One of the most interesting and somewhat arcane (to me, at least) aspects of the pearl world is the pearl auctions that are held after pearl harvests. Invitation only events, buyers are cloistered behind closed doors, examining pearls by lots and then placing bids on them-at least that is how I imagine the pearl auctions playing out. To my great good fortune, I connected with Sylvain Chan at CMW Pearls (Chan Ming Wing Pearl International Ltd.), a Tahitian pearl wholesale company, just before their latest pearl auction in Hong Kong. To cut a long story short, I was able to ask Sylvain all the questions about pearl auctions that have been percolating in my head for the longest time.
CMW Pearls is recognised as a leader in the Asian Tahitian Pearls’ wholesale market and has been conducting its pearl auctions in Hong Kong since 1999. Over the past 20 years, CMW Pearls has earned a well-deserved reputation of providing high quality pearls to their wholesale clients, many of whom are well-known high jewellery brands. It operates in partnership with G.I.E. POE RAVA NUI, which is a non-profit cooperation of 450 family micro-enterprises, and which accounts for approximately 15% of the total production of Tahitian Pearls.
In my interview with Sylvain, I asked him about how pearl auctions are held, what different Tahitian pearl lots look like and what happens during a pearl auction.
How long have you been holding Tahitian Pearl Auctions? Have they always held been in Hong Kong?
The first GIE POERAVA NUI Auction started in Tahiti in 1996, but then we moved our auction to Hong Kong in 2000. So it’s been 25 years since we organized our first Tahitian Pearl auction.
How many auctions do you have in a year? Are they all Tahitian Pearl Auctions? Are the auctions always held in Hong Kong?
Auctions are held 3-4 times a year and yes, all our Auctions are for Tahitian pearls. Our Auctions now are only held in Hong Kong.
Do you purchase pearls directly from the pearl farms in French Polynesia for the auction?
We farm our own pearl farm and also work together with other Tahitian farmers for the Auction.
How many buyers do you generally expect for an auction? Do you have a deadline after which buyers cannot register for the auction?
Usually we have around 50 Registered Buyers. No, we do not have a deadline as it is based on Trusted buyers only.
What does a typical Tahitian pearl lot look like? Are the lots made by weight or grade of the pearl or some other measure?
Tahitian pearls are known as Black pearls because they are the only pearls that are naturally black. The lots are made using 4 major classification: Shape, Quality, color and Size.
What happens during the auction? How do buyers bid for the lots? How do they find out if they have won the bid?
First, we inform buyers of the date of the auction, send them a listing of all the lots of our auction (Number of the lot, Shape of Pearls, Quality, Color and Size). Then the buyers have a week to review all the lots and submit their bidding. We provide buyers with some bidding papers where they can write their price for the lot, and before the auction ends all buyers will submit their bidding paper to us. We then review the highest bids for each lot, and after we review all the bidding, we inform the buyers, either by phone call or emails of how many lots they have won (and the total amount they need to pay).
How soon can buyers get access to the lots that they have won?
Once we received the payment, we are able to give access to the lots to their respective buyers. Some either come to take the lots directly at our office and others, who may not be in Hong Kong, we usually ship their lots to them following their instructions.
How can a person or a business apply to become a registered buyer at your auction?
If they are looking to buy more than 1000 Pearls, they can contact us by mail at email@example.com. Normally, we send interested buyers the terms and agreement for becoming a registered buyer at our pearl auction, and if they agree, then they are entered into our list of buyers.
Would it be possible for pearl lovers to purchase your Tahitian pearls at retail and not through an auction? If so, where and how can they buy your Tahitian pearls?
Yes, it is now possible to buy Tahitian pearls from us directly at www.cmwpearls.com which we launched in March 2020. Before we were only focusing on business to business (other businesses and retailers), but now with our recent website even, casual consumers can buy Tahitian Pearls at their raw forms (undrilled) from us.
Thank you so much Sylvain for taking time out of your busy day and answering all my questions. Cultured Tahitian pearls are one of the most exquisite gems in the world and your work helps us enjoy their beauty.
All images used in this post are the property of CMW Pearls. Any person or organization not affiliated with CMW Pearls may not use, copy, alter or modify any of the images used in this post, without the advance written permission of CMW Pearls.