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Culturing Regions
South Sea pearls

South Sea pearls are the most valuable and luxurious of the cultivated pearls available today. Larger and more uniform than other salt-water pearls, their thicker nacre (layers of pearlescent material) assures they are also more lustrous with an unmatched satiny finish.

Pearl cultivation began in the early 1900s, using a technique pioneered by the Australian scientist William Saville-Kent. The founders of the Japanese company Mikimoto, who also received the patent on pearl cultivation, applied this technique to pearl production in Japan. After Mikimoto developed the process, the Mitsubishi Company’s president, the Baron Hisaya Iwasaki (1865-1955), used their technique on south sea oysters in 1917. His first attempts to grow South Sea pearls were conducted in the Philippines.

Similar to the Akoyas first grown by the Mikimoto Company, South Sea pearls are cultivated using a process called “nucleation.” A nucleus consisting of a round bead is carefully inserted into the mantle of the oyster. The round bead creates a matrix to which the nacre can adhere, producing a spherical pearl almost every time.

Unlike Akoyas, whose host oysters can be implanted several times at once, South Sea pearl oysters, Pinctada maxima, are only implanted with one bead at a time. They are first nucleated when they are approximately 24 months old and only 4.5-6.5 mm in size, but they can be nucleated several times throughout their life span. After the procedure, the Pinctada maxima is released into the plankton filled, warm southern seas for two years. This allows the full production of nacre around the implanted bead.

South Sea pearls are much larger than Akoyas. This is due to the size of the oyster used to grow them, the Pinctada maxima. Reaching the size of a dinner plate in adulthood, these rare oysters are elusive and must either be hunted or grown in special nurseries!

The average pearl produced by the Pinctada maxima is approximately 12mm, but 14mm examples are not uncommon! These remarkable diameters are not only due to the size of the oyster itself but also due to the fact that it can accommodate a much larger nucleation bead, creating a larger pearl.

The nacre on South Sea pearls is thicker than on an Akoya pearl, which is commonly less than a millimeter. In contrast the nacre on a South Sea pearl can be as much as 6 mm thick. This creates a translucent sheen unmatched in other pearl varieties.

Today Australia’s Broome region, the Cook Islands, the Sea of Cortez, Mexico, and Concha Nácar all have South Sea pearl farms. Australian pearls are usually white while the golden varieties are mostly from the Philippines. However South Sea pearls can occur in a variety of colors including white, silver, cream, gold, and pink!

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