Australian south sea pearls

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The world's
finest pearls

For centuries, Australian South Sea pearls have been prized as the most desirable and most valuable of all pearls.
Renowned for their 'orient', it is this combination of transparent lustre and unique play of colours that makes these pearls the finest in the world.


Pinctada Maxima

As a general rule, the most beautiful pearls come from the molluscs with the most beautiful shells.

The Australian South Sea pearl oyster

The Australian South Sea pearl oyster (Pinctada maxima) is the largest and rarest of all pearl oysters, and produces the finest and most beautiful pearl nacre of any mollusc.

Divers collect the wild oysters by hand in the pristine waters off north-west Australia. They are then taken to pearl farms, where they are nurtured in the hope that they will produce a gem quality pearl. Not every oyster will produce a pearl, and apart from rare exceptions, most will produce only one pearl at a time.

The shell itself is highly valued for its lustrous mother-of-pearl that is used for jewellery, fine quality buttons, and inlay.

Explore key pearl types

Qualities

Australia’s pristine oceanic conditions are acknowledged as the source of the world’s finest and largest pearls.

Today, Australian South Sea pearls with high transparency and colour overtone (known as 'orient') are produced exclusively in Australia. This unique play of surface colours occurs naturally only in pearls with fine quality nacre. Pearls from other regions can be subjected to chemical and heat treatment to replicate the effect.

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Location

Wild Pinctada maxima oysters are only found in commercial quantities in an isolated region of north-west Australia. Untouched by pollution, these oyster beds are protected by strict diving quotas enforced by the Australian Government.

Pinctada maxima oysters are rare and solitary creatures that thrive only in waters rich with microscopic plankton. They are particularly sensitive to changes in environmental conditions, making them extremely difficult to cultivate.

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Unique Characteristics

The Australian South Sea pearl is unrivalled in rarity, quality, nacre thickness, natural lustre, size, and value.

It is the combination of these features that make Australian South Sea pearls so unique.

Australian South Sea pearls are known for their extraordinary beauty - difficult to define but immediately apparent. Today, Australia produces the majority of South Sea pearls with the natural transparency and colour overtone known as 'orient'. The terms 'lustre' and 'orient' describe the appearance of light reflecting from deep within the perfect layers of pearl nacre. Consisting of thousands of layers, the quality and thickness of the nacre of fine quality Australian South Sea pearls gives them a natural beauty that will last for generations.

Due to their rarity, natural pearls often command higher prices than cultured pearls, but the factors used to assess quality and value are the same for both.

Every pearl should be sorted and graded according to “The Five Virtues" – Lustre, Complexion, Shape, Colour and Size. When selecting pearls however, it must also be remembered that a pearl's beauty - and ultimately its value - is in the eye of the
beholder.

Discover the Five Virtues
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THE FIVE VIRTUES

Select Virtue
Slide to Change

Discover the time honoured methods traditionally used to assess the value of pearls through our interactive Five Virtues tool.

Pearl Lustre
  • Poor A dim reflection and chalky appearance indicates thin or poor quality nacre
  • Fair A cloudy appearance with hazy or blurred reflection indicates coarse nacre
  • Good Bright reflections with a soft satin smooth appearance indicates fine quality nacre
  • Very Good An alluring brilliance from a sharp inner glow indicates superior quality nacre
  • Excellent A distinct luminosity and mirror like reflection indicates rare gem quality pearl nacre

1 / Lustre

The magic of a pearl lies in its lustre. Though difficult to illustrate, lustre is the most important characteristic of pearl quality that is instantly recognisable.

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Pearl Complexion
  • Heavily spotted Many blemishes on the pearl's surface
  • Moderately spotted Moderate blemishes on the pearl's surface
  • Lightly spotted A few light blemishes on the pearl's surface
  • Clean A flawless pearl surface or one with minute blemishes that are barely visible

2 / Complexion

A pearl with a flawless surface is exceptionally rare. Pearl quality is influenced by the number and size of imperfections and their degree of visibility. Clearly noticeable imperfections will significantly compromise a pearl's allure and value

Pearl Shape
  • Drop
  • Oval
  • Round
  • Button
  • Baroque

3 / Shape

A pearl's shape does not affect its quality; the demand for a particular shape, however, does have a bearing on value. Pearls of perfect symmetry such as round and tear-drop shapes are particularly rare and desirable. Ultimately, beauty lies in the eye of the beholder and selection of shape is a personal choice.

Shape Features

  • shape-circle-thumb Circle

  • shape-keshi-thumb Keshi

Pearls Colour
  • Gold
  • Champagne
  • Cream
  • White
  • White
    Pink
  • Silver
  • Silver
    Pink

4 / Colour

The wide array of natural colours of Australian South Sea pearls typically mirror the overtones of the pearl shell. Colour, like shape, is a very personal choice and the popularity of a particular hue influences a pearl's value. Australian South Sea pearls are typically white, silver, cream or gold. White with pink overtones is the most prized colour.

Pearl Size
5mm
  • Small
  • Medium
  • Large

5 / Size

Australian South Sea pearls have very thick pearl nacre and are the largest of all pearls, typically ranging from 11mm to 16mm. Larger sizes exceeding 20mm are occasionally found and such pearls are highly prized. Larger pearls are typically more valuable due to their greater rarity but size is only one of the 5 Virtues used to consider a pearl's value. Pearls are measured in millimetres by width.

Note: Illustrations are approximately to scale

Environment

Australian South Sea pearls are cultured through a respectful partnership with nature. The industry operates under the Pearling Code of Practice, which ensures minimal disruption to the natural environment.

Stretching from the Cobourg Peninsula north-east of Darwin to Dampier in Western Australia, Australia's remote pearl farm locations have been carefully chosen for their pristine environments, untouched by pollution.

These locations provide optimal conditions for the Pinctada maxima to produce the world’s finest pearls. Many of the farms are located in or adjacent to national parks, marine parks and Aboriginal lands.

The pearling industry surpasses the requirements of the Ecologically Sustainable Development requirements of Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999).

As a result of Australia's good quota system and the good fortune of an isolated and pristine environment, Australia now has the world's last significant beds of wild South Sea pearl oysters.

Due to these strong conservation measures, Australia's pearl beds are healthier than they have been for more than a century. It is not by mere luck that natural pearls of the highest quality are still discovered today. It is also due to careful management of wild oyster stocks and respect for their natural environment. This environmental responsibility has always been integral to Australia's pearling practices.

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