How Does South Sea Pearl Farming Work?

August 11, 2017 by Kiesha Joseph

Let’s dive into the world of South Sea pearl farming. South Sea pearls come out from the Pinctada maxima or the white-lipped oyster. They have a unique luster quality accompanied with white or gold pearl colors. These authentic pearls make up to 10% of the cultured pearl market.

They are known to be the rarest kind of pearls. South Sea pearls are cultivated with sensitive care in Australia, Indonesia, Japan, and Thailand.

White lip oysters, which the pearls are cultivated from, are wild and handpicked, making it susceptible to depletion. Therefore, strict regulations are put in hand to protect these special oysters from being over-farmed by the harvesters, or pearl farmers.

Diving for South Sea Oysters

How do the pearl farmers find white-lipped oysters in the south sea? Divers dive about eighty meters deep into the waters to find healthy oysters for the cultivation of pearls. Alternatively, pearling ships can be used by South Sea pearling operations. It makes it easier to send the divers into the waters to search for oysters.

After the search and collection of the oysters, they are kept away from the industrial waters or natural habitats. Therefore, these oysters are kept in bays where they won’t be polluted, or interrupted, in their production of pearls.

If the oysters are healthy, a harvester will nucleate them. This is the practice of implanting another nucleus inside the oyster.

The Process of South Sea Pearl Farming

One method of nucleating the oysters is called South Sea pearl farming. It’s a process where the oysters’ soft tissue is irritated. Hence, a type of irritant is inserted, which will cause the oyster to secrete nacre as a self-protection response to the irritant.

The nacre is formed over the irritant, layer over layer. When the nacre hardens, a pearl is formed.

After three to four months, the harvesters or pearl farmers observe the oysters using an x-ray method. This allows them to find out whether the pearls have rejected the nucleus implanted on them or not.

In a perfect world, all the oysters will have embraced the new nucleus to them. But, this is rarely the case with South Sea pearl farming.

So, what if the nucleus is rejected? The only thing to do is discard the oysters. After all, they won’t be of any use to anyone since they will not bear any precious pearl gems.

A South Sea pearl can take about 2-3 years to fully develop. Generally, the longer they take to develop, the more nacre, which could lead to larger, must lustrous pearls. Larger pearls with high luster are the most valuable of these gemstones.