I am just returning from a week-long trip to Hong Kong and China, and decided to just detail the trip in a type of blog fashion. I thought some of you may appreciate it. Before I go into the trip, however, I want to let everyone know that we are posting the documentary on YouTube. I am almost completely out and do not plan to run another batch for a time. We have only uploaded one section so far, as there are file size limits. Hopefully the rest will be up within the next week. Sorry about the resolution, YouTube is a bit limiting.
The purpose of the trip was two-fold. On the business side I was carrying a recent harvest of drop and circle Tahitian pearls to a factory which I contract in China to have them drilled and matched. I also needed to visit a findings factory in Hong Kong to discuss new designs. The second part of the trip was to meet up with Stephen Bloom in Haikou and lead him to the Akoya producing areas of Xuwen and Xilian.
* For those of you who do not know, Stephen Bloom is the best selling author of Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America. He has been commissioned by his publisher to write a book about pearls called “Tears of Mermaids”. It will be a novel about the stories and the people behind the pearl industry.
As I would have extra time in Hong Kong, I decided to set up a visit with Fukui shell factory (they produce nuclei from Mississippi shell) and take a look at their personal harvest of Akoya. They have a small farm in Western China, quite a distance from the traditional pearling areas.
I also decided to take Carol Chui, the head of the Hong Kong Paspaley office, up on her outstanding offer of dinner in Tsim Sha Tsui.
The visit to Fukui went very well. I met Arthur and Jenny Wong, the president and his daughter. They were both very nice and very proud of their product - rightly so. What impressed me about their pearls was the immediately apparent thick nacre. Instead of a few hanks having thick nacre, they all appeared to be better than average. Their explanation made sense, and I do believe them. They claim to only process their own farmed pearls, and they culture for a year and a half, which is in the upper end of culturing times. So there was no mixing of nacre depth. Mr. Wong stated that the average nacre depth was more than .5. This is impressive, as the average Japanese is .35 today
Their processing was very good as well. They explained that they had hired a Japanese processor who is in charge of the operation. The experience was evident in the matching of size and color.
Now there was one thing that I found surprising. Every hank was tagged with a label stating “Product of Japan”. When I questioned Mr. Wong on this point, he stated that their Japanese processor had deemed the pearls good enough to be product of Japan. This lead me to telephone my friends in Japan from the hotel later that day. I was under the impression that the pearls needed to enter Japan before they could be called Japanese pearls. He informed me that some Japanese interpret the 1953 “Export Aquatic Maritime Products Act” initiated by Mikimoto, to deem that any pearls touching Japanese hands may be called “Product of Japan”.
Now I personally feel that this is taking the policy a little too far. In the end I purchased all of the best hanks they produced, and I had them shipped directly to my office in Los Angeles. So now I have these strands imported into the US as “Product of Japan”, because that is how they are labeled. But they will never even touch Japanese soil unless one of our customers travels to the land of the rising sun wearing one of our strands.
Well, this point aside, I did like the pearls, and I certainly appreciated their operation. It is currently much too small to be a large supplier of ours. Their top grade (that I purchased) only consisted of around 100 strands. But I do intend to support their operation after each harvest, because I want to support what they are trying to do - only produce the best, and not simply make a quick ROI.
Later that evening I met up with Carol Chui from Paspaley Hong Kong. She recently replaced Jane Tamala, and although we had corresponded in the past, and I had purchased pearls from their HK office, I had never met Carol personally.
Carol immediately surprised me as being an incredibly likable person. Funny, sweet, young… not the stuffy-type that so many in the industry are known for. Paspaley certainly made a great choice putting her on the top. I am sure she has a bright future ahead of her.
We stayed out quite late that evening discussing auctions, sales trips, farming, and pearls, pearls, pearls! I believe her personality alone has won me over to Paspaley. I promised to visit the office for our next SSP purchase.
The next morning I left early for Haikou. I wanted to be sure to arrive early enough as Stephen Bloom was due to arrive at 3:00pm from Shanghai. Because he does not speak Chinese, and it is nearly impossible to find an English speaker in Haikou, I wanted to be arrive early enough, with a backup, so he would have no chance of being stranded.
He arrived on schedule and we made our way to the port to take a boat to Haian. Stephen interviewed me on the boat ride over. By 7:30 we had arrived into Haian where my business partner had reserved rooms for us in the new Sunnybay Hotspring Resort. It had just opened up, and it is beautiful. It was the first time visiting the area that I did not feel like I was on a camping trip!
The next day we met up with my business partner and a friend of mine from Zhuji who had traveled in that evening to show me some things she had been working on for the past 6 months - for me, because so many of you want to see them (I will get to that in a bit). We went to the factory in Xuwen where Stephen interviewed my farming partner and a few of the processors in the factory. The processors are mostly young ladies in their early 20’s. It was interesting to learn a bit about their personal lives. A couple of them really opened up.
From there we headed to Xilian to see the harvest (we are harvesting part of our first crop of Akoya), and to visit the nucleation sheds, as a few farms have started implanting early. Stephen interviewed about a dozen or so people, from the old local farmers, to the nucleation technicians, to seasonal families taking part in the harvest. I shot some of this on video, and as soon as I can figure out this editing software I will try to post some of it on YouTube. Stephen had very interesting questions. They were the kind of thing we in the industry would not consider asking. He wanted to know what made these people tick, and what their backgrounds are, and their future dreams are.
Back at the factory I sat down for a few hours with my friend from Zhuji. I mentioned last year that I had someone in the area collecting fancy baroques for me. Her factory has processed about 400 kilo of baroques since my request, and she has collected nearly 40 kilo meeting my quality requirements. She showed me some strands that they were already preparing as samples. They are not yet treated (no polish, luster, or bleach) as she wanted my opinion on whether we should leave them as is, or process them. Because so many people have been asked for untreated, I decided to set guidelines for pieces that would go through the standard process, and those that would not. Basically, if the pearls have natural orient and a high shine, the treatment is not necessary. Also, I am having her cherry pick pearls to create a few super strands if possible, and a few exotic colored strands as well. I ended up taking 12 of the untreated strands with me. I will post a picture later to see what everyone thinks. I think they are going to be a hit, personally. It sure has been a long process in putting them together!
That night we took Stephen out to experience Chinese style KTV with the pearl farmers. It is almost a nightly ritual for many of them. Stephen enjoyed learning the local dice game and watching the farmers sing Karaoke.
The next day I headed back to Hong Kong to connect back to the States. I am now on my way, and will be arriving home soon…