South Sea Pearls
Gallery & In-depth
South Sea Pearls, compared to other types
South Sea pearls are typically much larger than other pearl varieties and have a unique lustre quality – a soft reflection due to the large aragonite platelets that make up the pearl. (Opposed to the “hard shine” of the Japanese Akoya). An 8 mm pearl would be considered large if Akoya, but this is the smallest size one will find in South Sea.
They also have the thickest average nacre of all cultured pearls. These factors make South Seas both distinctive and valuable. South Sea pearls have the highest value and command the highest prices of all types of pearls.
Colours, shapes, and sizes
South Sea pearls are quite large, and they tend to have very thick nacre. South Sea pearls can be found in the range of 8 to 20 mm, with the average being 12 mm. Only a small % of each harvest will be spherical or near-round, so those strands are truly a rare commodity. Baroque-, circle-, button- and drop-shapes are often used in high-end designer jewellery to showcase their unique shapes and lustre. This also makes the South Sea pearls available at a variety of price levels.
Silver-lipped South Sea pearl oysters generally produce pearls in the white, silver, aqua and blue family of overtones. The gold-lipped variety produces the cream, champagne, and deeper golden pearls. Since the natural colours of South Sea pearls are so rich and beautiful, after harvesting they are merely washed and buffed to remove any residue and bring out their natural glow.
South Sea pearls grow in the Pinctada maxima saltwater oyster, their warm tones are completely natural and grow to beauty without treatments. The host shell itself grows up to 30cm in diameter at maturity and is the largest pearl producing kind. In order to maintain genetic diversity, wild oysters are bred to create farm stock and mixed with the hatchery stock to keep the supply healthy and plentiful. All sources are closely monitored by government organizations to guarantee their long-term well being.
Being a delicate organism, this type of pearl oyster is particularly vulnerable, which is one reason why the culturing area for South Seas pearls is quite limited. Attempts to expand South Sea pearl farming have met with little success because the oysters do not thrive outside their native, natural environment.
As with other saltwater oysters, the South Sea pearl oyster is bead-nucleated. However, the growth period is approximately 2-4 years, where the Akoya and Tahitian pearls develop in less than half that time.
The white South Sea pearls are predominately cultured along the northwest coast of Australia. Pearls of the golden variety are primarily grown in the Philippines and Indonesia - two countries that are quickly becoming the leaders in the finest golden South Sea pearl production.
Adding to their mystique is a colourful past. In the 1850's, the rough-and-tumble city of Broome, on the northwest coast of Australia, fastly became the commercial centre for South Sea pearls, despite its seedy reputation. Large-scale commercial pearl culturing began in earnest during the 1950's and has grown steadily since. Today, Broome still dominates the white South Sea pearling industry and has become a beautiful, modern city reflecting the high-tech nature of the business.
How rare and valuable are they?
The value of a South Sea pearl is heavily dependent upon the colour; the deeper the colour, the more valuable the pearl. The deepest golden colour, often referred to as 24 karat, is considered the most valuable colour of all South Sea pearls. Of all the cultured pearl varieties on the market today, South Sea pearls are the undisputed leaders in value. Their large size, combined with the relative scarcity, make them among the most desired as well. A perfect strand of deep golden South Sea pearls in a large size can sell for more than €100.000.
For more South Sea pearl information feel free to ask any of our team members. We are the experts on pearls and can answer any questions you may have.