South Sea pearls are among the largest commercially harvested cultured pearls in the world. They are cultured throughout the South Pacific in coastlines along Australia, Myanmar, Indonesia, the Philippines, the Cook Islands and Polynesia. These waters are the native habitat of a large oyster known as the gold lipped or silver lipped oysters (Pinctada maxima) which can be nucleated with larger beads than other saltwater oysters such as the Akoya.
Currently, Indonesia is the most important producer of pearls in the 9-12mm range while Australia produces most of the larger sizes. Australia’s first pearl farm was established on the Northwest coast at Kuri Bay. The silver lip (Pinctada maxima) oyster is the main oyster used for cultivation and it can produce up to four pearls inserted at different times with a period of growth may ranging between 1 ½ to 2 years. Australia tends to produce silvery white pearls while the gold lipped oyster produces creamy, yellow, and golden pearls in the more tropical waters of Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
The average size of a South Sea pearl is 13 mm, with most harvests producing a range of sizes from 9 mm to 20 mm. The larger sizes of these pearls are related to the large size of the host organism and shell, the large beads that are viable for implantation and the warm waters in which they thrive. The warm waters speed the oyster’s metabolisms allowing them to grow at much faster rates than the Japanese Akoya pearl which live in much colder waters.
South Sea pearls are valued primarily for their size, shape, luster, color, and surface nacre. Large round pearls are always the most highly prized and small increases in diameter can increase valuations substantially. The quality and thickness of the nacre is reflected in the luster which along with the color are the most important factors affecting the beauty of the pearls. A smooth surface free of any blemishes is always desirable but uncommon in normal cultivation.
Luster is the quantity and quality of light reflected from the pearl’s surface. The most valuable pearls mirror recognizable objects and light reflections will appear crisp and sharply defined. Excellent luster displays sharp, crisply defined reflected light sources on the surface and recognizable facial features will be reflected on the pearl’s surface. A photograph of highly lustrous pearls could clearly show both the camera and the photographer in the image.
Pearls of very good luster will reflect sharply defined light sources off the surface, but some slight blurring or softening of the edges will be apparent. The face of the viewer may still be discernible on the surface but not all the details. Good or Fair luster exhibits distinctly softer edges from the reflected light sources. Physical objects will appear heavily blurred on the pearl’s surfaces.
The body color of South Sea pearls is judged the same way as other pearls. Usually white and pink pearls command higher prices than yellowish and cream colored pearls. However, when the yellowish hues become dark enough to be considered golden, their valuations can equal or even surpass similarly sized pinkish white pearls. The presence of overtones and iridescence is always desirable in pearls from any source.
Some South Sea pearls are dyed or irradiated so it is important to know that the colors are natural. It is always advisable to have expensive pearls checked by a gem lab.
Some common shapes for South Sea pearls include rounds, semi rounds, ovals, drops, pears, buttons, acorns, triangles, circles or circled, and baroques. Rounds are as always considered to be the most valuable in terms of shape.
The world’s largest round South Sea pearl is 24mm in diameter. Another famous pearl, the “Nugget of Australia” is 25mm in length and weighs 90.60cts. It is there large size that makes South Sea pearls so special and desirable.
Care and Cleaning
Chemicals Reaction: Attacked by many chemicals and all acids, hair spray, perfume, cosmetics, and even acid perspiration can damage nacre.
Ultrasonic Cleaning: Never
Steam cleaning: Never
Warm, Soapy Water: Safe for occasional, thorough cleaning ( if strung, be sure the string is completely dry before wearing). For continued care, wipe cultered pearls with a very soft, clean cloth after each wearing.
Pearls are said to help one see themselves and help improve self-worth. Giving a loved one a gift of pearls is one of the nicest gifts one can give. It allows the wearer to see the love of the person who gave them the pearls.