Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Overproduction takes shine off Chinese pearls

Source: http://news.yahoo.com

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - The prices of the lustrous strings of pearls that line display cases in Shanghai jewelry stores are more eye-catching than the glossy gems: some pearl sets cost under 10 yuan ($1.50) even before bargaining.

"All kinds of people come to buy pearls, Chinese and foreigners," said Wang Caijiao, who has been selling pearls in a two-storey shop on Shanghai's bustling Nanjing Road for seven years.

The massive volume of freshwater pearls on the market have made the gem affordable to the masses.

That might be good news for the migrant laborers and factory workers who can now afford pearls but it is bad news for the pearl industry which frets over the sinking prices of pearls and the damage to the gem's once exclusive image.

Now, local Chinese governments, concerned about environmental damage to lakes and reservoirs from pearl cultivation, are beginning to rein in production.

And what's healthy for the environment may end up being healthy for the industry as well.

"The pearl industry has not been doing well in the past two years because the output is too high," said Li Jiale, a professor at Shanghai Ocean University.

"The industry needs to reduce quantity and improve quality."

Pearl farms now earn less than 2,000 yuan per kilogram of pearls, down from a peak above 20,000 yuan more than a decade ago, Li said.

In 2007, China produced 1,600 tonnes of pearls, over 95 percent of the world's total output, the Gems and Jewellery Trade Association of China said on its website ( http://www.jewellery.org.cn ).

Most are rough-edged, elongated orbs like those threaded into necklaces in Wang's shop. Perfectly shaped salt water pearls that are formed by nature can fetch millions of dollars.


The massive quantities of pearls produced by China's pearl industry carry a hefty environmental cost.

Lake waters where the pearls are cultivated are greenish, cloudy and often foul-smelling from a mixture of pollution and fertilizers dumped into the water to help the mussels produce pearls faster.

"The disorderly growth of freshwater pearl cultivation in some regions, resulting in the dumping of large quantities of fertilizer into lakes and reservoirs, has seriously damaged those water bodies," said a document on the website of the agriculture department of central China's Hubei Province ( http://www.hbagri.gov.cn ).

Hubei, one of China's biggest pearl producers, last year banned pearl cultivation in lakes and reservoirs, and restricted pearl-producing mussels to ponds.

Several cities and regions in southern China have also banned or restricted pearl cultivation in recent years.

But experts said mussels, used to produce the gems in freshwater, while oysters produce pearls in saltwater, should not pollute the environment if they are raised properly.

"Mussels eat plankton in the water and can therefore actually purify it," said Pan Jianlin, secretary-general of the Jiangsu Province Pearl Industry Association.

"But some farmers are not raising pearls properly. They use fertilizer to feed the plankton," he said.

Overly dense mussel populations compound the pollution, experts said.

"If mussels are raised in an enclosed body of water, it can easily lead to eutriphication," or a rise in chemical nutrients that causes a severe deterioration of water quality, said Cheng Wen, a professor at Xi'an University of Science and Technology.


Environmental damage from pearl culture is minor compared with industrial emissions, heavy fertilizer runoff and untreated sewage that have fouled many Chinese rivers and lakes over three decades of break-neck economic growth.

Local governments are now under pressure to attack all sources of pollution.

Hit by the restrictions, as well as rising costs and falling prices, China's pearl output is expected to fall to 1,400 tonnes in 2008 and 1,000 tonnes by 2010, down more than one-third from last year, the Gems and Jewellery Trade Association of China said.

Lower production might not hit profits. Experience in other pearl-producing regions has shown that producing smaller quantities of higher quality gems can actually bring better returns for the industry as a whole.

"It's important that pearl farmers know that producing 100 kilograms of pearls is not more profitable than producing 20 kilograms," said Qiu Zhili, associate professor of earth sciences at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangdong province.

In French Polynesia, where Tahitian pearls are cultivated, the local industry association compiles output plans and strictly regulates market access. Pearls that do not meet gem grade standards cannot be sold as jewelry, Qiu said.

The quality of China's freshwater pearls is starting to improve and if cultivated properly, with lower densities of mussels in ponds and longer cultivation times, experts said they could look more like the smooth, perfectly round saltwater pearls from Japan and the South Pacific that command far higher prices.

But that is not likely to happen either quickly or easily.

"I'd like to see output fall to 100 tonnes. Then our pearls would be priced at the same levels as Tahitian pearls and South Sea pearls. That would be great," said Du Kunlin, secretary general of Zhejiang Province Pearl Industry Association.

But he added: "Tens of thousands of pearl farmers live off of them. You can't just let only 10,000 of them survive."

($1=6.839 Yuan)

(Editing by Edmund Klamann and Megan Goldin)

Lebanon chef finds 26 pearls in single oyster

Source: http://news.yahoo.com

TYRE, Lebanon (AFP) - A Lebanese woman working in a restaurant kitchen found 26 pearls in an oyster she was preparing for the table and is to submit the find to the Guinness Book of Records.

Amal Salha, 50, said she was helping out her son in his Al Fanar restaurant on the waterfront in the southern port of Tyre, when she made the astonishing find on Monday evening.

"I couldn't believe it," she told AFP.

"I was in the process of opening the shells when I found a number of shining pearls inside one of them," she said. "I was so startled I screamed.

"It was so beautiful. It looked like a bunch of grapes."

After counting them, there turned out to be 26 pearls of varying sizes. The oyster had been harvested off the Lebanese coast.

Pearl oysters are unrelated to the oysters normally eaten in Europe but Salha said they were still popular with the French and Italian soldiers serving with the UN peacekeeping force deployed in south Lebanon.

"We buy these oysters at 10 dollars a kilo (less than five dollars a pound)," said Salha's husband, Raymond.

"Generally we find one or two pearls but 26 is very rare," he said, adding that the couple hoped their find would merit an entry in the Guinness Book of Records.

Five Pound Pearl is a Record Says EGL USA

Source: http://www.diamonds.net/

RAPAPORT... EGL USA authenticated one of the largest pearls ever to be discovered and documented. The brain-shaped specimen — a giant non-nacreous natural blister pearl — weighs an incredible five pounds (2.267 kilos) and measures some six inches in length. It was found in the waters off the Philippines in the giant clam, Tridacna Gigas.

A team of EGL USA expert gemologists, led by Nicholas Del Re, analyzed the pearl (pictured) using a combination of advanced technologies: Digital radiography, close magnification, and data provided by a handheld x-ray fluorescence (XRF) unit. pearl

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime look at one of nature's most unique treasures," said Mitch Jakubovic, director of EGL USA. "A pearl this size is not only the largest ever seen at EGL USA, it is among the largest ever seen anywhere. We were pleased to be able to provide the expertise and experience necessary to assess such a rare and valuable specimen."

David Bidwell, senior appraiser of EGL USA's appraisal affiliate, Universal Gemological Services (UGS) provided additional confidential counsel to the pearl's owner, Hadjzad Biteng. "This is clearly one of the most valuable pearls of its kind in the world today," said Bidwell. "Mr. Biteng is currently considering many exciting opportunities regarding its future. To coin a famous phrase, one could say that the pearl world is his oyster."

Snail that produces £30,000 pearls under tight security

Source: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk

An aquarium in Britain has splashed out on a painstaking security operation to protect one of its more unusual exhibits.

A giant sea snail is being closely guarded at Birmingham's National Sea Life Centre.

It can produce rare and valuable pearls which can fetch up to £30,000 each.

"These snails occasionally produce pearls which can fetch anything between £5,000 and £30,000 each," said curator Graham Burrows.

"The snail forms the pearl around any foreign object that gets inside its shell. The biggest one recorded was the size of a golf-ball."

The sea snail is about 20 times bigger than the British garden equivalent.

"Of course only a very few snails contain pearls, and the odds are very much against our snail having one," Mr Burrows said.

"With the prices they can fetch, however, we need to be extra vigilant to make sure no one is tempted to kidnap the snail in the hope that it contains hidden treasure.

"We've also got CCTV covering every possible access point when we're closed, as well as a sophisticated alarm system," Mr Burrows said.