PEARLS IN HISTORY
Officially the worlds oldest gem, pearls have been surrounded in history, legend and mystic since before written history with discoveries such as pearl jewellery found in a royal sarcophagus dating back to 420 BC. Pearls were also often presented as gifts to Chinese royalty as early as 2300 BC, whilst in ancient Rome they were considered to be a status symbol and laws were passed allowing pearls to only be worn by the ruling classes.
The only way of sourcing pearls was by collecting wild oysters. It could take up to a tonne of wild oysters to find just 3 or 4 quality pearls. The increasing demand for natural pearls by the 19th century ment oyster supplies began to decline. Today, natural pearls are among the rarest of gems and their scarcity is reflected in the prices they fetch at auction.
In the late 1800’s the concept of culturing pearls was developed with Kokichi Mikimoto becoming perhaps the most famous for commercialising and marketing this industry. The value of natural pearls dropped and the availability and supply of cultured pearls became a thriving industry and a more accessible commodity.
Pearls can be cultured in various species of oyster in both fresh and salt water and producing different finished pearls with different attributes and thus value.
Freshwater pearls are mainly cultivated in China and can be grown in any area of fresh water. They are less impacted on by their environment so often the are grown in highly populated sometimes polluted areas. The incubation period is much shorter than that of a salt-water pearl and each oyster can produce a significant number of pearls in one cycle, making them more abundant and therefore affordable.
SALT WATER PEARLS & FRESH WATER PEARLS
Salt-water pearls take up to four years to produce a pearl, with each oyster generally producing just one pearl for each cycle.
They are highly sensitive to their environment and subtle changes in their surroundings, water temperatures etc can directly affect the oysters health. Therefore salt-water pearl farms generally are located in pristine environmental conditions.
Fresh-water pearls are cultivated using fresh water mussels.
Fresh-water pearls have a much shorter production timeframe. They do not require the implantation of a bead or mantle and produce many small pearls per production cycle, thus the process of cultivation is much faster and cost efficient. This is reflected in the lower value of freshwater pearls.
SALT WATER OYSTERS
Akoya Pearls are cultured using the Pinctada fucata oyster along the coastline of Japan and China and produce relatively small pearls of 02-10mm. Tahitian Pearls, the only naturally black pearls are cultured using the Pinctada margaritifera oyster native to Fiji and French Polynesia with pearls ranging in size from 08-18mm.
Golden South Sea Pearls are cultured from the gold-lipped Pinctada maxima along the Australian, Indonesian and Philippines coastline. White South Sea Pearls come from the silver-lipped Pinctada maxima found along the Australian, Indonesian and Philippines coastline. Valued for their size and their unique lustre,
South Sea pearls,cultured from the silver-lipped Pinctada maxima oyster and generally have the thickest nacre of all cultured pearls, giving them their deep lustre and shine.
PEARLS AND THEIR CHARACTERISTICS
Like diamonds, for many years the industry has and continues to grade pearls according to five key characteristics.
These five characteristics include size, shape, colour, complexion and lustre.
Accurate grading of each Atlas Pearls harvest takes significant time and the highly experienced team of specialist pearl graders, ensuring each pearl is correctly identified and it’s value maximised. Click here to learn more about the five key characteristics of each Atlas Pearl.