Pearls are one of the best souvenirs to bring back from China. A large industry near Shanghai, pearls are cultivated and curated throughout the region and visitors to Shanghai's jewelry markets can find wholesale prices on beautiful strands.
Shopping Experience in Pearl's Circles at the First Asia Jewelry Plaza
Pearl's Circles is on the top floor of the First Asia Jewelry Plaza near Shanghai's Yuyuan or Yu Garden Bazaar area.
The whole building is full of different types of jewelry. On the basement level is a floor of jade. The ground floor has gold and diamonds as does the second floor. But it is the third floor you want. As you leave the escalator on the third floor, you'll be overwhelmed by the sheer number of pearls and stones in every design you can imagine. The vendors will call out to you and it'll be hard to get comfortable, so walk around, then saddle up to a counter and start looking. Get your bargaining gloves on and buy ready-to-wear, or design your own jewelry and have it made up in a few minutes.
First Asia Jewelry Plaza, 3rd floor, 288 Fuyou Lu, Shanghai, China
Hours of Operation
Daily: 10 am to 6 pm. (The market is open every day, Monday to Sunday, but you might find many of the vendors not there if you visit over the Chinese New Year holiday period.)
Avoiding Fakes: the Tooth Test
Despite what you may have heard or what you may suspect, the sellers here are not out to sell you fake pearls and tell you that they're real. In fact, they make a big show of demonstrating that their pearls are real.
Telling the difference between imitation pearls and the real ones is quite simple: the tooth test. When you rub a real pearl across your teeth, the pearl will feel slightly gritty. Do the same with a fake and it's likely to feel smooth and slippery.
If you're still having trouble deciding whether it's real, ask the vendor to scrape the pearl with a knife. Powder will result in scraping a real pearl, a white plastic bead will be revealed from a fake pearl.
Some say offer 10% of what the vendor is asking, some say 25% and work up from there. In my experience, the best thing to do is make some snap decisions and then start the negotiations at the low end.
- Decide if you really want it. It's hard to extract a real price so you'll have to bargain to get close.
- Decide how much you're willing to pay. How much is it worth to you?
- Walk away. Sometimes it works...but be prepared for a tinge of disappointment when it doesn't.
What to Buy
Most of the pearls you'll find in China are freshwater pearls, cultivated in mollusks in lakes and rivers. Their shape can be elongated and their appearance milky translucent. Freshwater pearls are certainly the real value when buying pearls in China, but sea water and South Sea pearls are also good values. In addition to pearls, there's seemingly no end to the semi-precious stones you can add to designs, such as jade and turquoise, as well as inexpensive crystal and plastic beads.
Other Pearl Wholesalers in Shanghai
There are two other wholesale pearl markets in Shanghai that are worth a stop if you're a real pearl-a-holic. The information above applies to these markets as well.
2nd and 3rd floors, 558 Nanjing Dong Lu, Shanghai, China
Open 10 am - 10 pm daily
Hong Qiao New World Pearl Market
Open 10 am - 10 pm daily