13 April 2018
Myanmar is making its presence felt in the global pearl market with its South Sea pearls gaining popularity in recent years. Well-established pearl farms and satisfactory pearl auction results in Hong Kong further boost demand for South Sea pearls from Myanmar, allowing pearl dealers from the country to expand overseas.
Myanmar’s pearl industry has had a rocky journey with stops and starts along the way but the country’s lustrous gems are finally enjoying their moment in the limelight. Myanmar’s pearl farming industry started in the 1950s when the government’s Pearl and Marine Breeding Department collaborated with Japanese enterprises. It was however only in 1997, when state-owned Myanmar Pearl Enterprises (MPE) partnered with Japan’s Tasaki Shinju Co Ltd, which shared its technological expertise with the nascent sector, that efforts finally paid off.
There are currently 10 pearl farms in Myanmar, including MPE. The latter held its first Myanmar pearl auction in Hong Kong with Belpearl in 2013. As Myanmar pearls are naturally of good quality even without polishing and processing, they quickly caught the attention of pearl dealers and buyers, said Dr. Kawk Mie Chit, owner of Snow Pearl Jewellery. Today, pearl dealers from Myanmar exhibit at Hong Kong’s jewellery trade shows where they transact business with international clients, particularly from China.
Of Myanmar’s production, its golden South Sea pearls are the most sought after. “Pearls from the Philippines and Indonesia have a deeper golden sheen but our pearls are naturally shiny and are known for their thick nacre, giving them smooth and delicate surfaces,” Dr. Kawk noted.
Established nearly 10 years ago, Snow Pearl Jewellery started out as a retailer. The company first visited Hong Kong fairs as a buyer in 2012 and has taken part in the Belpearl auction with MPE since 2013. According to Dr. Kawk, her company applied to run a pearl farm in 2015 but encountered complicated regulations and difficulties finding a suitable location. “A number of islands in Myanmar are suitable for pearl farming, but not all meet government requirements,” she revealed. “Moreover, many are designated for tourism and have been targeted by mega corporations for construction of hotels and resorts.”
Snow Pearl Jewellery sells loose pearls mainly at trade shows and offers finished pearl jewellery pieces at its Yangon store, which caters to local consumers and tourists. The company also provides wholesale jewellery to stores in other Myanmar cities. “Our jewellery pieces are produced in Shenzhen and Yuili, China. We provide a wide variety of designs, from Burmese-themed elements to trendy styles favoured by Chinese consumers. Prices range from US$50 to US$15,000,” said Dr. Kawk.
Snow Pearl Jewellery first joined the Hong Kong International Diamond, Gem & Pearl Show last year to explore business opportunities in other Asian countries and strengthen its relationships with Hong Kong and Chinese buyers. Its clients come mainly from Myanmar, Hong Kong and China.
Looking forward, Dr. Kawk said prices of golden South Sea pearls fell at recent auctions, while white South Sea pearls and Tahitian pearls, which are experiencing supply shortages, rose in value. “Pearl dealers from Australia and Indonesia are apparently planning to stabilise market prices and maintain quality by reducing production. Myanmar will focus on quality enhancement as it continues to develop its pearl farming industry,” she remarked.