The Five Virtues of Pearls are an international standard which is used to assess value.
White South Sea Pearls are known for their large size and their soft, luxurious luster. They come in a variety of colors, depending on the oyster species and the environment they live in. The 'white-lipped' South Sea variety yields mainly colors in white, pink, silver and blue while the 'yellowlipped' variety grows Pearls from cream to yellow including champagne and gold. The natural golden colour is said to be the rarest.
A Pearl can double in price from one millimeter size to the next. For example a 12mm Perfect South Sea Pearl may be $1,000 and a 13mm Pearl with exactly the same characteristics might be $2,000 the increase in one mm in size literally makes that much difference.
There are so many variations within these categories that affect Pearl value however this is a very helpful "guide"
The "surface brilliance"of the Pearl. The quicker the oyster lays the layer of nacre, the better the Pearl because the Pearl will tend to have a "mirror finish". Exceptional lustre has a 'mirror' finish on the surface appearance (when viewed in reflected light).
Pearls are a status symbol and the larger Pearls take longer to form and must grown in a much larger host oyster or mussel. This time and size increase increases the rarity and difficulty in forming larger Pearls, and this makes them the most valuable characteristic or attribute.
The bigger the Pearl, the more valuable. From 5mm to 18mm (extremely rare) - Under 10mm relatively inexpensive.
The value of a Pearl can double from one millimetre to the next. As such, size is a very important factor in the valuation and pricing of any Pearl.
Australian South Sea and Tahitian Black Pearls can grow to between 8mm and 18mm in diameter, while Pure Pearls range from 2mm to as high as 14mm, albeit very rarely.
The round Pearl is considered the perfect gem. A Pearl develops a round shape when it moves freely around the oyster whilst it is growing, but normally they get attached to the shell and become off round or baroque.
The next shapes in value are: Drop, Button and Baroque. However there is strong demand for baroque because of the individual shapes.
The Pearl "picks up" the DNA of the host shell and will reflect the colour of the host.
As an organic gem skin variations are normal. Dimples are one of the only ways to guarantee genuine Pearls. The skin of a Pearl is considered "exceptional","fine" or "A grade" when it has no marks. The larger South Sea or Tahitian Pearls tend to be more marked because of their size. However, if you see a couple of marks on them, the Pearl skin is still fine unless it is heavily marked, in which case, their value decreases.
No flaws on 90% of the surface. Very good luster.
No flaws on at least 70% of the surface. Very good luster.
No flaws on at least 40% of the surface. Average luster.
Pearl has slight flaws on more than 60% of the surface. Weak luster.
The white South Sea Pearls are cultivated in a type of mollusc called Pinctada Maxima. It is the biggest of all species and can grow up to 35cm. It generally produces Pearls from 9 to 18mm. The Pinctada Maxima includes the (goldlipped or 'yellow-lipped' shell, found mainly in the Philippines and Indonesia. This variant predominantly produces Pearls of champagne and cream colours. The 'white lipped' and csilverlipped' shell is found mainly in the waters of Australia and the southern regions of Indonesia and mostlygrows white Pearlswith a silvery shade.
Most Pearls are aggregated at annual auctions. Pearl farmers from all over the South Sea regions combine their harvests to present at auction houses (in a process very similar to rough diamond sales). Here the best prices are achieved
but, as the Pearls are combined into`lots' or 'parcels' the tracking of the origin of the actual Pearl farm becomes very difficult.
Pearl farming is "mostly" run by "farmer fishermen". The overwhelming majority of Pearl farms are in isolated pockets of pristine waters in the South Pacific to rivers, lakes and dams as from Malaysia to Mexico. There are also the 'big brands' that run the multimillion dollar operations with flashy ships and planes, however Australian Pearl Divers prefers to aggregate pearls from humble farmers who are also family businesses who take immense pride in what they do and have done so for generations.
Most Pearls are aggregated at annual auctions. Pearl farmers from all over the South Sea regions combine their harvests to present at auction houses (in a process very similar to rough diamond sales). Here the best prices are achieved but, as the Pearls are combined into 'lots' or 'parcels' the tracking of the origin of the actual Pearl farm becomes very difficult.
There are a myriad of mussel and oyster species with an infinite variety of shape, colour and variety; however they all begin as "spat". "Spat" are the microscopic living spawn of the oyster and mussel and would naturally float through the ocean or river until they found an resting place from which to grow. Spat is initially collected in the natural "wild" environment to begin the harvesting cycle.
Growing the Oysters in a controlled environment is one of the most challenging parts of the process. Freshwater mussels are far more forgiving than their sensitive cousins the "South Sea" Oyster. Tanks are filled with the microscopic spat which also contain thickly bunched nets. As the nets provide the perfect location to grow the spat collect and attach themselves to the netting strands.
Nets are then placed back into the original environment to grow, hung and suspended underwater in racks where they grow and mature until they are ready to receive a nucleus.
Some use boats to raise up the ropes, sometimes divers using tanks scour the sea beds. The famous Mikimoto pearl divers (all women) hold their breath to collect the matured Oysters.
This is the process made famous by Mikemoto. At this point an "irritant" is inserted into the gonad (sex organ) of the host oyster or mussel. The nucleus for an Australian South Sea Pearl can be a piece of the "giganticus" Clam which is basically the mother of pearl shell which has been rounded into a bead or "seed". The oyster then produces a protective sac that secretes nacre to cover the nucleus.
During the seeding process, a piece of "mantle tissue" is used. This is a fleshy part of the actual pearl. A Pure Pearl oyster has multiple slivers of living mantle tissue inserted as irritants, which the mussel then covers with nacre to protect itself. At the end of this process the original tissue dissolves, leaving behind entirely 'Pure Pearls' – with no internal seed nucleus at all. This process often results in a harvest of up to 20+ Pure Pearls per shell within a 2 year timeframe.
The wide variety of shapes occurs naturally as the pearl is hidden away developing. For example a pear shaped pearl is often the result of a circular bead (irritant/seed) that actually attached itself to the shell at some point in the growth process. The 'perfect round' pearls are those that can move freely within the gonad allowing them nacre layer growth with perfect proportion.
A "Circle" (with the layered lines around it) is where a pearl is hindered or affected by a blockage as it turns within the host. These blockages force the pearl layers to bend and accommodate (work around) the blockage (thus forming circles). Bean, Seed, Rice, Button, Biwa are all variations of these internal anomalies that affect the final shape.
Then the host is left to mature. This process takes anywhere from 6 months for a 5mm Pure Pearl or a Tahitian Pearl with only a very thin outer layer of nacre, up to 2 years for a large Australian South Sea Pearl. The Pinctada Maxima can live up to 7 years and each time it is harvested a large bead can be placed inside the host to kick off the nacreation process.
Harvesting is the most incredible experience. It is literally like opening a 'treasure chest' when you open a mature oyster. Despite all of the hard work you still do not ever know what you will get until the growth and maturation cycle is complete. It is a wonderful, incredible experience to open an oyster or mussel and witness the majesty of the treasures that have formed inside.