When she was in Manila for a concert in 2013, Rihanna took a side trip to the Greenhills Shopping Center (GSC) to buy South Sea pearl earrings and a necklace.
Vogue wrote about the pearl finds at Greenhills. People abroad are known to fly to Manila just for these gems. They are world-famous yet affordable.
The fun is in the search. Pearls are jewels from the sea, and shoppers rightly treat their GSC forays as treasure hunts.
The aisles displaying curtains and cupboards of matinee-length ropes of pearls could be daunting at first. GSC’s Lifestyle Center has more than 300 stores or “cabinets” spread out over more than 1,200 square meters that offer pearl rings, earrings, bracelets and chokers, also parures or matching sets in different colors and various price points.
Architect Renee Bacani, vice president and general manager of Ortigas and Company’s shopping centers division, advises pearl hunters to scout the grounds first and compare prices before zeroing on a target. And please, don’t forget to haggle.
The pearls are sourced from waters around Palawan and some parts of Mindanao.
Bestselling trinkets of colored and irregular-shapes pearls can go as low as P150. Gold-plated bracelets with a single pearl are a bargain at P500 each.
Lovers of fine jewelry will find freshwater pearls most affordable—a 16-inch string of immaculate white ones can be had for about P2,000. The more exotic tricolor rope of white, baby pink and lilac pearls can go for P15,000 to P20,000—which explains the haggling.
One store with pearl sets displayed under glass offers a P65,000 pair of white pearls in a diamond floral setting.
A pair of black pearl earrings surrounded by baguette and pave diamonds in an 18-karat gold setting goes for P170,000.
“Not only are pearls available at wide-ranging prices, the merchants and their vendors are also customer-friendly,” Bacani notes.
Indeed, there are vendors who even refer to books tucked among their stocks to give a first-time pearl buyer an orientation.
GSC has earned its laurels for the much-coveted salt water South Sea pearls. Merchants uniformly recite “deep sea” as the source of these luminescent gems that come in white, black (“Tahitian”), brown and champagne—a delicate and glowing yellow-orange tint.
There are so-called peacock pearls—black ones that flash an intriguing green tinge under a bright light.
There are also freshwater pearls that are injected with pastel hues to match the dress that awaits a special occasion, and the mysterious, irregular-shaped baroque pearls whose uniqueness stands out when placed alongside smooth, rounded pearls.
Those who purchase strings of pearls need not fret about gold or silver settings. There is at least one stall or cabinet that specializes in setting the gems in 14-karat or 18-karat gold, or even silver. Again, there is a selection of price points for every budget.
The regular clientele of pearls at GSC has varied demographics—from actress Heart Evangelista, Senator Grace Poe to Imelda Marcos, Korina Sanchez or Annabelle Rama.
Wives of visiting heads of state and contestants of the recent Miss Universe pageant also go there. Queen Sofia of Spain came in 2012.
Insiders recall David Emanuel, the Welsh designer of Princess Diana’s wedding gown, among the international fashion designers who went to check out the pearls.
It’s common to come across vendors who are not only knowledgeable about their wares, but who also would readily give away their business cards lest the customer forget about their “best price” offer.
GSC regularly reassigns the stall locations of the merchants, so customers should not panic when they return and see a store occupied by another pearl trader. This is what the the business cards are for.
Bacani said GSC made a conscious decision to create a hub for the pearl merchants as “the number of traders engaged in the business increased.”
There were initially less than 10 pearl traders who joined the GSC tiangge that is also known for home décor, apparel and accessories. Those who did well eventually invited relatives to trade in pearls.
Bacani described the pearl trade in GSC as a “lucrative” business. “Some were only peddlers before, but now they own houses. There was a complete turnaround in their lifestyle.”
The pearl merchants are getting ready for Mother’s Day on May 14. On May 13 at 4 p.m., GSC will have an informal lecture, “Pearls 101: How to Make Jewelry.” Cecilia Ramos, chair of the Meycauayan Jewelry Industry Association Inc. (MJIA), will talk on how to care for pearls and discuss the varied types of pearls as a special Mother’s Day offering.
Bacani noted that pearls offered at GSC have always been a “desired choice” for Mother’s Day “because they are classic, look elegant, affordable and [come in] different varieties.”
Loved ones would have no trouble planning a memorable Mother’s Day with pearls.
Greenhills Shopping Center is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. The Pearls 101 lecture is at the V Mall lobby on May 13, 4 p.m.