South Sea Pearl History


The cultivation of South Sea pearls date back thousands of years as early as the 1500s off Australia, Indonesia, the Phillipines, Mayanmar and Thailand.
The Australian believed that the natural gem had supernatural powers, and used oyster shells and the pearls within them for decorative elements for their tribal costumes, and traded food and tools with.
It wasn’t until the 16th and 17th century, when European explorers arrived to the South Pacific, that these pearls were developed a global demand. The demand for them was so high that it droved the South Sea pearl producing oysters almost to extinction in the 18th and 19th century.
In the early part of the 20th century, the South Pacific started using pearl culturing technology from Japan. Yet, it was only in the 1950s when South Sea pearl farms began harvesting commercial valued pearls.

White and golden are the two natural colors of South Sea cultured pearls. Australia tends to culture brilliant white to silvery sheen pearls, where as Indonesia specializes in culturing golden pearls. The other colors of South Sea pearls are off-white, pink, and cream. Common South Sea pearl shapes are round, semi-round, and button. South Sea pearls are the largest cultured pearls ranging from 9 mm- 20 mm in diameter, and a nacre thickness of 2-6 millimeters.

There are two types of pearl producing mollusks, Pinctada maxima: the silver- lipped oyster and the golden- lipped oyster. This type of shell is known as the mother of pearl , and is implanted with one nucleated bead at a time. The oyster is nucleated when it is only about half developed, from 4.7 inches to 6.7 inches in size, or about 24 months old. Although the South Sea oyster will only handle one nucleus at a time, this oyster can be nucleated up to three times over the course of many years.
Nucleated South Sea pearl oysters are nurtured in isolated bays of the purest water, far distant from industrial areas. After 3 or 4 months, each oyster is x-rayed to confirm that its nucleus has not been rejected. Oysters with nuclei still inside are returned to the water to continue cultivation, a period that lasts 2 to 3 years. This process helps the pearl to develop an exceptionally thick coating of nacre, from 2 to 6 millimeters. The thickness of the nacre is perhaps the thickest of all saltwater cultured pearls. Therefore, most South Sea pearls are not treated, dyed or enhanced in any way. Only cleaning and slight polishing are needed to bring out their natural beauty and glow. South Sea cannot reside in the oyster for too long or too short amount of time. This can result in either the pearls irregular shape, or a thin nacre, contributing to its depreciation in value.

South Sea pearls are evaluated in terms of: nacre, luster, size, shape, surface and color; and are graded using the A-D grading method, or the AAA-A grading method.
Generally, South Sea Pearls are the best quality than other cultured pearls. Due to South Sea pearls’ long cultivation period lasting up to 3 years, the nacre is unusually thick, ranging from 2 – 6 mm, compared to the 0.35 – 0.7 mm of an akoya pearls. They have a unique luster that comes from the rapidly deposited nacre and warm waters of the South Seas. South Sea pearls also have a subtle array of colors; typically white, silver, and golden, that are rare in other pearl types. Furthermore, their more than average pearl size makes them among the largest and most valuable pearls in the market