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SouthSea pearls can be quickly identified because of their large size. Generally, they range from 9mm to 17mm in diameter. Only in very rare cases do they grow larger.

SouthSea pearls are generally worn in a completely n

SouthSea pearls come in a very wide variety of colors. The white group from Pinctada maxima shells produces pearls from silver-white to dark gold, including pink, cream, champagne, yellow, green and blue

SouthSea pearls command high prices throughout the world. With their relative scarcity, large sizes, extended cultivation period, thicker nacreous coating and natural colors

Pinctada Maxima-this is the name of the oyster that produces the magnificent cultured pearls we call South Sea Cultured Pearls.Fully grown this shell measures 12 inches and can grow pearls that range in size from 9 MM to 20 MM.Discovered in Australia, they were first used for decorative purposes such as buttons and inlay and they were gathered by hand from the waters.

Pinctada Maxima the largest of pearl shells
As Australian Mother of Pearl became more popular, the workers who gathered the shells had to go deeper and deeper in the water to find more shells.Eventually divers had to be brought in order to maintain the shell supply.

In the late 1800's and early 1900's Australia tried to commercially cultivate pearls but had no only limited success. After WWII, in the 1950's the cultivators and the government got together and decided to make an all out effort to become a major pearl producing country and they succeeded. The secret to Australia's success is the way the government and the pearl cultivators work together.

Most of Australia’s pearls are cultivated from Broome North
Up to 90% of the oysters used for cultivating in Australia are gathered in the wild from February to July and, due to government regulations, there is a sustained oyster population. Each year the government sets a limit on how many oysters may be gathered from the beds in the sea.This figure can vary slightly from year to year but over the long term it has remained a pretty constant figure.The cultivators are not allowed to gather oysters younger than two years old.For those of you who are wondering how you can judge the age of an oyster, it is by the size of the oyster.A two year old oyster is in the range of 6” to 7” long.The cultivators must then bring the collected oysters to designated holding areas where the oysters are cleaned and kept for a period of time until they are deemed healthy enough to undergo the nucleating process.These holding areas can be protected coves and inlets or in specially designed saltwater holding tanks on pearling vessels.One thing the holding areas have in common is that whether it is in the sea or aboard a ship, the water temperature remains constant.A large swing of temperature in either direction can be fatal to the oysters.

The nucleation process for SouthSea cultured pearls is basically the same process used in Akoya cultured pearls.In Australia as in Japan, the technicians are mostly Japanese.A shell nucleus with a piece of mantle from a donor oyster is inserted in the gonad area of the mollusk.A pearl sac forms over the nucleus and nacre starts to be secreted.After the operation the oysters are returned to holding areas and kept there for three months to regain their strength.During this time the oysters are x-rayed and turned.This is done to check if the nucleus has been rejected by the oyster and to insure that the pearl sac forming over the nucleus is as round as possible which will help the oyster produce round pearls.Once the oysters have recovered they are move to different areas of the sea.Depending on the conditions of the area, the oysters are either suspended in water from weighted nets (for calm waters) or suspended in nets attached to posts that are secured to the ocean floor (for rough waters).The oysters remain here for approximately two years during which time they are periodically cleaned and x-rayed.After two years it is time to remove the pearl from the oyster.

In Akoya pearls, after the pearl is removed from the oyster, the oyster is disposed of.In the case of a SouthSea pearl, if the oyster has produced a round to fairly round pearl, another nucleus approximately the same size as the pearl that was removed will be inserted into the oyster.Since there is an existing pearl sac no mantle piece has to be inserted.In another two years the oyster will have produced another pearl which will be larger than the first one.This process can be repeated one more time.For oysters that produce poor quality pearls, the mollusks are used to produce mabe pearls.After the harvest the pearls are collected and unlike their Japanese cousins, there is no treatment.The pearls are either sold at auction or sold directly to wholesalers. Sixty percent of the SouthSea pearls produced are from Australia and as mentioned before, it is the cooperation between the farmers and the government that has led to this success.

Other countries that produce SouthSea pearls are Indonesia, Philippians, Thailand and Myanmar.The pearls produced in the Philippians are the most like those produced in Australia.The main difference between the two is that 90% of the oysters used in Australia are wild while almost 75% of the oysters used in the Philippians are grown in hatcheries.There has been no cooperation between the government and the cultivators as has happened in Australia and the supply of wild oysters was depleted with no plans for replenishment.In order for the oysters grown in hatcheries to maintain their natural characteristics periodically wild oysters are put in with the cultivated oysters.The nucleation procedure used in the Philippians are the same as the one used in Australia and the oyster can be implanted with a nucleus a second time.The care after the operation is not very sophisticated in the Philippians and there is a high oyster mortality rate.There is also a problem with theft and many of the pearl farms have armed guards.

Indonesia also grows SouthSea pearls but with a different twist.The Pinctada Maxima oysters used in Indonesia are golden lipped as opposed to the silver lipped shells used in the Philippians and Australia.This golden lipped oyster produces pearls that are creamy to yellow to golden in color.Most of the fine quality golden SouthSea pearls you see are produced in Indonesia.Over the years Indonesia has had problems with Mother Nature that have limited the amount of pearls produced.There are earthquakes, tidal waves, constantly changing water temperatures and disease which has infected and killed oysters.The oysters used in Indonesia are almost entirely grown in hatcheries.Here as in the Philippians the care of the oysters after nucleation is not that good and there is also a high oyster mortality rate.

Myanmar (formally Burma) used to produce the finest SouthSea pearls in the world.They were similar in color and luster to the finest Japanese Akoya pearls, only much bigger.In the late 1960’s the Burmese government nationalized the pearling industry and threw out the Japanese who were responsible for growing the pearls.Once the Japanese left, the production and quality of the pearls produced diminished and it has never been the same.

Thailand has only recently entered the SouthSea pearl industry and does not have much effect on the market.This could change over the years if Thailand follows the Australian example.




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