Whenever that what this guide is about comes to my mind the’inbuilt music player’ in my head is turned on and one of the most renowned Reggae songs from the late 1960s begins to playwith. Do you remember these times and your first serious love affair? The song now playing in my head is”Black Pearl”. Well, this article is all about black pearls also, but black pearls of a different kind and it isn’t restricted to them’.
Burma, the country I call home since more than 25 years, has once played a notable role in the worldwide pearl industry and some of the world’s largest and most precious pearls are found in the waters off the Burmese coast. However, as 15 years Burma is back on the stage of international pearl business and increasingly successful with its unique silver and golden South Sea Cultured Pearls.
This harvest was a terrific success. The pearls belonged to the group of finest South Sea Cultured Pearls and fetched highest prices. Within a couple of years Burma had earned itself a good reputation as producer of South Sea Cultured Pearls of highest quality and remained in the world’s top group of South Sea Cultured Pearl producing countries till 1983 when reputedly in consequence of a fungal disease Burma’s pearl oyster stock was almost entirely extinguished. Burma’s Pearl Industry recovered quite slowly and for over a decade its pearl production remained negligible and the pearl quality fairly inferior.
Now, in ancient 2016, there are 1 government owned company, 4 independently owned local companies and 4 foreign companies (joint ventures) representing the Burmese pearl industry. They’re culturing pearls mainly on islands of the Mergui Archipelago and Pearl Island and are on a good way to recover Burma’s formerly excellent reputation and assist the country to play an increasingly important role as pearl manufacturer in the world South Sea Cultured Pearl market. Not necessarily in terms of quantity but definitely concerning premium quality. Burmese pearl organizations are already getting more and more attention in the worldwide pearl market.
OK, let us now focus on the central theme and star of the article: the Pearl.
At the beginning of this article I spoke of love in relationship with pearls and pearls are indeed something fantastic to express love with. However, the story of a pearl’s coming into being might not be one of love but – imagining the pearl-producing shelled mollusc can feel pain – at least at its beginning instead of a story of pain as something that does not belong there has entered into the mollusc’s living tissue. In other words, a pearl is the result of the defence against a debilitating hostile attack. It is like the thorn of a rose has lodged itself into your thumb; ouch! But that is exactly how the life of a pearl begins, with something that manages to sneak in the shell of a mollusc and to enter its soft tissue. This’something’ can be e.g. a larva of a parasite or a very small grain of sand.
Question:”What is a pearl?” A pearl is something comparatively hard and usually silvery-white that is either round or of irregular shape. Its nucleus is an’intruder’, which the pearl-producing mollusc has coated with a pearl sac about which it’s then deposited layers of microscopic small crystals of calcium carbonate known as’nacre’ in order to isolate the foreign item called’irritant’. Between the layers which make up the pearl are layers of the organic chemical conchiolin that glues them together and at exactly the same time separates them. The process of producing these nacre layers will be not ending what means that the older the pearl is, the bigger is the amount of its own layers and, then, the larger it is. This is the reply to the question.
“And that is all?” You might now ask. Well, basically, yes but there is, of course, much more to the subject’pearl’. Keep on reading and you will know. Let’s take a peek into the history of pearls and pearl business and return to the beginning.
It was probably 500 BC (possibly earlier) that people focused more on the contents compared to the wrap and began to appreciate the beauty of pearls more than the mother-of-pearl of the manufacturers’ shells. Therefore, they set the best of the pearls at the same level with’gemstones’ and attached high value to them in immaterial terms (power and beauty) and material terms (wealth).
Pearls are also called’Gems of the sea’ but unlike any other stone, a pearl is the product of a living being. In other words, pearls are the only’gems’ of organic origin, which is exactly how gemmologists classify pearls generally: as’coloured gems of organic origin’. And pearls are the sole’gems’ that require no cutting or polishing – just cleaning – before they display their full beauty.
Back then pearls just existed in the kind of natural also called wild pearls. In other words, the demand for pearls – either singly, as so-called collectors’ item or as part of jewelry – was very high and the supply very low what made a particular category of pearls a highly priced luxury article and the trade with these pearls an extremely profitable company. Fuelled by three of humanity’s strongest motives – to be wealthy, powerful and beautiful – the hunt for pearls by buyers and sellers alike had begun.
Let us have a second, closer look in their natural founders. Basically, virtually all sorts of shelled molluscs (even some species of snails!) Can no matter whether they are populating bodies of freshwater such as lakes and rivers or bodies of saltwater such as seas and oceans create pearls what is a process called’calcareous concretion’. However, the huge majority of those pearls are of no value at all except maybe in the standpoint of a collector or scientist.
The differences between useless and valuable pearls are in a combination of their size, weight, shape, lustre, colour (incl. Nacreousness and iridescence) as well as conditions of the surface. These are the criteria which decide on whether a pearl is of gem quality and can draw maximum prices. Only this category of pearls is of interest to the long string of these being involved in pearl company from pearl diver to pearl vendor on the supply side and, of course, the purchaser on the demand side.
Those pearls that make it into the top set of gem-quality pearls are created by only a few species of mussels and/or pearl oysters. Freshwater pearls are created by members of the fresh water mussel household’Unionidae’ whereas saltwater pearls are created by members of the pearl oyster family’Pteriidae’.
Until 1928 when the very first pair of cultured pearls was created and introduced into the pearl market by Mitsubishi Company/Japan there were just natural pearls on the market. This kept the number of commercially valuable pearls small and their costs extremely high. This was especially true for’perfect’ pearls that were perfectly round and fetched the highest prices.
The following example gives you an idea of the worth of pearls in’pre-cultural’ decoration times. A matched double strand of 55 plus 73 (in total 128) round natural pearls from jeweller Pierre Cartier was appreciated in 1917 at USD 1 million. Factoring into the calculation an annual average inflation rate of 3.09 percent the pearl strand’s present-day financial value would be USD 20.39 million! I am positive that after having taken a deep breath you have a very good picture of what values I am talking with respect to pearls particularly when it comes to natural pearls prior to the emergence of cultured pearls. And by-the-by, natural pearls will always be the most valuable and precious, even in the era of the cultured pearl. Why? This is so because these pearls are pure nature and complete unique especially if we add the variable antiquity.
With the commercialisation of the by the British biologist William Saville-Kent developed and the Japanese Tokichi Nishikawa patented method to produce cultured pearls the pearl industry was revolutionised and has undergone most dramatic changes. A cultured pearl industry based on the new process developed in Japan and things changed drastically.
Because the’How To’ was kept confidential and not permitted to be made available to foreigners It also gave Japan the worldwide monopoly of cultured pearls, thus, the global dominance of and control over the pearl industry, which, among others, allowed the manipulation of pearl prices by controlling the number of pearls made accessible; much like the De Beers diamond syndicate controlled the international diamond market. Prices dropped and the purchase of pearls which was affordable before the availability of cultured pearls only to a lucky few was now possible for a very large number of financially better off individuals; demand for pearls exploded and Japan’s pearl industry began to boom and made enormous profits through direct sales of large amounts of cultured pearls, licences and stocks in business enterprises with foreign companies. Now, this has changed and there are more cultured pearl producing countries; some, like China, do occasionally sell their cultured pearls (especially freshwater pearls, in a price of 10% of that of natural pearls that which allows almost everyone to purchase pearls and/or pearl jewellery. However, since the supply will never meet the demand for pearls their prices will always remain high enough to make certain that pearl business remains to be’big business’.
Various Kinds Of Pearls
Pearls are called Akoya Pearl, South Sea Pearl, Tahitian Pearl, Freshwater Pearl and Mabé Pearl or Blister Pearl (Half Pearl). In this article I will deal primarily with the first three of these for these pearls are the most precious and that is why those with the greatest commercial value.
Akoya Pearls are created by an oyster of the family Pteriidae that Japanese call Akoya oyster. The Latin name of it’s Pinctada fucata martensii. There’s absolutely no translation of the name Akoya into English and also the meaning of the term Akoya isn’t known.
An Akoya pearl was the first ever cultured pearl. Accordingly small is its pearl the size of which ranges depending on its age between two and 12mm. The average diameter of an Akoya pearl is 8 mm. Akoya pearls with a bigger diameter than 10 mm are very uncommon and sold at high prices.
Normally the oysters remain for to 18 months in the water before they are harvested. After that it is provided it has generated a good pearl used as tissue donor.
The pearl’s shape can be round, mostly around, slightly off roundoff round, semi-baroque and baroque and its color can be white, black, pink, cream, medium cream, dark cream, blue, gold or grey. The pearls come with different overtones, are largely white and their lustre is exceptionally brilliant second only to the lustre of South Sea Pearls. The Akoya Pearl is cultured mainly off the Japanese and Chinese coast.
South Sea Pearl
South Sea Pearls are created by an oyster of their family Pteriidae. It is a white-lipped, silver-lipped or gold-lipped pearl oyster. The Latin name of it’s Pinctada maxima.
Cultured South Sea Pearls are one of the rarest and therefore most valuable of cultured pearls. Having a size of up to 13 in/32.5 cm the South Sea Oyster is the world’s largest pearl-producing oysters. Accordingly large are its pearls the dimensions of which range based on age between 8 and 22+ mm, but the average diameter of South Sea Pearls is 15 mm and Cultured South Sea Pearls exceeding a diameter of over 22 mm are something similar to the jackpot at the State Lottery.
It requires at least 1.5 years from the time of seeding on until a South Sea Pearl is ready to be harvested for the first time. Usually the oysters stay for 2-3 years in the water until they are harvested to acquire larger pearls. The oyster produces 2-3 pearls in its life. After that it is too old and is provided it has produced good pearls used as tissue donor.
However, the most sought after are silver and gold. The South Sea Pearl is highly lustrous with a slight satiny sheen.
The South Sea Pearl is cultured mainly in the Indian Ocean to the Pacific.
The perfect water temperature for South Sea Pearl oysters is between 73.4o-89.6o F/23°C-32°C.
Tahitian Pearls are created by an oyster of their family Pteriidae that is known as the black-lipped pearl oyster. The Latin name of it is Pinctada margaritifera.
Tahitian Pearls commonly known as black pearls belong to the group of rare, most valuable cultured pearls and are increasingly in demand. Having a size of up to 12 in/30 cm the Black Pearl Oyster is the world’s second biggest pearl-producing oysters.
It takes at least 1.5 years from the time of seeding on until a Tahitian Pearl is ready to be harvested for the first time. Normally the oysters stay for 2 to 3 years in the water before they are harvested to acquire larger pearls. The oyster produces 2-3 pearls in its life. After that it is provided it has generated good pearls used as tissue donor.
Even though the Tahitian Pearl is known as’Black Pearl’ many of these aren’t really black. Their colours range from dark anthracite, charcoal gray, silver gray to dark blue and dark green with every color having distinctive undertones and overtones of pink, green, blue, silver and even yellow.
The Tahitian Pearl’s lustre is extremely high with brilliant and bright reflections.
It’s cultured from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific but primarily off the coasts of Tahiti and the French Polynesian Islands. However there were reports of Pinctada margaritifera in the Red Sea, off the coast of Alexandria (Egypt) and Calabria (Italy).
This, however, does not apply entirely anymore. Since the Ming Pearl, official name’Edison Pearl’, was introduced to the marketplace by the Chinese in January 2011, freshwater pearls do also have a very lovely representative in the group’Cultured Beaded Pearls’.
Non-beaded freshwater Pearls are created by 3 species of mussels of the family Unionidae. One of these is named Triangle Sail Mussel using the Latin name Hyriopsis cumingii, another one is named Biwa Pearl with the Latin title Hyriopsis schlegelii and the third one has the Latin name Christaria plicata and is named Cockscomb Pearl Mussel.
Beaded Freshwater Pearls or as they are properly called’ in-body bead-nucleated freshwater pearls’ are produced by a hybrid form of Hyriopsis cumingii and Hyriopsis cumingii.
Freshwater Pearls are increasingly in demand. Their sizes range from tiny seed pearls measuring 1 to 2 millimeters in diameter to 15 mm and larger.
It usually takes 3-5 years from the time of seeding on till a non-beaded freshwater mussel is ready to be harvested. Some stay in the water for up to 7 years to produce bigger pearls. However, this slow pearl growth is more than compensated by the fact that one mussel can produce up to 40+ pearls at precisely the same time. Usually the mussel produces 1 pair of pearls in its life. After that it’s provided it has generated good pearls used as tissue donor.
For the beaded cultured freshwater pearl, the Edison pearl, it takes 4 years to be formed to a pearl with a diameter of 15+mm at the Hyriopsis cumingii/Hyriopsis cumingii hybrid. The mussel can only create one pearl at a time.
The pearl’s shape can be round, slightly off round or near round, off round, semi-round, button, coin, pear or fall, oval, semi-baroque, baroque and ringed and any sort of irregular shape such as’rice krispies’.
Their colours range from white to natural pastel colours like champagne, lavender, pink, blue and every shade in between.
The Freshwater Pearl’s lustre is high with bright reflections.
The world’s biggest producer of freshwater pearls is China.
The ideal water temperature for freshwater pearl mussels is depending on spices between 68 o F- 82.4 o F/20°C-28°C.
Other Kinds of Pearls
Keishi Pearls can be found in both saltwater and freshwater shelled molluscs. They are the result of oysters’/mussels’ ejecting of irritants prior to the moment the pearl has fully coated the augmentation with nacre. Keishi pearls are as the name implies (Keishi means’small’ or’tiny’ in Japanese) usually small, made of pure nacre and irregular in shape. A Keishi pearl’s colour ranges from silvery pure white to silvery grey and each variation between.
Unlike other pearls that grow within the living tissue of the oyster, the pearl of the Mabé oyster is in the practice of attaching itself to the inside of the oyster shell and grow there as’half pearl’ what makes them look like a blister what is the other name used for this sort of pearl’Blister Pearl’. When the pearl is chosen it is skilfully cut out of the shell and after removing the implant the hollow part is full of a special wax prior to the backside’s being artfully finished off with mother-of-pearl. As for colors these cover predominantly a broad range of white and attractive silvery pastel tones.
The question now is what exactly these cultured pearls that had this earth shattering effect on the worldwide pearl industry are, in the first place?
It’s of the utmost importance to know and understand a cultured pearl is not an artificial pearl or imitation pearl. To the contrary, a cultured pearl is a natural pearl in so far as the pearl is the result of the exact same natural process that takes place in wilderness; a foreign object is entering the oyster or mussel shell, is lodging itself in the oyster’s/mussel’s living tissue, the shelled mollusc’s defence mechanism is triggered and the intruder is enclosed in layers of calcium carbonate and conchiolin.
What we are talking about when comparing natural to cultured pearls are actually two things. First, the event that triggers the pearl’s coming into existence and, second, the final result of this event. The main point is that the differences between a natural and a cultured pearl is a very small one and confined to the function that initiates the growth of a pearl.
For the purpose of this piece I like to speak about that to what the shelled mollusc responds with the introduction of a pearl in breeding terms and state that it is’the means of fertilisation’ that makes the difference between’natural’ and’cultured’. In the wilderness the entering of this irritant happens accidentally and without human beings being involved whereas in a pearl farm this occurs with human beings being involved by means of a surgical procedure known as’grafting’. Phrased in reproduction terms we could call it’artificial fertilisation’. I will briefly explain the process of grafting later. Everything that follows the inserting of the irritant i.e. the process of the development of the pearl inside the oyster is purely natural.
Having the possibility to create cultured pearls is something both pearl oyster and of course its owner in the first place do hugely benefit from. The oysters’ benefits are that they’re for whatever it is worth growing up and living in a controlled environment where they are to a large extent protected from sickness and natural enemies and the oysters proprietor benefits are that he can e.g. determine how many and what sort of pearls he would like to produce, when the host oysters have started to create the pears, what shape the pearls will have, what their colour and lustre will be and what their size will be, i.e. when they will be harvested.
The huge advantages to producing cultured pearls compared to diving for wild oyster pearls in areas with oyster beds in the hope to discover a commercially valuable natural pearl should by now have become very evident. This implies that if you are not very, very lucky, to borough in the golfer jargon, the’Jackpot-In-One’ type, you’ll probably have to locate thousands of natural pearls oyster, open and in doing so kill them before you will find one commercially valuable pearl of the species you’re after. This is a really risky, troublesome, time consuming, costly and in the long term environmentally harmful affair. For this reason the procedure for culturing pearls was developed.
Everything started with the British Mr. British biologist William Saville-Kent (1845 -1908) who was in 1894 successful in developing a method to produce cultured pearls and the Japanese marine biologist Dr. Tokichi Nishikawa (1874-1909), the Japanese carpenter Mr. Tatsuhei Mise (1880-1924) and the Japanese vegetable vendor Mr. Kokichi Mikimoto (1858-1954), who patented and further developed and commercialised the method of producing cultured pearls which became known as’The Mother Of Pearls’ (not to be confused with mother-of-pearl, oysters and mussels are lining the insides of their shells ) the’Akoya Pearl’. Natural pearls will continue to decorate just a privileged few if not for the ingenuity of three Japanese men
In 1902, Tatsuhei Mise implanted 15,000 molluscs with lead and silver nuclei and two years later, harvested little, round cultured pearls.
Around the same time, Dr. Nishikawa began seeding oysters using miniature gold and silver nuclei. His procedure also yielded little round cultured pearls. He applied for a patent which was restricted to the implantation procedure that was uncannily like Mise’s. As the two procedures were almost identical, it became known as the Mise-Nishikawa method.
Something going hand-in-hand with producing cultured pearls or more precisely phrased is integral part of the overall process of most efficiently and effectively producing cultured pearls is pearl farming. After all, it doesn’t make much in the way of sense to dive for natural pearl-producing oysters which are often to be found in depths of 60 to 85 feet, to collect them take them to the surface, clean them, graft them, mark them, return them to the oyster bed only to dive for them again later in order to harvest the pearls. I believe we do all agree that working this way are the most inefficient and ineffective way conceivable to produce cultured pearls. So, the proper way of doing it is pearl oyster farming. But however much pearl farming and hatching was developed and improved technically and otherwise especially in the last 10 years it still remains a risky undertaking and depends as much on skill as it depends on luck. Why luck? Luck, since there are several very serious natural and manmade threats inherent in pearl farming which are completely or at least to a large extent from human control. Examples of these are extreme changes in water temperatures, pollution of water with wastewater both industrial and domestic, ailments such as the one due to’red tide’, unusual strong storms and water motion, siltation and several natural predators for pearl oysters like echinoderm (star fish, sea-cucumber), gastropods (snails and slugs), turbellaria (flatworms) and rays and octopuses, just to list a few of the most common natural and manmade threats. That is why I advice you not to fool yourself when reading the following brief descriptions. All sounds smooth and well on paper but things are by far not as simple as they might appear.
Here comes how pearl farming works by example of Pinctada maxima producing South Sea Cultured Pearls.
Pearl Oyster Hatching
The modern cultured pearl industry is for biological and economic motives to a growing extent stocking oyster farms with hatched oysters. The hatching process starts with the range of for hatching suitable pearl-producing oysters from the wilderness or from hatchery produced oysters and finishes with the oysters’ being prepared for producing pearls. When the suitable male and female oysters are found they are put into spawning tanks full of saltwater. The water temperature is increased what sets into motion the next process.
After 22 days the larvae are collected and moved into tanks with settlement substrate to allow the larvae to attach themselves and develop into oyster spat. 6 mm is placed into fine mesh as security for predators and moved into the raft suspended in the sea water of the farm. Grown larger to sub-adults they are placed into larger mesh were they grow to adults. After 2 years the oysters are ready to produce pearls and will be grafted for the first time.
The Grafting Of Pearls Oysters
The grafting of a pearl oyster begins with the selection of a suitable wild or farm oyster and ends with its being returned to the water i.e. to the oyster farm. The steps between would be the choosing of the right period for the grafting, the proper preparing of the oyster for the grafting (less food, anesthetising), the selecting of a proper implant and graft tissue, the professional performing of the surgical operation and a proper follow-up care of the oyster after the surgery before it is released back into the water. This process is an important one with the surgical procedure being the most important part of it for it determines to not a small degree on passing rate of the oysters after surgery, rejection of the implanted nucleus and the overall quality of the end pearl.