Whenever that what this guide is about comes to my mind that the’inbuilt music player’ in my mind is turned on and among the most renowned Reggae songs from the late 1960s begins to play. It’s a song that’s warming and opening the hearts of all people who have in the times of Eddy Grant’s”Baby Come Back”, Desmond Dekker’s”You Can Get It If You Really Want” and Tony Tribe’s”Red, Red, Wine” found the world of love and have had their first serious love affairs with their’One-and-Only’. Do you remember these times and your first serious love affair? Can you hear it? Well, this article is 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 part in the worldwide pearl industry and some of the world’s largest and most precious pearls have been discovered in the waters off the Burmese coast. However, as 15 years Burma is back on the stage of worldwide pearl business and increasingly successful with its unique silver and golden South Sea Cultured Pearls.
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 greatest South Sea Cultured Pearls and fetched highest prices. Within a few years Burma had earned itself a great reputation as producer of South Sea Cultured Pearls of highest quality and stayed in the world’s leading group of South Sea Cultured Pearl producing nations till 1983 when reputedly in consequence of a fungal disease Burma’s pearl oyster stock was almost entirely extinguished. Burma’s Pearl Industry recovered very gradually and for over a decade its pearl production remained negligible and the pearl quality rather inferior.
Now, in early 2016, there are 1 government owned company, 4 independently owned local businesses and 4 overseas 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 fantastic 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 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 the article: the Pearl.
At the start of this article I spoke of love in connection with pearls and pearls are indeed something fantastic to express love with. However, the story of a pearl’s coming into being might not exactly 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’s as if the thorn of a rose has lodged itself in your thumb; ouch! But that is exactly how the life of a pearl starts, 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 relatively 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’s then deposited layers of microscopic smaller crystals of calcium carbonate called’nacre’ to be able to isolate the foreign object called’irritant’. Between the layers that compose the pearl are layers of the natural chemical conchiolin that glues them together and at the same time separates them. The process of producing these nacre layers will be never ending what means that the older the pearl is, the bigger is the quantity 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. Keep on reading and you will know. Let’s take a peek into the history of pearls and pearl company and go back to the beginning.
It was probably 500 BC (possibly earlier) that people focused more on the contents compared to the wrap and started to appreciate the beauty of pearls more than the mother-of-pearl of the producers’ shells. Consequently, they set the best of the pearls at the same level with’gemstones’ and attached high value to them in immaterial terms (electricity and attractiveness ) and substance terms (wealth).
Pearls are also known as’Stone of the sea’ but unlike any other gem, a pearl is the product of a living being. In other words, pearls are the sole’gems’ of organic origin, which is exactly how gemmologists classify pearls in general: as’coloured gems of organic origin’. And pearls are the sole’gems’ that require no cutting or polishing – just cleaning – until they exhibit their whole beauty.
Back then pearls just existed in the form of natural also called wild pearls. In other words, the demand for pearls – either singly, as so-called collectors’ item or as part of jewellery – was quite 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 business. Fuelled by three of humanity’s strongest motives – to be wealthy, Squirrel Removal and beautiful – the search for pearls by sellers and buyers alike had begun.
Let’s take a second, closer look in pearls and their natural founders. Basically, almost all sorts of shelled molluscs (even some species of snails!) Can irrespective of 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 known as’calcareous concretion’. However, the huge majority of these pearls are of no value at all except maybe from the viewpoint of a collector or collector. Exceptions to this rule would be, for instance, the’Blue Pearls’ of abalone shells and’Pink Pearls’ of conch sea snails
The differences between valuable and worthless pearls are in a mixture of the size, weight, shape, lustre, colour (incl. Nacreousness and iridescence) as well as requirements of the surface. These are the criteria that 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 chain of those being involved in pearl company from pearl diver to pearl seller on the supply side also, of course, the buyer on the demand side.
Those pearls which make it into the top set of gem-quality pearls are made by only a few species of mussels and/or pearl oysters. Freshwater pearls are made by members of the fresh water mussel family’Unionidae’ whereas saltwater pearls are made by members of the pearl oyster family’Pteriidae’.
Until 1928 when the very first pair of cultured pearls was produced and introduced to 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’ideal’ pearls that were perfectly round and fetched the highest prices.
Since formulations like’high value’ or’high prices’ are relative and have not much in the way of meaning I feel the need to attach a figure to them. The following example will give you an idea of the value 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 in USD 1 million. Factoring to the calculation an annual average inflation rate of 3.09 % the pearl strand’s existing financial value would be USD 20.39 million! I am positive that after having taken a deep breath you have now a very good picture of what values I am talking with regard to pearls especially when it comes to natural pearls before the emergence of cultured pearls. And by-the-by, natural pearls are always the most valuable and precious, even in the era of the cultured pearl. Why? This is so because these pearls are pure nature and absolute 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 business based on the new process developed in Japan and things changed radically. Nothing could ever again be as it was.
Because the’How To’ was kept secret and not allowed to be made available to foreigners It also gave Japan the global monopoly of cultured pearls, thus, the global dominance of and control over the pearl industry, which, among others, allowed the manipulation of pearl costs by controlling the number of pearls made available; similar to the De Beers diamond syndicate controlled the global 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 people; demand for pearls exploded and Japan’s pearl industry began to boom and made enormous profits through direct sales of considerable amounts of cultured pearls, licences and shares in business partnerships with overseas businesses. Nowadays, this has changed and there are more cultured pearl producing countries; some, like China, do sometimes sell their cultured pearls (especially freshwater pearls, in a cost of 10% of that of natural pearls what allows almost everyone to purchase pearls and/or pearl jewellery. However, as the supply will never meet up with the demand for pearls their costs will always stay high enough to ensure that pearl business remains to be’big business’.
Various Sorts Of Pearls
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 made by means of an oyster of the family Pteriidae which Japanese call Akoya oyster. The Latin name of it’s Pinctada fucata martensii. There is no translation of the name 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 smallest pearl-producing oyster. Accordingly small is its pearl the size of that ranges depending on its age between 2 and 12mm. Akoya pearls with a larger diameter than 10 mm are extremely rare and sold at high prices.
It requires a minimum of 10 months from the time of seeding on till an Akoya Pearl is ready to be harvested. Usually the oysters stay for to 18 months in the water until they are harvested. The Akoya oyster produces 1 pearl in its life. After that it is provided it has produced a good pearl used as tissue donor.
The pearl’s shape can be round, mostly round, slightly off round, off 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 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 the family Pteriidae. The Latin name of it is Pinctada maxima.
Cultured South Sea Pearls are one of the rarest and therefore most valuable of cultured pearls. Having a size of around 13 in/32.5 cm the South Sea Oyster is the world’s biggest pearl-producing oysters. Accordingly big are its pearls the dimensions of which range depending 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.
Usually the oysters stay for 2 to 3 years in the water before they are harvested to get larger pearls. The oyster produces 2 to 3 pearls in its lifetime. Then it is too old and is supplied 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 colour can be white-silver, white-rose, blue-white, light-cream, champagne (medium cream) and gold. However, the most sought after are silver and gold. The South Sea Pearl is highly lustrous with a minor satiny sheen.
The South Sea Pearl is cultured mainly from the Indian Ocean into the Pacific.
Tahitian Pearls are made by an oyster of the family Pteriidae that is called the black-lipped pearl oyster. The Latin name of it’s Pinctada margaritifera.
Tahitian Pearls commonly called black pearls belong to the group of rare, most precious cultured pearls and are increasingly in demand. With a size of around 12 in/30 cm the Black Pearl Oyster is the world’s second largest pearl-producing oysters.
Normally the oysters stay for 2 to 3 years in the water before they are harvested to acquire larger pearls. The oyster produces 2 to 3 pearls in its life. After that it’s provided it has produced 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.
Even though the Tahitian Pearl is called’Black Pearl’ many of them aren’t really black. Their colours range from dark anthracite, charcoal grey, silver gray to dark blue and dark green with every colour 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.
The perfect water temperature for the Black Pearl oysters is between 73.4o-84.2o F/23°C-29°C.
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 group’Cultured Beaded Pearls’.
Non-beaded freshwater Pearls are made by 3 species of mussels of the family Unionidae. One of these is called Triangle Sail Mussel with the Latin title Hyriopsis cumingii, another one is called Biwa Pearl with the Latin name 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 known as’ in-body bead-nucleated freshwater pearls’ are made by a hybrid kind of Hyriopsis cumingii and Hyriopsis cumingii.
Freshwater Pearls are increasingly in demand.
It typically takes 3-5 years from the time of spraying 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 the same time. Usually the mussel produces 1 pair of pearls in its life. After that it’s provided it has produced good pearls used as tissue donor.
The mussel can only produce one pearl at a time.
The pearl’s shape can be round, slightly off around or around round, off round, semi-round, button, coin, pear or drop, 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 such as champagne, lavender, pink, blue and every colour in between.
The Freshwater Pearl’s lustre is high with bright reflections.
The world’s biggest manufacturer of freshwater pearls is China.
Other Types of Pearls
Keishi Pearls can be seen in both saltwater and freshwater shelled molluscs. They are caused by oysters’/mussels’ ejecting of irritants prior to the minute the pearl has fully coated the implant with nacre. In cases like this the irritant is separated from the pearl sac and a freeform pearl without nuclei develops. Keishi pearls are as the name suggests (Keishi means’small’ 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 each variation between.
When the pearl is chosen it is skilfully cut from the shell and after removing the implant the hollow part is filled with a special wax before the backside’s being finished off with mother-of-pearl. In terms of colours these cover predominantly a wide assortment of white and attractive silvery pastel tones.
The question now is what exactly these cultured pearls that had this earth shattering impact on the global pearl sector are, in the first place?
It’s of the utmost importance to know and understand that a cultured pearl is not an artificial pearl or imitation pearl. On the contrary, a cultured pearl is a natural pearl in so far as the pearl is the result of the same natural process which 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. Firstly, the event that triggers the pearl’s coming into existence and, secondly, the final result 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 piece I like to talk of that to what the shelled mollusc responds with the creation of a pearl in breeding terms and say that it is’the way 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 called’grafting’. Phrased in reproduction terms we could call it’artificial fertilisation’. I’ll briefly explain the procedure for grafting later. Everything that follows the inserting of the irritant i.e. the practice of the evolution of the pearl inside the oyster is purely natural.
The oysters’ benefits are that they’re for whatever it is worth growing up and living in a controlled environment in which they are to a large extent protected from illness and natural enemies and the oysters proprietor advantages are that he can e.g. determine how many and what kind of pearls he wants to produce, once the host oysters are starting to make 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’ll be harvested.
The huge benefits to producing cultured pearls in comparison to diving for wild oyster pearls in regions with oyster beds in the hope to discover a commercially valuable natural pearl should by now have become very evident. This means that if you are not very, very lucky, to borough in the golfer jargon, the’Jackpot-In-One’ type, you will probably have to find thousands of natural pearls oyster, open and in doing so kill them before you may find one commercially precious 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 reason the process of culturing pearls has been developed.
It all started with the British Mr. British biologist William Saville-Kent (1845 -1908) who was in 1894 successful in developing a technique to produce cultured pearls and the Japanese marine biologist Dr. Tokichi Nishikawa (1874-1909), the Western carpenter Mr. Tatsuhei Mise (1880-1924) and the Japanese vegetable seller Mr. Kokichi Mikimoto (1858-1954), who patented and further developed and commercialised the process of producing cultured pearls that became known as’The Mother Of Pearls’ (not to be confused with mother-of-pearl, oysters and mussels are lining the insides of the 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 decades later, harvested little, round cultured pearls. In 1907, he received the first ever Japanese patent for the creation of a round cultured pearl.
Around the same time, Dr. Nishikawa began seeding oysters using tiny silver and gold nuclei. His procedure also yielded little round cultured pearls. He applied for a patent that was limited to the implantation process that was uncannily similar to Mise’s. As the two processes were nearly identical, it became known as the Mise-Nishikawa method.
After all, it doesn’t make much in the method of sense to dive for natural pearl-producing oysters which 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 in order to harvest the pearls. I think we do all agree that operating this way would be the most inefficient and ineffective way conceivable to produce cultured pearls. So, the proper means of doing it is pearl oyster farming. But however much pearl farming and hatching has been developed and improved technically and otherwise especially in the past ten years it remains a risky undertaking and depends as much on skill as it is dependent on luck. Why luck? Luck, because there are so many very serious natural and manmade threats inherent in pearl farming which are completely or to a large extent out of human control. Examples of these are extreme changes in water temperatures, pollution of water with wastewater both industrial and domestic, ailments like the one due to’red tide’, unusual strong storms and water movement, siltation and several natural predators for pearl oysters such as echinoderm (star fish, sea-cucumber), gastropods (snails and slugs), turbellaria (flatworms) and rays and octopuses, just to name a few of the most common natural and manmade threats. That is why I advice you not to fool yourself when studying the following short descriptions. All sounds smooth and well on paper but matters are undoubtedly 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 reasons to a growing extent stocking oyster farms with hatched oysters. The hatching process begins 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 placed into spawning tanks full of saltwater. Now the water temperature is raised what sets into motion the next process.
Male oysters are stimulated to spawn, the sperm stimulates female trinkets to release eggs, the eggs are fertilised, the fertilised eggs are collected and incubated in seawater tanks to allow larval growth, when larvae have developed they’re counted, transferred to and fed in fresh larval culture tanks. After 22 days the larvae are collected and transferred into tanks with settlement substrate to allow the larvae to attach themselves and develop into oyster spat. When the spat has reached a shell thickness of min. 6 mm is placed into fine mesh as protection for predators and transferred into the raft suspended in the ocean water of the farm. Grown larger to sub-adults they are placed into bigger mesh were they grow to adults. After two 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 starts with the choice of a proper wild or farm oyster and finishes with its being returned to the water i.e. to the oyster farm. The steps between are the choosing of the perfect interval for the grafting, the appropriate preparing of the oyster for the grafting (less food, anesthetising), the choosing of a proper implant and graft tissue, the professional functioning 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 main part of it for it determines not to a small degree on passing rate of the oysters after operation, rejection of the implanted nucleus and the total quality of the final pearl. In other words, the grafting can make it or break it.