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Excited about China pearls

A CONNECTION with one of China’s oldest pearl farming family’s has led to a booming pearl import business for Mosman Park-based Andrea Pearson.

The business sells low-cost pearl jewellery throughout Australia, with 20 agents in WA alone. And while the sales environment often resembles that made famous by the Tupperware range of products, Andrea’s jewellery also appears in smart boutiques.

The freshwater pearls come in many shapes and colours, part of a booming industry which has made China the biggest pearl producer in the world.

All over the country, ponds once used for raising fish have been converted to pearl farms. Despite the loss of food production this involves, the pearl farms give a boost to impoverished rural areas.

Mrs Pearson bought pearls from a long established family of pearl farmers while with her husband in Beijing, an official in the Australian embassy.

She resisted suggestions to begin trading in pearls while living there to avoid any conflict of interest while her husband was in a diplomatic post.

But when they returned to Perth four years ago, Mrs Pearson began importing strings of pearls for local jewellers, then moved on to having jewellery — made to her designs — fabricated in China.

The low cost and original designs, enhancing the many shapes that occur in freshwater pearls, were expected to appeal to younger women, say, between 20 and 35, but Mrs Pearson has found that many older women also have been enthusiastic buyers.

The quality of the pearls has improved significantly in recent years and is now of a high standard.

Mrs Pearson confirms the importance of personal relationships in Asian business. She now regards her suppliers in a province near Beijing as close friends, and is warmly welcomed on her biannual visits to China.

Freshwater pearl farming can be highly productive, since each shell can produce 30 pearls, in perhaps six different shapes (saltwater cultured pearls, or South Sea pearls as they are now known in Australia, are grown one to a shell).

Mrs Pearson’s turnover has quadrupled since the first year of trading, and has grown spectacularly since the appointment of her 20 enthusiastic selling agents throughout the Perth suburbs.

She sells her jewellery in Melbourne and Brisbane, and has a modest presence in Sydney.

Her business is the biggest of its kind in Western Australia, though there are competitors.

“I now have a medium sized business rather than small one, but I have to make some major decisions on whether I want to expand further,” Mrs Pearson said.

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