For the Pro Beader: Tips on Working with Keshi Pearls

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The rare Keshi pearl or the poppy seed pearl (Keshi is Japanese for pearl) is a beautiful Japanese pearl found in the Akoya oyster. It has a much flatter appearance than traditional pearls and can be found in a variety of colors, which is a result of the culturing process in which the oyster rejects the pearl and spits out the nucleus before the pearl is fully formed. This process also makes the pearl lustrous and shimmery. They are composed entirely of nacre and have no nucleus, which gives them their unique luster.

There is a variety called “reborn” where a tiny Keshi pearl is used as a nucleus to encourage the growth of a larger pearl. Many people consider these reborn pearls lower quality.


Seven Years in the Making

These pearls are rare because they take roughly seven years to form, meaning that strands in the same color may take over a decade to create. They are becoming more expensive because pearl farms have started x-raying oysters to see if the nucleus has been expelled. Keshi pearls are popular in fashion, and they come in many different shapes, sizes and colors. The irregular shape of the pearl can be both a challenge and a stimulus for jewelry designs, but this encourages uniqueness and creativity. Their blue-green tones make them perfect for winter, and their shell-like shape works well for summer beach jewelry. The majority are curved, but they can come as rock-shaped baroques with the typical size ranging between 4mm and 15mm.

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How to Work with Keshi Pearls

Keshi pearls are easier to work with if strung from end-to-end rather than trying to center them. The pearls usually have a green or brown tint to them, which works well with copper wire. Wire with tornado crimps if you find your pearls are having difficulty with the varied-sized holes, but be careful as the pearls will settle over time and can leave wire exposed at the top. This can be combatted by using a crimp bead to cover the exposed wire. Placing one on either side of the clasp can camouflage around 4mm of exposed wire.

Fit the pearls by stringing from the center out. String into the spool; then, when you reach a design and length you like, cut the wire for the other side and work from the center out on the second side. Because of their flat shape, you can fit 86 to 106 beads per eight inches of strand. Pearls, unless specifically noted, have small drill holes so standard size head pins are usually too thick. Try using thin pins or 24-gauge wire. The beading hole sizes for pearls are generally much smaller than for semi-precious beads or gemstones and the most popular stringing method is silk thread. If you are using silk string, it should be clean and knots should be tight with no slack between pearls. Periodically, restringing the pearl strands can prolong their life.

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How to Design with Keshi Pearls

Australia’s Autore, one of the biggest producers of South Sea pearls, likes to combine Keshi with rose-cut diamonds for an elegant combination. Margot McKinney uses Keshi pearls as petals because of their flat, yet rounded, shape while Hallelh likes to combine them with gold and sapphires. Yvel jewelry has found a way to make the rare pearl informal by purposely choosing irregular-shaped pearls and threading them through long gold chains alongside brushed gold beads. Mexican designer Daniela Villegas uses them in her macabre skull-shaped designs as their grey hue can be eerie and more gothic than a traditional pearl. Due to the delicate and rare nature of these pearls, they are often suited for earrings because they experience less wear and tear.


How to Care for Keshi Pearls

Keshi pearls are organic so they can easily be damaged by environmental conditions such as chemicals and cleaning agents. Store the pearls away from heat sources and direct sunlight and avoid storing them in enclosed spaces as they need the air’s moisture so they can maintain a healthy luster. Wash them gently in warm soapy water using mild soap and a soft cloth–avoid detergent. Acid will destroy the pearls; even perspiration can cause them to deteriorate over time so avoid using acid-based products or wearing pearls in a swimming pool. Never clean them with a brush because this can scratch their surface. Lay pearls on a clean towel to dry after cleaning. Be mindful when using metal clasps as they can scratch the nacre of the pearl when stored or being worked with.

Be aware of cheap imitations. Many fakes are made from plastic or coated on lacquer. Look for reputable sellers and read the reviews before you purchase. Because of the biological process, no Keshi pearls are identical. Every single pearl will have its own unique coloring, shape and design, which is why they are better suited to eclectic and unique pieces.