Complete Guide to South Sea Pearls
Pearls are one of the most impressive gems in the world, because unlike diamonds, rubies or emeralds, they do not come from the ground but have been created by a living being, the oyster.
That is why they are known as an organic gem.
There are several types of pearls: Akoya Pearls, Freshwater Pearls and South Sea Pearls.In this guide we will focus on South Sea Pearls.South Sea pearls are the most valuable type of pearl. This is due to its scarcity, since they only compose 2% of the world pearl production, and it is very complicated to obtain pearls that reunite the characteristics of nice color, round shape, good luster, surface without marks and size >12mm.
- What are South Sea Pearls?
- Golden & White South Sea Pearls Color
- Where are South Sea Pearls cultivated?
- South Sea Pearls Characteristics
- South Sea Pearl Culturing Process
- How to determine the value of South Sea pearls?
- Tahitian Pearls
What are South Sea Pearls?
South Sea Pearls are a type of pearl produced by the Pinctada Maxima oyster in Australia, Philippines, Myanmar and Indonesia.
They are characterized because they are the scarcest type of pearl, the largest in size (from 9mm to 20 mm in exceptional cases) and for their nacre thickness (from 2 to 6mm). While freshwater pearls take 6 months to be cultivated, South Sea Pearls take more than 3 years.
The main colors are Gold and White, with a multitude of overtones. Perfectly round shapes are the rarest, less than 4% of the production in a common pearl farm. South Sea Pearls shapes can be round, oval, button, drop, circle and baroque, and their luster is luxurious.
The oyster that produces South Sea pearls is known as Pinctada Maxima, and it can be of two varieties:silver-lipped and golden-lipped. Depending on the expert, there are some who believe that Tahitian Pearls should be considered South Sea Pearls, in this guide we will consider them as such. Tahitian pearls are produced by the Pinctada Margaritifera oyster.
In this photo we can see the difference in color between the two oysters. Those lips are the ones that give golden, white or black color to the pearls. There are many people who think that the only authentic and natural color of the pearls of the South Seas is white, nothing further from reality since there are three main colors: Gold, Black and White, and within these colors multitude of overtones and variations.
South Sea Pearl Colors
In this image we see the different colors that exist in both golden and white pearls. With each color of pearl a unique piece of jewelry can be created, although all of them do not have the same value in the market.In white south sea pearls, the most valued color is called "Paper White", with a luxurious luster. In golden south sea pearls, the most valued color is the dark gold or also known as "Imperial Gold", where the color must be deep gold, not yellow.
Where are South Sea Pearls cultivated?
The South Sea Pearls are so called because of their geographical location, which extends in the southern hemisphere of the planet. White South Sea pearls are mainly cultivated in Australia and Indonesia.
Golden South Sea pearls are cultivated in the Philippines and Indonesia, while Tahitian pearls are cultivated exclusively in French Polynesia.
Pearls are cultivated in this region because it is the ideal environment for the pinctada maxima oyster, which needs very clean and clear water to form beautiful pearls naturally. There have been many attempts by countries such as China or Japan to import Pinctada Maxima oysters to try to produce pearls from the South Seas, without much success.
South Sea Pearls Characteristics
The main characteristic that differentiates South Sea pearls is the nacre, which is thicker than other types of pearls (2-4mm). The nacre is the natural coating with which the pearl covers the nucleus. Another characteristic is the size, that while in Akoya pearls goes from 3-9mm, in South Sea pearls it goes from 8-20mm, in some exceptional cases with 22mm pearls. It also highlights the luster, which has a satin luster compared to akoya or freshwater pearls.
South Sea Pearl Culturing Process
A nucleus is introduced by pearl farmers for Pearl Formation. It is popularly thought that pearls are formed when a grain of sand is introduced in the oyster and it is coated as a natural defense, and this is so, but the probability of finding an oyster in the ocean, which has formed a quality and round pearl is of 1 in 1 million. That is why pearl growers introduce a nucleus which is normally mantle tissue, so that the pearl surrounds it and segregates nacre. Once this process is done, it will take 2-3 years for the oyster to form a pearl. All this process is observed by expert cultivators, who watch a multitude of factors that can affect the formation of the pearl, such as the temperature of the water, currents, that the water is not clean or inclemencies of the time. South Sea Pearls are the type of pearl that takes by far the longest time to form.
How to determine the value of South Sea pearls?
The value of South Sea pearls is determined by 5 factors: size, shape, color, luster and surface.
Size: The size influences the value. The average size of South Sea pearls is between 9-20 mm, and the average is 12 mm. The bigger the size of the pearl, the higher its value.
Shape: Pearls, being an organic gem produced by the Pinctada Maxima Oyster, present all kinds of shapes. Baroque, pear-shaped, round, semicircular, circular... Traditionally the most valued size has been the perfect round, for pearl necklaces. But new tendencies in the artisan creation of jewelry and thanks to jewelry designers, precious jewelry is created with any type of pearl.
Luster: The most valued luster is the metallic and luxurious luster, where the face of the one who is looking at the pearl is reflected. This characteristic only occurs in some pearls.
Color: This characteristic will depend on the type of pearl. In the white pearls of the South Seas it should be white metallic and luxurious, while in the golden pearls of the South Seas it should be dark and golden.
Surface: The surface of the pearl or also known as "skin". Pearls, being a natural gem, it is normal that they present small spots known in the pearl world as "fish bites". The cleaner the pearl surface is, the higher its value will be.
Tahitian pearls are a type of pearl from the Pinctada Margaritifera oyster, which is only found in French Polynesia.
Tahitian pearls stand out for their natural black color, which can present a multitude of variations or green, blue, brown overtones...Tahitian pearls have a size between 8 and 16 mm. The black color comes from the black lips of the Pinctada Margaritifera oyster. The most valued color is the intense black color. The pearls have different shapes, which can be: baroque, circle, round, half-round, pear-shaped...A color that stands out in Tahitian pearls is the peacock color.
The history of Tahitian pearls goes back hundreds of years, when Julius Caesar gave his lover Servilia a Tahitian pearl. However, the commercial success of these pearls did not come until Salvador Assael imported them and started selling Tahitian pearl jewelry in New York.
Since then the success of Tahitian pearls has not stopped growing. The current vice-president of the government, Kamala Harris, uses to wear Tahitian pearls on multiple occasions.
Pinctada Margaritifera Oyster, also known as Black-lipped Oyster
Golden South Sea Pearls
These pearls are produced by the golden-lipped oyster Pinctada maxima, mainly in Indonesia and the Philippines.They stand out for their golden color, being the most appreciated the dark golden color.The color of these pearls is totally natural. The size ranges from 8 to 20 mm. They are especially valued in the Asian market.