Whenever that what this article is about comes to my mind the’inbuilt music player’ in my head is turned on and among the most renowned Reggae songs from the late 1960s begins to playwith. Do you remember these days and your first serious love affair? Well, this article is all about black pearls too, but black pearls of another kind and it isn’t confined to them’.
Burma, the country I call home because over 25 years, has played a notable part in the global pearl industry and some of the world’s biggest and most precious pearls have been found in the waters off the northeast shore. However, since 15 years Burma is back on the stage of worldwide pearl business and increasingly successful with its distinctive silver and golden South Sea Cultured Pearls.
The history of the Burmese Pearl Industry starts back in 1954 with the Western K. Takashima who has founded a joint venture between the Japanese’South Sea Pearl Company Ltd.’ and the’Burma Pearl Diving and Cultivation Syndicate’ as local partner. The same year South Sea Cultured Pearl production with Pinctada maxima was started in the Mergui Archipelago and the first pearl harvest took place in 1957. This harvest was a great success. The pearls belonged to the group of finest South Sea Cultured Pearls and attracted greatest prices. Within a few years Burma had earned itself a great reputation as manufacturer of South Sea Cultured Pearls of highest quality and stayed in the world’s leading group of South Sea Cultured Pearl producing countries till 1983 when reputedly in consequence of a bacterial infection Burma’s pearl oyster stock was almost entirely extinguished. Burma’s Pearl Industry recovered quite gradually and for more than a decade its pearl production remained negligible and the pearl quality fairly poor. But from 2001 on Burma’s South Sea Cultured Pearl manufacturing is gaining momentum and quantities of high quality cultured pearls are continuously increasing.
Now, in ancient 2016, there are 1 government owned company, 4 privately owned local businesses and 4 overseas companies (joint ventures) representing the Burmese pearl market. They are culturing pearls mainly on islands of the Mergui Archipelago and Pearl Island and are on a good way to regain Burma’s formerly excellent reputation and help the country to play an increasingly important role as pearl manufacturer in the global South Sea Cultured Pearl marketplace. Not necessarily in terms of quantity but surely concerning premium quality. Burmese pearl companies are already getting more and more attention in the worldwide pearl market.
OK, let us now focus on the central theme and star of this article: the Pearl.
At the start of this article I spoke of love in relationship with pearls and pearls are indeed something wonderful to express love with. However, the story of a pearl’s coming into being may not be one of love but – imagining the pearl-producing shelled mollusc can feel pain – at least in its beginning instead of a story of pain because something that doesn’t belong there has entered into the mollusc’s living tissue. To put it differently, a pearl is the result of the defence against a painful hostile attack. It is as if the thorn of a rose has lodged itself into your thumb; ouch! But that is precisely how the life of a pearl begins, with something that manages to sneak into the shell of a mollusc and to forcibly enter its soft tissue. This’something’ could be e.g. a larva of a parasite or a tiny grain of sand.
Question:”What’s a pearl?” A pearl is something comparatively hard and generally 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 has then deposited layers of microscopic small crystals of calcium carbonate called’nacre’ to be able to isolate the foreign item called’irritant’. Between the layers that make up the pearl are layers of the natural chemical conchiolin which glues them together and at the same time separates them. The process of creating these nacre layers will be never 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 answer to the question.
“And that’s all?” You may now ask. Keep on reading and you will know. Let us have a peek into the history of pearls and pearl company and go back to the beginning.
It was probably 500 BC (perhaps earlier) that people focused more on the contents than the wrapping and started to appreciate the beauty of pearls more than the mother-of-pearl of their producers’ shells. Therefore, they set the best of the pearls at one level with’gemstones’ and attached high value to them in immaterial terms (power and beauty) and material terms (riches ).
Pearls are also called’Gems of the sea’ but unlike any other gem, a pearl is the product of a living being. That is, pearls are the sole’gems’ of organic origin, which is precisely how gemmologists classify pearls in general: as’coloured gems of organic origin’. And pearls are the sole’stone’ that require no cutting or polishing – just cleaning – until they exhibit their full beauty.
Back then pearls only existed in the kind of natural also called crazy pearls. They were so very rare and being a symbol of power, riches and beauty much sought after by royalties and non-royalties who could afford and were willing to pay astronomical prices for them. In other words, the demand for pearls – either singly, as so-called collectors’ item or as part of jewellery – was very high and the supply very low what made a particular class of pearls a highly priced luxury article and the transaction with these pearls an extremely profitable company. Fuelled by three of humanity’s strongest motives – to be wealthy, strong and beautiful – the hunt for pearls by buyers and sellers alike had begun.
Let’s take a second, closer look at their natural founders. Can no matter whether they’re populating bodies of freshwater such as lakes and rivers or bodies of saltwater such as seas and oceans create pearls what is a process known as’calcareous concretion’. However, the huge majority of these pearls are of no value whatsoever except maybe in the standpoint of a collector or collector.
The differences between valuable and worthless pearls are in a combination of the size, weight, form, lustre, colour (incl. Nacreousness and iridescence) as well as requirements of the surface. These are the criteria that determine on whether or not 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 in the top set of gem-quality pearls are created by just 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’.
Till 1928 when the very first set of cultured pearls was produced and introduced to the pearl market by Mitsubishi Company/Japan there were just natural pearls in the marketplace. This kept the amount of commercially valuable pearls small and their prices extremely high. This was particularly true for’perfect’ pearls which were perfectly round and fetched the highest prices.
The following example will give 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 valued in 1917 at USD 1 million. Factoring into the calculation an annual average inflation rate of 3.09 % 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’m talking with respect to pearls particularly in regards to natural pearls prior to the emergence of cultured pearls. And by-the-by, natural pearls are always the most valuable and precious, even in the age of the cultured pearl. Why? This is so because these pearls are pure nature and absolute unique especially if we add the factor antiquity.
With the commercialisation of this by the British biologist William Saville-Kent developed and the Western Tokichi Nishikawa patented method to produce cultured pearls that the pearl industry was revolutionised and has undergone most dramatic changes. A cultured pearl business based on the new process developed in Japan and things changed drastically.
Pearl culturing made the mass production of’tailor-made’ pearls of prime quality possible. Since the’How To’ was kept confidential and not permitted to be made available to foreigners It also gave Japan the global monopoly of cultured pearls, therefore, the world-wide dominance of and control over the pearl industry, which, amongst others, allowed the manipulation of pearl prices by controlling the number of pearls made available; much like the De Beers diamond syndicate controlled the global diamond market. Prices dropped and the purchase of pearls that was affordable prior to the availability of cultured pearls only to a lucky few was now possible for an extremely high number of financially better off people; demand for pearls exploded and Japan’s pearl industry began to boom and made enormous profits through direct sales of considerable quantities of cultured pearls, licences and shares in business partnerships with overseas businesses. Now, this has changed and there are more cultured pearl producing nations; some, like China, do sometimes 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 won’t ever meet up with the demand for pearls their prices will always stay high enough to ensure that pearl company 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 them 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 no translation of the title Akoya into English and also the meaning of the word Akoya isn’t known.
An Akoya pearl was the first ever cultured pearl. Having a size of 2.4 to 3.1 in/6 to 8 cm the Akoya oyster is the world’s tiniest pearl-producing oyster. Accordingly little is its pearl the size of that ranges depending on its age between 2 and 12mm. The average diameter of an Akoya pearl is 8 mm. Akoya pearls with a bigger diameter than 10 mm are very rare and sold at high prices.
Normally the oysters remain for to 18 months in the water until they are harvested. The Akoya oyster produces 1 pearl in its lifetime. After that it is provided it has generated a good pearl used as tissue donor.
The pearl’s shape can be all round, mostly around, slightly off roundoff round, semi-baroque and baroque and its colour can be white, black, pink, cream, medium cream, dark cream, blue, gold or grey. The pearls come with unique overtones, are largely white and their lustre is extremely brilliant second only to the lustre of South Sea Pearls. The Akoya Pearl is cultured mainly off the Chinese and Japanese coast.
South Sea Pearl
South Sea Pearls are made 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 among the rarest and therefore most precious of cultured pearls. Having a size of around 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 in the State Lottery.
Normally the oysters stay for 2 to 3 years in the water until they are harvested to get larger pearls. The oyster produces 2-3 pearls in its life. Then it is too old and is provided it has generated good pearls used as tissue donor.
The pearl’s shape can be round, semi-round, baroque, semi-baroque, drop, button, oval, circle and ringed and its color can be white-silver, white-rose, blue-white, light-cream, champagne (moderate cream) and gold. 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 from the Indian Ocean into the Pacific.
The ideal water temperature for South Sea Pearl oysters is between 73.4o-89.6o F/23°C-32°C.
Tahitian Pearls are created by means of an oyster of the family Pteriidae that’s known as the black-lipped pearl oyster. The Latin name of it’s Pinctada margaritifera.
Tahitian Pearls commonly known as black pearls belong to the group of rare, most valuable cultured pearls and are increasingly in demand. With a size of up to 12 in/30 cm the Black Pearl Oyster is the world’s second biggest pearl-producing oysters. Accordingly big is its pearl the size of which ranges depending on age between 8 and 18 mm, but the average diameter of Tahitian Pearls is 13 mm.
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 2-3 years in the water before they are harvested to acquire larger pearls. The oyster produces 2 to 3 pearls in its lifetime. After that it is provided it has generated good pearls used as tissue donor.
The pearl’s shape can be round, slightly off round, semi-round, button, and pear, drop, oval, semi-baroque, baroque and ringed.
Although the Tahitian Pearl is known as’Black Pearl’ most of them are not really black. Their colors range from dark anthracite, charcoal grey, silver gray to dark blue and dark green with each color having distinctive undertones and overtones of pink, green, blue, silver and even yellow.
The Tahitian Pearl’s lustre is very high with brilliant and bright reflections.
It is 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).
The perfect water temperature for the Black Pearl oysters is between 73.4o-84.2o F/23°C-29°C.
What used to be the most important difference between cultured seawater pearls and cultured freshwater pearls is that contrary to cultured seawater pearls cultured freshwater pearls weren’t beaded and pure nacre for which reason they are called non-beaded cultured pearls. This, however, does not apply entirely anymore. Since the Ming Pearl, official name’Edison Pearl’, was introduced into the marketplace by the Chinese in January 2011, freshwater pearls do also have a very lovely representative in the category’Cultured Beaded Pearls’.
One of these is named Triangle Sail Mussel with the Latin name Hyriopsis cumingii, another one is called Biwa Pearl with the Latin title Hyriopsis schlegelii and the third one has the Latin name Christaria plicata and is called Cockscomb Pearl Mussel.
Beaded Freshwater Pearls or as they are properly called’ in-body bead-nucleated freshwater pearls’ are made by a hybrid form of Hyriopsis cumingii and Hyriopsis cumingii.
Freshwater Pearls are increasingly in demand.
It typically takes 3-5 years from the time of seeding on till a non-beaded freshwater mussel is about to be harvested. Some stay in the water for up to 7 years to create bigger pearls. But this slow pearl growth is more than compensated by the fact that one mussel can produce up to 40+ pearls in precisely the same time. Normally the mussel produces 1 set of pearls in its lifetime. After that it’s provided it has produced good pearls used as tissue donor.
The mussel can only produce one pearl at a time.
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.
Freshwater Pearl’s are cultured globally but primarily in Chinese, Japanese and to a much lesser extent in USA lakes and rivers. The world’s largest manufacturer of freshwater pearls is China.
Other Kinds of Pearls
Keishi Pearls can be seen in both freshwater and saltwater shelled molluscs. They are the result of oysters’/’ mussels’ ejecting of Infection prior to the minute the pearl has completely coated the implant with nacre. In this case the irritant is separated from the pearl sac and a freeform pearl without nuclei develops. Keishi pearls are as the name suggests (Keishi means’little’ or’tiny’ in Japanese) usually small, made from pure nacre and irregular in shape. A Keishi pearl’s color ranges from silvery pure white to silvery gray and every variation between.
Unlike other pearls that grow inside 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 seem like a blister what is the other name used for this sort of pearl’Blister Pearl’. When the pearl is harvested it is skilfully cut out of the shell and after removing the implant the hollow part is filled with a special wax prior to the backside’s being finished off with mother-of-pearl. As for colours these cover predominantly a broad range of white and attractive silvery pastel tones.
The question now is exactly what these cultured pearls which had this earth shattering effect on the global pearl industry are, in the first place?
It’s of the utmost importance to know and understand that a cultured pearl isn’t an artificial pearl or imitation pearl. To the contrary, a cultured pearl is a natural pearl in so far as the pearl is caused by the same natural process that happens 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.
First, the event that triggers the pearl’s coming into existence and, second, the final effect of this event. The bottom line is that the differences between a natural and a cultured pearl is a really small one and confined to the event that initiates the growth of a pearl.
For the purpose of this article I like to speak of that to what the shelled mollusc reacts 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 unintentionally and without human beings being involved whereas in a pearl farm this occurs with human beings being involved by means of a surgical operation known as’grafting’. Phrased in reproduction terms we can call it’artificial fertilisation’. I will briefly explain the procedure for grafting later. Everything that follows the inserting of the irritant i.e. the process of the evolution of the pearl inside the oyster is purely natural.
The oysters’ benefits are that they are for whatever it is worth growing up and living in a controlled environment in which they are to a large extent protected from sickness and natural enemies as well as the oysters owner’s benefits are that he can e.g. determine how many and what kind of pearls he would like to produce, when the host oysters are starting to create the pears, what shape the pearls will have, what their colour and lustre will be and what their dimensions 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 find a commercially valuable natural pearl should by now have become very obvious. Statistically there is on average one marketable pearl in 1.000 wild oysters. This means that if you aren’t very, very lucky, to borough in the golfer jargon, the’Jackpot-In-One’ type, you will 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 are after. This is a very risky, annoying, time consuming, expensive and in the long term environmentally harmful affair. For this very reason the process of culturing pearls has been developed.
Natural pearls would continue to decorate just a privileged few if not for the ingenuity of three Japanese men
In 1902, Tatsuhei Mise planted 15,000 molluscs with lead and silver nuclei and two decades later, harvested little, round cultured pearls.
Around the same time, Dr. Nishikawa began seeding oysters with miniature silver and gold nuclei. His process also yielded small round cultured pearls. He applied for a patent which was restricted to the implantation process that was uncannily similar to Mise’s. As the two procedures were almost identical, it became known as the Mise-Nishikawa method.
After all, it doesn’t make much in the way of sense to dive for natural pearl-producing oysters that are often available 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 so as to harvest the pearls. I think we do all agree that working this way would be the most inefficient and ineffective way conceivable to produce cultured pearls. So, the proper way of doing it’s pearl oyster farming. But however much pearl farming and hatching was developed and improved technically and otherwise especially in the past ten years it still remains a risky undertaking and depends as much on skill as it depends on luck. Why luck? Luck, because there are several very serious natural and manmade threats inherent in pearl farming which are completely or 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 caused by’red tide’, unusual strong storms and water movement, siltation and several natural predators for pearl oysters like echinoderm (star fish, sea-cucumber), gastropods (snails and slugs), turbellaria (flatworms) and beams and octopuses, just to list some of the most common natural and manmade threats. That is why I advice you not to fool yourself when studying the following brief descriptions. All seems smooth and well on paper but matters are undoubtedly not as simple as they may appear.
Pearl Oyster Hatching
The modern cultured pearl industry is for economic and biological reasons 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 filled with saltwater. Now the water temperature is increased what sets into motion the following process.
After 22 days the larvae are collected and moved into tanks with settlement substrate to allow the larvae to attach themselves and grow into oyster spat. 6 mm is put into fine mesh as security for predators and transferred into the raft suspended from the ocean water of the farm. Grown larger to sub-adults they’re placed into larger mesh were they grow to adults.
The grafting of a pearl oyster begins with the choice of a suitable wild or farm oyster and finishes with its being returned to the water i.e. to the oyster farm. The measures between would be the choosing of the right interval for the grafting, the appropriate preparing of the oyster for the grafting (less food, anesthetising), the selecting of a suitable implant and graft tissue, the professional performing of the surgical procedure and a proper follow-up care of the oyster after the surgery before it’s released back into the water. This process is an important one with the surgical procedure being the most important part of it because of it determines not to a small degree on passing rate of the oysters after surgery, rejection of the implanted nucleus and the total quality of the final pearl. In other words, the grafting can make it or break it.