Shopping for pearls tomorrow in Kota Kinabalu - Filipino market


New Member
May 15, 2022
Bought my first strand of South Sea Pearls from American Pearl in NYC about 20 years ago. I just wandered in off the street one day after work - and the owner (very humble) took me upstairs and showed me the different kinds of pearls etc. I wasn't a fan of perfect Mikimoto. So I ended up with a nice strand of SS baroque pearls for my GF. No idea what I paid - maybe $1,500 - $3,000. Also, no idea if that was a decent price, they were pretty big pearls and I enjoyed the experience.

Fell in love with pearls ever since.

Have been to Indonesia near Lombok many times, but have just neglected to go pearl shopping.

A few months ago was in a Filipino shopping mall and picked up a strand I wear wrapped around my wrist most evenings. Terrible lighting, but I'm in a hotel. They're baroque, real (pearl-meet-teeth-test) and don't scuff easily. Something riddiculously cheap like USD $22 but have a pleasant feel and luster.

Currently in Kota Kinabalu for one more day, and visited the FIlipino market off and on for the last couple of weeks - a lot of pearls (ton). Assuming most are coming from China but some must also be indonesian?. All that I saw (strings) were near perfect rounds.

Going to hit the market again for the last time tomorrow. If no replies by then - will be back in Lombock next month (assuming the Covid restrictions don't come back).. just wondering what to look for - for a few casual but special strands.

Think I prefer saltwater over freshwater - even tho I've read fresh is more durable due to the thickness of layers. Prefer baroque but am open to a more uniform shape.
Don't want to spend too much - $100 - $300 a strand. What would you look for / ask for if you were here? Colors, size, for something different?


Follow up - sadly the forum admin didn't approve my original post within 24hr, so went to market without your good advice. ;)

I'll detail experience:

Was looking for SS, baroque, largish pearl strand to wear as bracelet. About 100 stalls in total (20 stalls per row - 5 rows. About half of them have strands, the rest just earrings, bracelets, souvenir stuff.

Started at the front and worked my way to the back - assume the back will offer more deals. Spoke to 9 vendors. Baroque were difficult to find as many were too baroque for me (looking like car ran over them). Most of the nicer strand prices started out around 850 ringgit (USD 193) which was silly price. At the front a little flirting and small talk about Philippines (where many of the girls were from) would bring it down to 550 600 range. All but one (in the front) let me walk away to 'browse other stalls' - so I guess that was their lowest price. Freshwater considerably less.

In the back finally found a strand I liked, pleasantly baroque and full of imperfections. nice mix of gold, pink, green and even a darker pearl.
After a LOT of talking got it to 450 and couldn't get it even 10 ringgit lower. But she threw in 3 loose pearls so it would fit around my wrist. Not really sure this was a good deal, but it was the best deal I could strike today. I'm happy with it as just learning.

These are just strung on fishing line, with cheap clasp and no individual knots between beads, so will have it put together properly back in the Philippines.

Fun few hours of shopping. ;)

Sorry we missed this thread before you went shopping, but it looks like you were successful and it sounds like fun! The first strand is a ringed freshwater, tissue-nucleated strand. The one on your wrist is a beaded baroque freshwater with natural-color pastels. It sounds like you got good deals!
Totally freshwater pearls there. As in many other places where beautiful pearls are created...a sub-market emerges with freshwater pearls offered as that country's pearl. It can be The Philippines, Indonesia or even Mexico.
But there is a special allure in "hunting down" bargains on pearls of course, so this adds up to the experience and to pearls themselves.

Happy Hunting!