Edison Pearls & Automated Pearl Sorters

Edison Pearls & Automated Pearl Sorters

While he was happy with the reception Grace’s half-inch white pearls were receiving, Mr. Zhan seemed more proud of an innovation he called Edison pearls — orbs that come in vivid purple, pink and bronze, bright hues seldom seen before except in dyed pearls, and in sizes of up to three-quarters of an inch.

Although he and Grace closely guard their techniques, Mr. Zhan said they saw the Edison as emblematic of the growing scientific and technological sophistication of Chinese pearl making. He named them for Thomas Edison, even if it seemed a back-handed homage.

“Edison, for all his intelligence,” Mr. Zhan said, “could not invent pearls or diamonds.”

Mr. Qiu showed off experimental armoire-sized sorting machines that he had designed. Each machine drops a pearl every few seconds and photographs it from several different directions as it falls. The machine instantly evaluates the photos, then catches the pearl and assigns it a trough to roll into a bin of similar pearls.

Each of the machines can run 24 hours a day, Mr. Qiu said, and will replace 15 workers.

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