So many people have asked for the information on the pearl shop we found in Guangzhou (not far from Shamian Island), I thought I would post it Once And For All:
Proprietor Cai Qin Bing
Zhejiang Wenling Jin Bing Jewelry Arts and Crafts Factory
#GB9, LiWan Plaza, KangWangNan Road, Guangzhou
Mobile phone 13501532796
Telephone / Fax: 020-81711599
We got amazing treasures at this store in Guangzhou! It's hard to find the first time you go. You may want to have the White Swan concierge call, so they can write exact directions in Chinese for a cab driver. LiWan Plaza is a huge shopping center but this pearl place (and there are several in the vicinity) faces the street, it is not inside the mall-like area. It's about the size of a frozen yogurt place, door opens at or near the corner of the plaza. It's really not far at all from the White Swan. The place is at the corner farthest down the road from the White Swan, so if a cab driver drops you at the main entrance, keep walking til you get to the corner.
Here's the important thing to remember, etiquette-wise: this is a pearl wholesaler. There are American jewelers who get all their pearls here on annual shopping trips. The prices are already so cheap, you should not try to bargain as you would with other merchants, or you risk insulting the proprietors. And really, you don't need to bargain! Why? Example: pearl earrings, $5/pair. Large pink freshwater pearl ring in a setting of Austrian crystal: $20. Three-strand freshwater pearl arrangement in purples, teals and black with pearl-encrusted clasp: $60. Perfectly matched collarbone-length saltwater pearls with a pearl in the clasp: $100 and up. Saltwater will be more expensive than freshwater. There is a greater selection of colors in the freshwater pearls. Your necklaces and/or bracelets will likely be hand-strung, double-knotted, right in front of you and it will really not take that much time (fun to watch too!). They will bring a bundle of strands down on the counter and ask you to pick the strand you want. You can even ask for calipers to make sure that they are all the same size! We found the strand selection process to be a big part of the ritual of buying pearls here, so don't go if you're in a hurry, or you won't have as much fun.
If you bring your baby along, perhaps you will have the same experience we did: they gave our daughter crackers from a bag they were snacking on, then insisted we take the rest of the bag with us, AND they made a black-and-white pearl baby bracelet just the right size for our daughter and gave it to us, no charge. They were so sweet to MeiMei, holding her and playing with her.
On both our trips, we got Christmas presents for moms, sisters, nieces (we were trying to think of more people just to take advantage of the amazing deals!). After you tell them everything you want, but before they start making it, they will total it on a calculator and show it to you to make sure you agree to the price. Chances are, you will be used to what things cost at most souvenir shops by that point and you will just nod an immediate yes. It really was an incredible find--we lucked into it in 2002 and made a point to go back (twice!) in 2004.