Oceanic pearls have been treasured for thousands of years, both for their rarity and unique beauty and longevity. The many myths and legends surrounding the pearl have emerged through a reverence to its beauty and perfection, with the pearl having been considered as a gift from the gods.
Pearls are created in partnership with nature. Occasionally a pearl may be produced naturally through an irritant, such as a shell fragment or parasite, finding its way inside the oyster. Quite naturally the oyster will lay down nacre, which is the substance lining the shell, to form a hard pearl casing around the irritant.
Up until around 100 years ago, the only means of obtaining a pearl would be by way of this process. As a result of this accidental process, pearls tended to be small and more irregularly shaped. Nevertheless their rarity ensured values were high and pearls remained largely in the domain of the extremely wealthy.
Towards the end of the 18th century an Australian of English decent William Saville-Kent is credited with first discovering how to instigate the formation of a blister shaped pearl, grown on the inside of the oyster’s shell. The method was quickly adopted by two young Japanese scientists Nishikawa and Mise who experimented further with implantation of spherical nuclei into the oyster. Kokichi Mikimoto subsequently developed the breakthrough that has led to the revolutionary growth of the Pearling Industry that we enjoy today. Once the method of implanting round nuclei into the gonad of the oyster was discovered, the expertise was closely guarded by the Japanese for many years.
The technology on how to implant the oyster is now shared, largely due to the insistence of the Australian Government, who wanted to protect the profits from the lucrative South Sea Pearling industry that was rapidly growing in Australia’s North West. Pearl Farmers remained at the mercy of having to pay very high prices for Japanese Technicians to carry out the seeding on Australian Pearl Farms. Thankfully, the Japanese have since shared the knowledge of how to seed an oyster, although it is the Japanese who still play a very large role in the Pearling Industry as a whole.
The Pearl Farming industry in Australia was built at a cost in lives of many of the early pearl divers – when equipment was often unreliable and conditions treacherous. Pearl Farming today benefits from the huge steps forward in technical development allowing us to perfect the process.
Pearl Farming is an expensive and uncertain business, even with the benefit of the technology employed today. Quality pearls remain both rare and highly sought after. They are produced following a lengthy, laborious and exacting process – carried out in partnership with the natural process of the oyster.