The best place to buy pearls in Beijing is the pearl market at Hong Qiao, located right outside the East gate of the Temple of Heaven. Hong Qiao is a multi-story building that sells everything, from Chinese arts and craft, ladies’ handbags, clothes and shoes, to most importantly, pearls. The entire third and fourth floor of Hong Qiao are devoted to pearls—freshwater, seawater, Tahitian, South Sea pearls—essentially every type of pearl grown under the sun, and then some. As you step onto the third floor, a cloud of whiteness immediately surrounds you. At first, all vendors appear identical, as do the pearls. But as you slowly wander down the stalls, you’ll soon settle down at a table, drawn in by the lustre or style of a particular necklace.
There are a few key things to keep in mind when buying pearls. First of all, lustre, lustre, lustre! No matter what kind of pearl, freshwater or seawater, lustre is the most important judging factor when buying good pearls. Lustre refers to the shine of the pearl, which also implies the thickness of the nacre underneath (pearl layer). The more lustrous the pearl, the better quality it is. When buying seawater pearls, lustre is extremely important because it indicates the thickness of the nacre. Since seawater pearls are grown with a big nucleus inside, there tend to be a lot of inferior quality seawater pearls with thin nacre on the market. After normal wear of a year or so, the poor quality seawater pearls will begin to lose their skin, which renders the pearls worthless. However, a high lustre strand of seawater pearls would have thick nacre to ensure years of long wear.
Freshwater pearls usually have thick nacre because they do not have large nucleuses. Therefore, pay special attention to the lustre of the pearl when selecting.
Other qualities to look for in a pearl are surface blemishes, size, and colour. If you’re looking for a decent quality strand to wear for everyday occasions, small blemishes are forgivable as they are not noticeable from a distance. But if you are looking for the perfect bridal pearls, then you should pay special attention to each pearl to make sure the strand does not contain too many blemishes. Lastly, the thing to keep in mind at Hong Qiao is that you must always bargain. Typically, the vendors towards the back of the hall are cheaper than the ones around the escalator. You should always start out by asking for prices at a few tables before buying. Most of the vendors at Hong Qiao offer similar styles and quality of pearls, although some larger tables have more variety.
The pearl buying experience in Beijing can be a pleasurable and fun event. You don’t have to be a pearl connoisseur to enjoy the pearl market. They also have jade, agate, turquoise, and crystals – jewellery for any occasion. With a bit of creativity, spectacular pieces can be created. The prices at Hong Qiao (after negotiations of course) are extremely reasonable. Through careful selection, you can find very high quality pearls at a bargain. So take advantage of this wonderful market in Beijing. Remember, the world is your oyster…