Three years ago, metallic-skinned Chinese freshwater pearls began appearing in mixed-color strands at major international trade shows. Since then, the tissue-nucleated pearls have been popping up with increasing frequency, ranging in shape and size from baroques to perfect rounds between 6 and 13 mm. Jeremy Shepherd, owner of PearlParadise.com, collected whatever he could find in China in 2007 and introduced a line of mixed metallic strands by the end of that year. As more pearls became available, Shepherd reintroduced the strands in perfect rounds and soon, other pearlers followed.
The reason behind the metallic colors is not completely clear, but pearl experts say they could be the result of byproducts from newer Chinese hybrid shells—a combination of Hyriopsis cumingi and Hyriopsis schlegeli mussels—cultivated originally for Fireball pearls. According to Shepherd, the metallic colors are more exotic than typical natural-color pearls in lavender and pink, and the luster exceeds that of many Japanese akoyas. Shepherd recently spent two weeks in Asia talking to growers about metallics. Availability is still somewhat limited—Shepherd found just 25 pearls in 30 kilos (about 1,000 strands) while shopping one farmer’s inventory from the same harvest. “They still only make up one-hundredth of 1 percent of total production,” he says. —Blaire Beavers
Kailis master jeweler and design director
Simon Henderson sorting pearls for the 888 Super Strand
Perth, Australia-based pearler Kailis has unveiled a white South Seas masterpiece: the 888 Super Strand. (Its estimated value is $888,000 Australian, hence the name.) Made up of 58 perfectly matched large round pearls (16.5 mm–20.16 mm), the strand is the culmination of five years of picks from 25 harvests that totaled $100 million Australian ($89.2 million U.S.).
Each pearl was hand-picked by Kailis’ master jeweler and design director Simon Henderson, who fashioned them into a necklace featuring two 18k white gold invisible bayonet clasps that allow the pearls to be worn in different lengths, including opera and collar (26–36 inches and 12–13 inches, respectively), two bracelets, and a choker (14–16 inches). —Jennifer Heebner