them that makes it easy to distinguish them from their
    SouthSea
    counterparts. It's the wing-like protrusions, which have earned these new-breed baroques the name of "fireball pearls" among some Chinese farmers and dealers.

    The name makes perfect—albeit provisional—sense because "fireball" pearls usually have meteor-like shapes. Turn back to Tino Hammid's photograph and you'll see pearls with round bellies and trailing wings that could be likened to flames.

    Eventually, farmers hope, the wing tips will disappear the way tadpole tails disappear. And then so will the name "fireball." For, voila, then you will have perfect spheres. No wonder dealers like Voll are watching these pearls with keen anticipation.

    TO BEAD OR NOT TO BEAD
    A decade ago,
    China astounded the world with peach and lilac colored semi-round freshwater pearls nucleated only with mantle tissue. Even today, fine 10 and 11mm strands of these glories command thousands of dollars. But they remain exceptions to the rule.

    Over time, people skeptical about these near-round pearls began to speculate that they were secretly nucleated with reject pearls to shape them and create all-nacre uni-bodies. But gemologists disproved this theory by x-raying thousands of pearls and finding no evidence of pearl-nucleation.

    Now just when the gemological world has grown used to thinking of fine Chinese freshwater pearls as all-nacre, and some dealers lobby for them to be classified as "non-nucleated," Chinese aquaculture has taken a weird turn to nucleation. What gives?

    It's the economy, silly. Or so say regular travelers to
    China like Voll and Jeremy Shepherd, who runs a kind of Blue Nile for pearls called Pearl Paradise.com based in Santa Monica, California
    . Shepherd, who visits Chinese pearl farms 12 times a year, says that "bead-nucleation cuts pearl growing times in half, allows production of larger sizes, and will one day result in perfect rounds."
    Isn't that a return to the akoya aesthetic? Yes, he answers, but with lots of dividends. For whom? For China and for people who dream of owning pearls that look like they came from the South Seas—at a fraction of the price. Well, maybe not a fraction, but at considerably below
    SouthSea
    norms. "The Chinese are becoming very good businessmen," Shepherd says.

    "They are not going to give these pearls away once they have perfected them. But since production costs are far less than they are in
    Australia, they can sell their pearls at high prices which are still considerably less than those from the South Seas
    ."

    How soon, if ever, will we see such pearls? Voll thinks that we will see lovely 15-plus mm pearls by 2010. Shepherd predicts sizes as mammoth as 20mm by then.

    True to
    SouthSea
    standards, nacre thickness of the new bead-nucleated freshwater pearls will be at least 2mm. Moreover, since these pearls come from mussels that are six to ten times larger than akoya oysters, nuclei can be much larger. In addition, since the freshwater mollusks quickly smother beads in thick nacre coatings, farmers can use less-expensive, lower-grade, highly striated bead nuclei whose blemishes are sure to be hidden. The end-result: luxe looks for much less money.

    So get ready for bleached and natural-color bead-nucleated freshwater pearls with a roundness new to this variety. And when that happens, get ready for
    China to receive the full esteem it has long sought as a pearl producer.
    Last edited by Caitlin; 12-23-2006 at 11:27 PM.
    Caitlin

    How to hand-knot pearls without a tool

    My avatar is a Sea of Cortez mabe pearl. One of a pair of Mexican handmade earrings.

  2. #2
    Zeide Erskine
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    Hi Caitlin,

    As owners of the Strack book, we both know that these big nucleated freshwater rounds already exist both in Japan and China. A 21mm fine round is the current record at the Chenghai operation. This is not futuristic, it even comes from a several-years-old source. I dread the day when China should decide to go for bead nucleation on a large scale. We as consumers should lobby for the solid-nacre product. Why is the fake standard of PPBs being touted over and over again? Just look at the "gem quality" strands of South Sea PPBs being vaunted and fawned over here. In the Matlins book was already 10 years ago a picture of an 18-20mm "gem quality" South Sea PPB strand that sold for US$ 2 million at auction. We just had 3 different large to largest South Sea PPB strands depicted here on the forum within a span of half a year and Harry Winston, Cartier, and other Mystiquery providers have assembled and sold even more not to mention direct sales by Paspaley. That is not rare, that is not precious and whoever buys something like that certainly deserves them. They only look right on sweet transvestites from Transylvania anyhow.

    Zeide
    Last edited by Zeide Erskine; 12-23-2006 at 05:44 PM.

  3. #3
    Super Moderator Senior Pearl-Guide.com Pearl Expert jshepherd's Avatar
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    I think what you are missing is the difference between an anomaly, and production, Zeide. Matlins was already proven wrong in her nucleated claims, and from first hand experience I know that a lot of farms are bead-nucleating. But large rounds are not being produced, and they are not being sold off as South Seas either.

  4. #4
    Zeide Erskine
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    Hi Jeremy,

    I think we both know that pearls are being sold for what they are not all the time.

    Large round white Kasumiga-ura pearls have been around for awhile and so have large bead-nucleated rounds from Chenghai. I do not know how the GIA selected the pearls that they cut open but we also both know that bead-nucleated freshwater pearls existed at the time Antoinette Matlins, Fred Ward, and Elisabeth Strack said they did. It was the GIA that was unbelievable not the other experts.

    Also very large round South Sea pearls have been around for awhile. Are you trying to say that Sotheby's committed a fraud when they auctioned off the "gem quality" 18-20mm South Sea PPB strand for two million dollars years and years ago? Do you really believe that there have not been any more in the meantime?

    I know better than that and you should, too. Your (as a plural you including Amanda) large gem strands did not pop out of nowhere. South Sea pearls are flooding the market and I have seen many recently offered as gem quality by reputable jewelers that were clearly treated in many ways.

    Anyway, as far as I am concerned, PPBs can never be gem quality unless there is a standard for gem quality doublets of synthetic gemstones. I may accept a gem standard for Chatham emeralds but Chatham slices in goshenite will never be considered gem-quality emeralds by anybody.

    Zeide

  5. #5
    Super Moderator Senior Pearl-Guide.com Pearl Expert jshepherd's Avatar
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    That is your view, Zeide. I am ok with that. And yes, I do know that large South Seas have been around for a while. That is not in question. But that particular strand you are referring to is special - you and I both know that, even though you refer to it as a pearl plated bead. Amanda posted her picture because her strand was also special. One of a kind? No... but rare, yes. Is there anything fraudulent about these strands? Maybe to you and a couple dozen other that have been proselytized into believing only tissue-nucleated pearls are pearls. But for the millions and millions of other pearl lovers out there, myself included, we still find real beauty in Tahitians, South Seas, and yes, even Akoya!
    I do not know how the GIA selected the pearls that they cut open but we also both know that bead-nucleated freshwater pearls existed at the time Antoinette Matlins, Fred Ward, and Elisabeth Strack said they did. It was the GIA that was unbelievable not the other experts.
    What you are missing is that Matlins started the whole thing. She was the one that found a few anomalies and immediately decided all large rounds were bead nucleated. A lot of 'experts' followed in her opinion. This debate went on for a long time, and even Pearl World Journal got it wrong. But that is just it - they got it wrong!
    Have they been produced? Sure they have. Are they produced on the scale that many still claim, yourself included? Absolutely not. The farms that bead nucleate do just that - they bead nucleate. Coming through their harvests it is rare to find any rounds, and a gem would be like winning the lottery. I have seen rounds in this fashion before, but most look like indicator beads out of Indonesia. But, they still cost more than their round FW cousins, because they are rare.

  6. #6
    Pearl Maven Senior Pearl-Guide.com Pearl Expert Caitlin's Avatar
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    I just wanted to point out that the article also mentions Fuji Voll of Pacific Pearls, Mill Valley, California, (actually, I think he's moved) I thought he had some of the prettiest pearls at the gem show last year, and they were decent prices. I bought my puffy pillow pearls from him- they are shown on the show me your pearls thread. Later I bought some natural colored baroque CFWP from him.

    I truly look forward to seeing what he will bring to the big show in Feb '07 because he has a great eye for off-beat pearls.
    Caitlin

    How to hand-knot pearls without a tool

    My avatar is a Sea of Cortez mabe pearl. One of a pair of Mexican handmade earrings.

  7. #7
    Zeide Erskine
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    Hi Caitlin,

    I just bought a strand of the weirdest fireballs in heat-treated golden color. The pearls have great water, mirror and orient and range in shape from Mickey Mouse head to piggy head to mouse to rooster. Now I have to study goldsmithing. And, yes, I realize that they are bead nucleated but I only paid US$ 17.00 plus modest shipping for the whole strand. They are crafting beads and probably deserving of imaginative settings. I would not feel as enthusiastic about an akoya or South Sea PPB of which I also own a few but do not cherish them like my natural pearls or solid-nacre cultured pearls be they freshwater, marine or any combination of both.

    And Jeremy,

    To some extent I agree with you. In Fred Ward's slim volume on pearls he shows a picture of clearly tissue nucleated round freshwater pearls and states that such round shapes in these large sizes (up to 8.5mm by the looks of it) can only be attained by bead or reshaped pearl nucleation. That is clearly false. However, the Chenghai farm has been putting out substantially higher quantities of large fine rounds than you seem to think. Those were sold as freshwater pearls in the fine and fancy colors and unfortunately sometimes also as South Sea pearls in the ordinary white to cream range.


    Zeide
    Last edited by Zeide Erskine; 12-24-2006 at 02:04 AM.

  8. #8
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    I just bought three fireball strands in Shanghai-white, peach and silver-grey. They were so much fun and not a lot of money. The quality is ok-not the beauties we see posted on this forum. I purchased these based upon this forum's dialogue. I am so happy. I have rounds but my go to strands are the fireballs.

  9. #9
    Pearl Scholar Senior Pearl-Guide.com Pearl Expert pattye's Avatar
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    Lambskin,

    Looking forward to seeing your fireball necklaces soon!

    This was a most interesting thread to read from the beginning, Dec 2006, especially the discussion about Chinese bead nucleated freshwater round pearls~
    Pattye


    PatriciaSaabDesigns.etsy.com

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    SO MANY PEARLS, SO LITTLE TIME----

  10. #10
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    I just got a new camera and am learning how to use it. I can't wait to post my pictures but it may take a while. Everyones' pictures are so good!