Shopping for Pearls in India

by Dr. Gail Devoid.

Closeup of the knotted cord on each strand

Closeup of the knotted cord on each strand

While I was in India in December 2009 with my colleagues from the Halma plc companies, we took a break from the work we were doing in the executive development program to visit a bazaar where vendors were selling distinctive Indian goods.

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As you can imagine, I found the jewelry they had for sale very interesting, and I stopped at several booths to see the offerings.

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At one booth, I found pearls. These were on my list, and I am always sure to bring a list, because most bead shows have such an overwhelming variety of goods, that it is easy to forget your intentions.

The same held true at this bazaar. There were several wonderful things from which to choose.

Pearls from several geographical sources are drilled in India, and I wanted to do some pearl knotting. When I found five strands of beautiful peacock pearls, the bargaining began.

After my purchase, one colleague mentioned he wanted pearls for his daughter, and that he would want to give her a necklace. I promised I would send him a list of other materials he would need, as well as directions I knew were on the Internet for pearl knotting.

I sold him a strand at a price that was a 67% gross margin over the price I had just paid.

My colleagues thought this was hilarious, as you must remember we are all business professionals. To us, buying low and selling at a margin comes as easily as breathing. It seems even though we had a night off, it was business as usual.

They asked me then what I was going to do with the pearls, and I said make jewelry. Again, the laughter came. They wanted to know what the design would be. I had no clue. That is not how I design. I promised them I would send pictures of the jewelry when it was done.

Yes, I know it is almost two years hence, but sometimes the ideas do not come as quickly as the purchases. I thought I would incorporate a little pearl knotting design tips in the telling of this story, and show how that leads to the jewelry. At the same time, my colleagues can see what I did with these pearls.

First, pearl knotting is not just for pearls. The reason you knot pearls or beads is to protect them. The knotting material, which is traditionally silk, can be nylon (for strength), a Spectra-based thread (like Tough Thread), or cording.

Silk, with a thin needle, comes on cards in various colors, but also various sizes of cording. The diameter of silk threads sold on spools are from 0.20mm, which is very thin, to 0.419 mm (size FFF). If you buy silk cording on cards, the thread diameter is from 0.20mm up to over 1.0 mm (Size 16).

You can string pearls on flexible wire, but if you do, you lose the drape you will get from silk.

So knotting pearls with silk gives you a necklace that has the wonderful drape of silk. And if the necklace breaks, you will lose only one pearl at most. Knotting pearls is a way to protect your investment in these beautiful gems.

Of course, there are drawbacks: the silk needs to be treated correctly. You don’t want to get it wet, because unlike nylon, it will not last long if you do. You don’t want chemicals on it, so you spray your perfume on yourself and let it dry before you put on your pearls.

This careful treatment of the silk extends to the pearls at the same time, but even the best of care will not protect the silk from wear. Your necklaces will eventually have to be re-knotted.

Decades ago, I was in the Bahamas buying jewelry, and nearly passed up the chance to buy a necklace and earring set made from black coral. I was walking away because I thought black onyx looks the same, and I always find a necklace like that.

The vendor called out to me and told me that the coral reefs were dying, and that the purchase would an investment, as the black coral was becoming rare

The necklace was on monofiliment, had gold beads, and was beautiful, and so I took her advice and bought it. Black coral is much lighter in weight than black onyx, and so wearing it is more comfortable.

After 35 years of wear, the gold beads were misshapened enough to make the necklace unattractive. I cut it apart, and then knotted it with black silk, replacing the gold beads. I kept the original design:

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The necklace was certainly an investment when I bought it, but with the coral beads now knotted with silk, I have added to its value. This great momento from that trip now hangs with a fabulous drape.

So, what did I do with the peacock pearls I bought in India? The first necklace, I used white silk cord, size 6, with the pearls and some Swarovski Dorado gold crystals:

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The color of the thread makes a big difference. The white thread is part of the design. When I used blue thread (not cord, because that makes a difference as well), I have a traditional pearl necklace, as shown below. This one will become part of my personal collection, as I will keep it to remind me of India:

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Nothing, in my opinion, is so beautiful as a traditional pearl necklace. There are other ways to design, especially today when we have pearls in so many different shapes. This next one uses coin pearls with the same peacock pearls from India breaking up the design:

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To show what these three would look like together:

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That gives you an idea of how three necklaces made from the same pearls, with different pearls and crystals added, can give you fashion options. I would wear these three together on white. White velvet would be gorgeous, and since I have returned to sewing, I bet I could pull that ensemble together.

Finally, to show you the knotting differences, here’s a closeup of the three necklaces:

Closeup of the knotted cord on each strand

Closeup of the knotted cord on each strand

Returning to one of the points I made earlier, pearls are not the only beads knotted. Any fine stones can be knotted, and so can crystals. The necklace below is one made from rare Ethyopian opals. Taking a picture of opals is problematical. The colors just don’t show like the real thing:

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One way I can give you an idea of the colors in these opals is to take the above photo into PhotoShop, and remove the white. Then you get this:

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Looks surreal, doesn’t it? But it does show the fire in the opals.

Finally, you might wonder what type of clasps I use on pearl necklaces. You have probably seen these many times. The filigree in the clasp gives a traditional look, and the clasp is one that works even if it unlatches. Losing your pearls, black coral beads, or opals is unlikely.

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Once I finish a set of designs, I start wondering. What would the pearls look like with the gold crystals and black thread? Would it look better with blue?

The 2mm Dorado 2x Swarovski crystals used in the above necklace are not readily available at the moment. That probably has something to do with the price of gold.

Which leads me to the last bit of advice I have for jewelry designers:

Buy what you can when you can, even before you have a design in mind. There is no guarantee of future supply.

That is why I bought all the peacock pearls I found in India, even though I had no idea what I would do with them.

Need For Beads offers designer jewelry by Gail Devoid, designer jewelry kits, and designer jewelry patterns. Free tutorials on the Need For Beads website at teach how to use stitches to create designer jewelry. Beading supplies are available.

Dr. Gail Devoid
Need for Beads

Comments:

Love the Pearls!
by: Michelle Buettner

Your pearl strands/designs are gorgeous! Thanks for sharing.

I too love pearls – so much so I got my pearls diploma from GIA a few years back.

Hand knotting various pearls and stones really does show off the gems and allows them to shine – front and center.

Thanks for the great advice of “buying what you can when you can” – it’s so worth it!

India….land of enchantment
by: Maryanne Murphy

Thank you Gail…

for such a wonderful and informative article on the pearls you purchased and the knotting information.

Loved all your beautiful photographs and drooled at the photos of the pearls in the Bazaar. How wonderful to be able to go to India on business and reap the rewards in pleasure = pearls.

I agree wholeheartedly with your last suggestion…when you see something you like, make sure you purchase enough, and I’ve found that to be so true. Even here in the US when purchasing, the items and quality changes with every lot of items for sale. And the good things go fast! It’s taken me a while to figure out what they have today they won’t have tomorrow.

Thanks again for sharing your amazing trip, your beautiful jewelry and information.

pearls!
by: Pauline

I’ve only worked with tiger tail with freshwater pearls (adding swarovski crystals) but a week a go I watched a knotting workshop online and now I’m looking at your work. I think I’m falling in love with knotting! Absolutely gorgeous work and colours. I love the advice to buy it when you can. I don’t live handy to beading supplies so I tend to buy something on special when I go to the shops – actually cheaper for me to find what I want online but there’s nothing more excellent than standing in a shop full of beads! LOL

pearls of India
by: Kate

I love the photos, I loved the article and love the pearl necklaces.
Thanks for saring this, I will be saving the article to read again.

Jewelry and Travel
by: Rena

Gail, I loved hearing about your experiences at the India bazaar. I always enjoy travel stories, and this one is especially wonderful because of all the extra information about pearls and knotting that you’ve woven into the story.

Thank you so much for sharing this lovely story, fantastic photos, and your pearl expertise.

Thank you for your comments!
by: Dr. Gail Devoid

I have enjoyed your comments, and want you to know that I did go on to make a similar knotted crystal and pearl necklace with black silk.

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