South Sea pearls: what makes them so unique?


South Sea pearls are rare and very expensive. It is called Rolls-Royce in the world of pearls: it is a standard that has no equal in beauty and size. Pearls are large, with a silky sheen and an expressive palette of shades.

Due to their high cost, South Sea pearls are often counterfeited. To distinguish a fake from an original, it is helpful to know what makes it so valuable.

Where are the “South Seas”?

The “South Seas” lie between the northern coast of Australia and the southern coast of China. It is the natural habitat of the large oysters known as Pinctada maxima. Once they were caught by hand: specially trained “pearl divers” dived into the depths in search of mollusks.

Currently, most of the South Sea pearls are grown on special farms. They are located on the coast of the Indian and Pacific Ocean – near Australia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Myanmar.

Who produces South Sea pearls?

The clam Pinctada maxima is of two types: silver-lip and gold-lip. They differ in the color of the outer edge of the inner shell – mother-of-pearl. The first type of molluscs has silvery “lips”, the second – “golden”.

If a grain of sand gets between the shell of the mollusk shell and the mantle, the mollusk begins to intensively produce nacre. It envelops the irritant, turning it into a pearl. Under natural conditions, a grain of sand or other small debris falls into the sash by accident; on farms, it is introduced on purpose.

The clam Pinctada maxima, unlike other pearl oysters, can only form one pearl at a time. To do this, he must reach the age of 2 years. During its life, a mollusk can produce several pearls, but each time – one at a time.

Why are South Sea pearls so big?

South Sea pearls are really big. It can reach 9-20 mm in diameter, although pearls with a diameter of 13 mm are most often found. There are several explanations for this.

  • First, the clam Pinctada maxima itself is large. Under favorable conditions, it can grow up to 30 cm wide. Pearl farmers usually mix hatchery clams and wild ones to ensure their health and stamina.
  • Secondly, a large oyster can accept a larger grain of sand. It deposits mother-of-pearl around the kernel much faster than usual, especially in warm water.
  • Third, South Sea pearls take longer to mature. Each pearl takes 3 to 4 years to grow – longer than any other cultured pearl. The longer it grows, the larger it gets.
  • Fourth, the South Seas provide favorable conditions for the life and nutrition of the mollusk. They are incredibly clean and filled with plankton, Pinctada maxima’s favorite food source. Abundant food supplies speed up the production of mother-of-pearl. Animal protection organizations monitor the content of shellfish on farms: they control the conditions in which oysters live.

What makes South Sea pearls so unique?

South Sea pearls have several unique properties. It has an unusually thick layer of nacre – from 2 to 6 mm (for comparison, other types of pearls have less than 1 mm). In addition, the color, luster and shape of South Sea pearls are special.


Colors and shades pearls

The palette of shades of South Sea pearls is not very diverse, but all the colors are impressive and rather rare:

  • white;
  • blue;
  • gold.

The white variety comes with a silvery, ivory, bright white and bluish tint. It accounts for 90% of the total South Sea pearl production.

Blue pearls are very rare, but with a rich hue.

Gold pearls are creamy, deep gold or champagne. Rare, highly valued.

Shine pearls

South Sea pearls have a soft satin sheen. It is explained by the fact that the pearl is formed from large layers of aragonite and forms quite quickly. Light reflects and refracts, colliding with a smooth surface, which makes the pearl appear to glitter.

Luster affects the value of pearls. All other things being equal, the sample with the best gloss will invariably cost more.

The form pearls

South Sea pearls come in a wide variety of organic forms:

  • round;
  • almost round;
  • drop-shaped;
  • baroque.

Perfectly round pearls are rare. This means that a string of finely matched South Sea pearls is very difficult to collect and therefore expensive. If the design of the jewelry allows a combination of stones of different shapes, it is easier to choose the right pearl.

The cost pearls

South Sea pearls are the most expensive of all types of pearls. Medium length yarn costs between $ 3,000 and $ 30,000 or more. Prices depend on the quality of specific pearls – their shape, shine, color.

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