Australian south sea pearls

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Perfecting the pearl farming process

1 January 2013

CJNA January

Perfecting the pearl farming process
Every June, in the pristine waters off the coast of north-western Australia, Paspaley Pearling Company prepares for the harvest. This annual event is the ultimate focus of pearling operations, the moment of truth when the Pinctada maximaoysters at last reveal their bounty.
Each Australian South Sea pearl is the culmination of years of intensive work and careful nurturing, and harvest is when all this dedication comes to fruition. But harvest is only one stage in the long journey of the world’s most prized natural gem. From seabed to market, Paspaley Pearling Company employs stringent processes – refined over decades – to consistently deliver the highest quality pearls to customers around the world.
From seabed to harvest: Pearl culturing
The journey begins in the unpredictable waters off the coast of Broome and Darwin, where Paspaley divers search the ocean floor for the giant Pinctada maxima, the largest and rarest of all pearl-producing oysters.
The collected oysters are carefully cleaned and placed in a nursery to prepare for seeding. Skilled technicians then implant a single nucleus in each oyster – around which a pearl will form. Returned to the sea, the shells are then cleaned by hand every 10 to 14 days throughout their growth cycle of several years. This maintains the oysters in optimum health, an essential factor in producing gem-quality pearls.
At harvest, the technicians carefully extract the fully-grown pearls, taking steps to preventing stress to the oysters, which can often produce a second in future years. Australian South Sea pearls typically range from 8mm to 16mm in size, although rare varieties exceeding 20mm have been found. During harvest, each pearl is carefully cleaned of any salt residue left from the ocean before it is readied for grading, the fifth and last step in the process.
Preparing for market: The Paspaley grading system
Each pearl passes through the hands of the internal team’s expert graders at least five times, as each pearl attribute is assessed independently.
For Paspaley Pearling Company, a pearl’s value is assessed based on five key characteristics: Lustre, Complexion, Shape, Colour and Size. Known as the ‘Five Virtues’, these grading standards – which are also used by the Gemological Institute of America – ensure that the company offers a consistent range of pearls year in and year out.
In addition to the ‘Five Virtues,’ Paspaley Pearling Company’s internal grading system classifies pearls into one of 6,000 different grading categories. Such exacting measures allow better matching of pairs and strands, and mean that customers can rely on the highest quality of supply, year after year.
A history of quality
Nearly a century of expertise has made Paspaley Pearling Company the world’s largest producer of the finest Australian South Sea pearls. With a history dating back to the early 1930s, Paspaley is one of the world’s only vertically-integrated pearling operations.
Starting with a single pearling lugger in 1935, the family-owned company has grown to become synonymous with Australian pearling – and is responsible for many innovations which have become benchmarks for all pearl farming operations. As a result of careful resource management, industry best practice and a respectful partnership with Nature, Paspaley is today recognised as the source of the world’s finest and most valuable pearls – Australian South Sea pearls.
These extraordinary lengths to ensure consistent supply of gem-quality cultured pearls means that Paspaley Pearling Company is the trusted supplier of pearls to the finest jewellery houses and pearl connoisseurs.
For more information on pearl farming, harvest and grading, Paspaley Pearling Company has created an educational website, set to launch within the coming months. Email for an alert upon launch..
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