Around the World in 21 Days: Behind The Scenes of Our Latest Pearl Quest

“Exciting, interesting, grueling, inspiring, exhausting and … I loved every minute of it!” Christina Assael describes her recent pearl buying trip as one for the record books. Flying time from longest 21 hours NY – LA – Fiji to the shortest Hong Kong – Osaka 5 hours,  with “my ears literally hurting when I got off the last flight from Tokyo to New York – crazy” and visiting four countries, pearl farmers, suppliers and friends, Mrs. Assael found a wealth of magnificence on this particular treasure hunt!

Top – Christina Assael with Justin Hunter (right) of J Hunter Fiji Pearls, Bottom – Savusavu Bay left, Fiji multi-color pearls right

Fiji – A Dream of Colors

Starting out in Fiji, Mrs. Assael enjoyed the exquisite Savusavu Bay, a beautiful body of water created by a volcanic crater. “The water is crystal clear, and the pearl farm nets are bobbing nicely in the water,” she explains. The region is not yet commercialized. The local people are lovely and happy to see visitors from other parts of the world. “It’s like Hawaii 75 years ago.” The nature of Fiji is wild and unspoiled. The volcanic Islands are made of high peaks and low valleys creating breathtaking views from almost anywhere you look. “I stayed at the beautiful Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort on the island of Savusavu. Perfect place to get rid of massive jet-lag and relax!”

Local pearl farmer Justin Hunter of Fiji Pearls is Assael’s supplier in Fiji. Justin, his wife Leanne and assistant Oudette took Mrs. Assael out on the crystal clear clean water, to see the pearl nets, and pointed out giant clams on the bottom of the bay. Hunter has created an eco-friendly, sustainable, co-op among the local villages at the edge of the magnificent Savusavu Bay, allowing each to tend to a few nets from his pearl farms.  As those nets produce pearls, they generate income for the locals. It is Hunter’s way of giving back to the community. The nets hang down in the water from buoys, “like an oyster apartment building going down,” explains Christina.  Each net is divided into pockets and each pocket contains an oyster that is growing a pearl.  A farm is like a natural reef where barnacles and marine parasites grow. In turn, that attracts a myriad of fish that feed off them. A natural symbiosis and a perfect, sustainable way to produce beautiful pearls.

Fiji Pearls by J Hunter for Assael multi-color pearl strand
Top – Fiji Pearls by J Hunter for Assael multi-color pearl strand

And the pearls in Fiji did not disappoint.  “Fijian pearls are a sub specie of the Pinctada Margaritifera called Typica. Clean, vibrant colors that you don’t find anywhere else, and their luster is amazing.”  She found every shape desirable – round pearls and baroques, perfect for making necklaces, as well as off round, keshi, button shapes – all perfect for earrings, rings and necklaces. These wonderful Fiji pearls include almost any hue you can imagine, from blue, pink, pistachio, chocolate brown and green to shades reminiscent of precious metals – gold, silver, copper – “a euphoria of colors,” she exclaims. “The luster of the Fiji pearls is wonderful. With the colors being as vibrant as they are, the high luster makes them shimmer and shine and … well, everything you want a pearl to do!”

After Five Days of Fijian Bliss, Off to Australia

Assael South Sea Baroque Pearl Strand, aerial views of Australia and Sydney Opera House
Top – Assael South Sea Baroque Pearl Strand, aerial views of Australia and Sydney Opera House

The Australian South Sea pearl oyster (Pinctada Maxima) is the largest of all pearl oysters. It produces the magnificent white South Sea pearl, the largest and most valuable of all nacreous pearls. Any pearl buying pursuit is incomplete without a stop in Australia. “I love Australia,” Christina remarks. “This time the visit – only two nights – was far too short.” But in the two days she was there, she was a treasure magnet. She found the “most amazing gem pearls” – very large and impressive baroques and South Sea pearls of fantastic quality. She had time to visit family and friends, as well as buying a fresh new batch of gem inventory. “Makes me giddy,” she gushes. The Assael team is now hard at work crafting incredible jewels with this fresh, new, exciting inventory. Stay tuned for many new pieces coming soon…

Hong Kong, Where The World is Your Oyster

Typhoon Mangkhut outside the hotel window and on the streets of Hong, Bottom - Australian South Sea pearls, aerial view of Hong Kong
Top – Typhoon Mangkhut outside the hotel window and on the streets of Hong, Bottom – Australian South Sea pearls, aerial view of Hong Kong

Some people compare Hong Kong to New York, and they are both incredibly dynamic. But Hong Kong is like a whirlwind. “You can feel the wealth everywhere there. It is breathtaking. I love and adore Hong Kong for a visit, but New York has been home for many years.” The annual Hong Kong Jewellery & Gem Fair is vast, an enormous gathering of gem, pearl and jewelry designers/suppliers. It is far too large to visit in its entirety. Mrs. Assael visited the areas where her interests lie and visited new and old suppliers of precious stones and other materials. The Asia World Expo, another concurrent show, is the place to source any and all materials you might ever need for making fine jewelry. “The expo is the most encompassing show you can imagine.” When walking the halls of such shows and meeting with international jewelry dealers, it is easy to identify trends. According to Mrs. Assael, “prices are up in Tahitians and Akoya pearls, given the recent rise in demand and popularity of pearls in the fashion world.”

Japan – Kobe is Not Just About Beef

Japanese Koi fish, Assael Sunset 7 Row Pearl Necklace, Japanese Maple
Japanese Koi fish, Assael Sunset 7 Row Pearl Necklace, Japanese Maple

Last stop on this stimulating expedition was Japan. Kobe is known for Akoya pearls of exceptional quality, and if you know where to visit, you find other uncommon and difficult to source pearls. True to her company’s mission, Mrs. Assael seeks out only the most magnificent pearls. “I found some magnificent-by-definition Akoya pearls and some remarkable other types, as well. My contacts in Japan are amazing. It’s like having my own private magician who can pull any pearl out of a hat for me. Connections like that are as valuable as pure gold.”

Check back in a few weeks to see new designs blossoming with all of these exquisite new pearls.