Paspaley Pearl

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Origin of name

The Paspaley Pearl, which is perhaps the most perfect pearl ever created by human intervention, gets its name from the Company, Paspaley Pearl Pty Ltd. who were responsible for culturing the pearl inside the pearl oyster Pinctada maxima, in one of their pearl farms off the coast of northern Australia in the year 2002. The exceptional South Sea cultured pearl has a perfect spherical shape, the most valued shape for natural or cultured pearls, and has a silvery-white color with a soft pink overtone, with a satin-like luster characteristic of South Sea pearls.

The pearl also has gone down on record as one of the largest cultured pearls ever produced. Thus a combination of desirable characteristics such as the perfect spherical shape, the color, luster and extraordinary size, has made the Paspaley Pearl one of the most famous cultured pearls in the world. The pearl is now part of the valuable collection of unique pearls maintained by the company.

Characteristics of the pearl

The size and weight of the pearl

The Paspaley Pearl was cultured inside the pearl oyster Pinctada maxima, the silver-lip pearl oyster, in one of the pearl farms maintained by the Paspaley Pearl Company, off the coast of northern Australia, in Darwin. The pearl was harvested in the year 2002, and given the fact that the minimum time given for the growth of cultured South Sea pearls is two years, the oyster that produced the pearl would have probably remained submerged in the farm for a minimum period of two years, after being seeded in the year 2000. It is not known whether the seeding of the oyster took place prior to the year 2000, so that the growth period of the pearl would be more than two years. However, the size of cultured South Sea pearls after the minimum growth period of two years, have been found to vary between 9 to 20 mm, with an average size of about 13 mm. Thus the Paspaley Pearl with a uniform diameter of 20.40 mm, might as well have been produced during this minimum period of two years. In comparison with the average size of South Sea pearls produced, which is 13 mm, the size of the Paspaley Pearl is approximately 50% larger. Thus the Paspaley Pearl, becomes one of the largest cultured pearls ever produced. In terms of its weight too the Paspaley Pearl is quite large with a weight of 12.188 grams, equivalent to 60.940 carats or 243.760 grains.

The Paspaley Pearl, which is perhaps the most perfect pearl ever created by human intervention, gets its name from the Company, Paspaley Pearl Pty Ltd.

© Paspaley Pearls

The shape of the pearl

The diameter of the pearl is uniform right round, equal to 20.40 mm. If there is any variation in the diameter it is undoubtedly less than 2%, and the roundness is greater than 98%. Such pearls having a variation in diameter of less than 2% and a roundness between 98% and 100% are defined as perfectly round or spherical pearls. Thus the Paspaley Pearl undoubtedly qualifies for the status of a perfectly spherical pearl. The perfect spherical shape of the pearl is attributed to the nacre being laid in exceptionally uniform layers around the nucleus of the cultured pearl.

The color of the pearl

The color of the pearl is a silvery-white, a common body color of pearls produced by the silver-lip pearl oyster. Other colors produced by this oyster are silver, silver-pink and cream. The body color may be caused either by pigments, or as recent research suggests, by interference colors produced by the "edge band structure" in the nacre, which is characteristic of the width of the structure. For silver pearls the width of the "edge band structure" is 74 nm. For cream pearls the width is 80 nm and for golden pearls it is 90 nm. According to this research the body color of pearls is caused by the colors produced by the "edge band structure" mixing with the specular reflection of the nacre, and being modified by any pigmentation present.

Overtone in the pearl

Besides its silvery-white body color, the pearl also has a soft-pink overtone. Overtones are overlying colors that appear to float over the surface of the pearl. They are translucent colors that appear on top of the pearl's main body color. The overtones tend to modify the body color of the pearl, besides adding depth and glow to the pearl. Overtones, like iridescence are also caused by the interference of light as it passes through the alternating layers of aragonite and conchiolin in the nacre.

The luster of the pearl

The satin-like luster of the pearl, which is deep, rich and luxurious, is characteristic of South Sea pearls, which helps to distinguish them from other pearls. The luster of the pearl is a measurement of the quality and quantity of light that reflects from the surface and just under the surface of a pearl. In other words it is the reflective quality or brilliance of the surface of the pearl's nacre. Luster of a pearl is closely associated with the thickness of the nacre. Thicker the nacre the more lustrous a pearl becomes. Thus the rich color, the soft overtones and the brilliant satin-like luster are all attributed to the thick nacre produced around the nucleus of the pearl, which in cultured South Sea pearls may be as high as 2-6 mm, higher than any other cultured pearl in the world. The luster and brilliance of South Sea pearls, thus surpasses that of all other pearls, making them unique and distinctive, and the most valuable pearls in the world.

History of the Paspaley Pearl

A short history of the Paspaley family

Arrival and settling in Cossack, Western Australia, in 1919

The Paspaley family headed by Theodosis Michael Paspalis first migrated to western Australia from Kastellorizo, in Greece, in the year 1919, and settled in the port city of Cossack, which was then an important pearling center in western Australia, with a cosmopolitan population of Europeans, Asians and Aborigines. Pearling being the only viable industry in the area, Theodosis made an investment in a pearl lugger, and took a keen interest in pearling activities. However, 5 years after his arrival in Cossack, Theodosis passed away, and his children Michael, Nicholas and Mary continued to maintain an interest in pearling activities.

Migration northwards to Port Hedland and Broome

Western Australia during this period was the center of the mother-of-pearl industry in the world, producing almost 80 % of the world's requirement of mother-of-pearls, used in the shell button industry. The family migrated from Cossack northwards to Port Hedland and then to Broome in northwestern Australia, as the pearl-oyster beds in the previous locations were exhausted, and pearling was no more economical. Nicholas Paspalis was first introduced to the trade at the age of 14, and in the year 1932, when he was 18 years of age, was manning his own pearl lugger, diving for oyster shells. After arriving in Broome, Nicholas Paspalis, set up the family business in the town and changed the family name to Paspaley. Broome became internationally renowned as the center of the mother-of-pearl production, and in 1925, had 400 pearling luggers engaged in the industry, producing almost 80% of the world's requirement of mother-of pearls.

The collapse of the pearling industry in the 1930s and 1940s and its subsequent revival and final collapse in the mid-1950s

The pearling industry collapsed in the 1930s and early 1940s during the period of the worldwide depression, followed by World War II. Disaster struck the pearling industry in Broome, as 500 Japanese divers engaged in the industry were arrested and interned until the war ended. Most of the pearl luggers were also destroyed for fear of falling into enemy hands or were taken over by the Australian navy. The population of Broome was also evacuated during the period of the war, and Nicholas Paspaley moved to Port Hedland, where he remained till the end of the war. After the war the Australian Government replaced the Japanese divers with Kalymnian divers  from the Kalymnos in the Aegean. The industry once again boomed with an unprecedented demand, that kept prices very high until the mid-1950s. Immediately after the war Nicholas Paspaley purchased four pearl luggers that were abandoned by the Australian Navy on Darwin's Dinah beach, and became the first person to resume pearling activities, operating from Darwin. He continued with his pearling operations from Darwin, during the boom period, until the collapse of the industry, with the advent of plastic buttons.

Nicholas Paspaley establishes the first cultured pearl farm in Australia in Kuri Bay in 1956, and a second farm in Port Essington in 1963

Undeterred by the sudden turn of events in the international market for mother-of-pearls, Nicholas Paspaley diverted his attention towards the culturing of South Sea pearls, trying to draw a lesson from what the Japanese had achieved with the Akoya pearls. In the year 1956, Nicholas Paspaley went into partnership with a Japanese businessman Mr. Kuribavashi, and established the first cultured pearl farm in Australia, in Kuri Bay, named in his honor, 420 km north of Broome. Japanese pearl culturists assisted in this project, and tried to apply the successful techniques developed for Akoya pearls in Japan, for the culturing of South Sea pearls using the largest pearl-oyster in the world, the silver and golden-lipped pearl oyster Pinctada maxima. The results were not encouraging due to the high mortality of pearl oysters during their transfer to the farms from the deep sea, and particularly after the seeding process. In 1963, another pearl farm was started at Port Essington, East of Darwin, in collaboration with another Japanese company, Arafura Pearling Company, but this too suffered the same fate as the Kuri Bay farm.

Nicholas Paspaley and his team of Scientists develop new techniques for all phases of pearl culturing to suit conditions in Australia

Nicholas Paspaley was not discouraged, and he together with his son Nicholas Paspaley Junior, and his team of technicians and scientists, did extensive research on the problems encountered by them, making observations, collecting data, and evolving solutions to all the problems, while developing new techniques for every phase of the pearl culturing process, to suit the conditions in western Australia. They realized that the pearl farming methods borrowed from Japan did not suit the conditions in Australia, and had an adverse effect on the frail and sensitive Pinctada maxima oysters, which was very sensitive to environmental changes such as pollutants, removal from the natural environment to the farm environment, being out of water for long periods and other stressful situations. Thus the Paspaley team took all steps necessary to reduce the stress placed on the oysters, such as seeding of pearls in sterile conditions in a floating laboratory, on a pearling ship, and transferring the seeded pearls to their natural environment immediately for an initial period, before transferring them to the sea-based farms, where conditions were almost identical to the natural conditions. Thus the time spent by the oysters out of water was reduced to a minimum. The results achieved were phenomenal with a high survival rate, and bigger and more luxurious pearls.

The company realizes the vision of its founder Nicholas Paspaley Senior and emerges as the world's leading producer of cultured South Sea pearls

Paspaley Pearling Company has today become the undisputed leader in the culturing of South Sea pearls, and have set the standards for the culturing of these pearls, followed by other countries with a coastline in the South Sea, such as Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, and Myanmar. The Company now manages 20 pearl farms situated along a 2,500 km stretch of coastline in northern and western Australia, situated in pollutant-free pristine waters in isolated bays, that also afforded some protection from seasonal cyclones. The Company has more than a dozen ships and several smaller working craft, that are used for all steps of the pearl production cycle, such as fishing, transport, seeding, husbandry and harvesting. besides delivering supplies and maintenance. Three light aircraft supplement the effort of the ships, and are used for crew movements and carrying supplies on a daily basis. During his 57 years of working life Nicholas Paspaleys vision for his company became a reality, with Paspaley Pearling Company emerging as the world's leading producer of quality South Sea cultured pearls. He died in 1984 at the age of 71, and was succeeded by his son Nicholas Paspaley Junior, who together with his sister Roselyn is now managing the company.

Nicholas Paspaley Junior

Nicholas Paspaley Junior

© Paspaley Pearls

Cultivation of South Sea pearls

The  South Sea cultured pearl production cycle consists of four main steps. These are :- 1) Fishing (Diving)  2) Seeding  3) Husbandry  4) Harvesting

1) Fishing for pearl oysters by diving

Restrictions placed on the fishing of wild oysters under the sustainable resource management plan

In Australia the culturing of South Sea pearls is mainly carried out in "wild shells" collected from deep sea oyster beds off the coast of western and northern Australia. The use of hatchery-bred oysters for pearl culturing is minimal in spite of Government efforts to promote the use of such oysters in order to conserve wild stocks of oysters. In any case the use of wild oysters for seeding is strictly controlled under the government's sustainable resource management plan, under which strict quotas are imposed on pearl cultivators, that stipulates the maximum number of wild shells that can be harvested each year by any peal cultivator. There are round 16 major producers of cultured South Sea pearls, and the total quota allowed for them is 500,000 wild oysters and 350,000 hatchery-bred oysters per year. Moreover restrictions have also been placed on the size of the wild shells that can be harvested, only allowing shells that have a dorso-ventral shell length greater than 120 mm (12 cm) to be collected. The sustainable resource management plan of the Government has the full co-operation of the pearl cultivators who are convinced of the necessity of such measures to ensure that natural oyster stocks remain self-sustaining at present levels of annual harvesting.

The location of off shore oyster beds in Western Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland

In western Australia offshore shell beds are found from Exmouth Gulf in the south to the Lacepede Islands in the north, and includes the renowned oyster beds off the Eighty Mile Beach, located almost halfway between the towns of Broome and Port Hedland, and first discovered in the late 19th century. In the Northern Territory of Australia the offshore oyster beds are found along the Arnhem Land coast in the northeast of the territory, between Golburn and Crocodile Islands. In Queensland the oyster beds are found west of Badu Island, in the Torres Strait.

Collection of wild shells by hookah-equipped divers. The creation of dump sites or nurseries

Shells greater than 120 mm (12 cm) in shell length are collected by teams of up to six divers operating from ocean-going vessels. The shells are hand-picked from the oyster beds by hookah-equipped divers, causing minimum damage to the beds. Hookah divers are supplied with air from the surface via an air compressor, that enable them to work underwater for long periods of time. Each diver undertakes about 10 dives in a day. After collecting, the wild shells are cleaned and placed in net panels of 6 or 8 shells. The panels are then tied to long lines that are moored to the bottom of the sea bed to create "dump sites." These "dump sites" or "nurseries" are created closer to the natural oyster beds in order to ensure that the natural environment of the oysters is maintained. The oysters remain in the "nursery" for a short period of time until they are seeded later in the season

2) Seeding of the oysters

Seeding operation carried out at the collection and dumping sites in surgically clean laboratories on board the pearling ships

Previously oysters from "dump sites" were transferred to land based farms, where the seeding operations were carried out. This placed a lot of stress on the oysters and their mortality was very high, before and after the seeding process. Besides the radical change in environment from what obtains in the natural environment of the oysters beds also had an adverse impact on the oysters, increasing their mortality. To overcome both these problems Nicholas Paspaley introduced the use of pearling ships, equipped with surgically clean laboratories and operating facilities, where the seeding operations were carried out by Japanese-trained technicians, closer to the oyster beds as well as the "dump sites" or "nurseries."  Presently, out of the 12 ships owned by the Paspaley Pearling Company Proprietary Ltd. the ship Paspaley IV, fully equipped to undertake sterile seeding procedures, is assigned with the all important task of seeding the oysters for a few months each year. The oysters that are taken aboard the ship from the "nurseries" are kept alive by constantly circulating sea water, until the seeding operation is carried out. Each wild shell is implanted with a round nucleus obtained from the thick shell of the freshwater Mississippi mussel, and a small piece of mantle tissue from a "sacrificial" oyster. The diameter of the nucleus can vary from 6.6-14 mm, depending on the size of the shell to be implanted, and the number of times the shell has been previously implanted. Usually as the number of implantations increase the size of the cultured pearl also increases, requiring a larger nucleus to be implanted. Each seeding-technician can operate on 550 to 600 shells in a day.

Three-month post-implantation period in the nursery or dump site before transferring to the pearl farms

After seeding the implanted shells are again placed in the net panels tied onto longlines that are moored to the bottom of the sea bed at "dump sites" or "nurseries,"  where they remain for the next three months. This initial period still in the natural environment of the oysters, helps the seeded pearl oysters to recuperate after the somewhat traumatic seeding operation. The seeded oysters are inspected and turned regularly by divers. The regular turning of the seeded oysters ensures that an even envelop of nacre secreting cells forms a sac around the nucleus, which eventually results in a spherical pearl. After this initial three-month post-implantation period in the nursery, during which the pearl oysters successfully overcome the stress caused by seeding, the net panels are retrieved, and the seeded shells transported extremely carefully by boat to pearl farms situated in well protected coastal bays and inlets. This takes place during the warm months of October- December.

3) The husbandry process or growout period

Two ways of placing the implanted shells in net panels in the farm

The pearl farm growout sites where the husbandry process takes place, should have environmental conditions comparable to the natural environmental conditions of the oyster beds, with pristine waters free of pollutants that promote the growth of the plankton soup on which the oysters survive. There are two ways of placing the implanted shells in net panels in the farm during the growout period. As commonly seen in Western Australia and the Northern Territory the net panels can be placed on well protected surface longlines. The advantages of this method are that the longlines are both easy and less expensive to operate. However, the seeded shells in the panels are prone to disturbing weather conditions like cyclones so common in the region. In another method which is practiced in Western Australia, the net panels are placed on longlines, 13 meters deep inside the water, and held by bottom posts. The advantage of this method is that the shells are less vulnerable to cyclonic conditions. However the longlines require continued maintenance by underwater divers.

Regular manual or mechanical cleaning of implanted shells during the two year culture period

During the growout period the health conditions of the oysters must be maintained at an optimum level, in order to ensure the production of quality pearls. This requires that the implanted shells be cleaned regularly - usually every 2-4 weeks - throughout the two-year culture period, either manually using the services of underwater divers, or mechanically using high pressure cleaning machines mounted on boats. Cleaning removes the marine growths that can harbor parasites and diseases.

X-ray scanning of seeded shells to identify nuclear retention and rejection

Another important procedure carried out during the husbandry process, 4-6 months after seeding, is the X-ray scanning of every shell looking for nucleus retention and pearl formation. Shells that are identified to have rejected nuclei are held separately until the following year. These shells are re-seeded again the following year if they are in healthy condition, and show little scarring from the previous year's attempted seeding. However, if the shells have commenced the formation of "keshi pearls" as a result of the tissue implant grafting into the incision and forming a pearl-producing pearl sac, such shells are left alone and not re-seeded.

Harvesting of cultured pearls

Harvesting of cultured pearls takes place during the cooler winter months

After two years of nurturing the seeded oysters in the growout pearl farms, the cultured pearls are harvested during the cooler winter months of the year. The time for harvesting is deliberately chosen due to various reasons, the most important being that nacre secretion during winter months is slower and more uniform, and the nacre produced has a maximum luster. Thus by harvesting during winter months we can have a product with desirable luster. Again, the lower temperature of the winter reduces both pre-harvest and post-harvest stress, and thus reduces the mortality of the shells, increasing the chance of a second implantation.

Extraction of pearls carried out in the mother ship.

During the harvesting process the net panels containing the seeded oysters are raised from the sea, and transferred to the mother ship for the extraction of the pearl. This is a most exciting period for personnel working on the ship, as until now what lies in store inside the pearl oysters are not known. The technicians involved in retrieving the pearls from the oysters take extra precautions  in minimizing any harm or stress to the oysters, as they can be used again and again for a second, third or even fourth seeding.

Initial sorting and grading of pearls on board the mother ship by implantation technicians

The pearls harvested each day are initially sorted and graded according to color, size and shape by implantation technicians on board the ship. This initial sorting becomes necessary as the implantation technicians are eager to find out the productivity of their implanted shells, that attract a financial reward, given as an incentive by the company.

Cleaning, tumbling and final grading of pearls

The harvested pearls are then transported to the company's headquarters, where they are first cleaned carefully to remove any residual mucus or salt. The good quality pearls are then selected and gently tumbled with a  mild abrasive such as cooking salt, that removes any organic material that still adheres to the pearls, such as dried mucus. The mild tumbling brings out the full potential of the pearls, enhancing their luster and iridescence. Pearls of lower grade are also tumbled using finely ground pumice, that enhance their smoothness. After cleaning the pearls are classified and graded. The Paspaley Pearling Company grades their pearls according to five key criteria, which the company refers to as the five virtues of South Sea pearls. These are :- Luster, Complexion, Shape, Size and Color. After grading the pearls are sent to Paspaley's design studio located in Cullen Bay, Darwin, a peaceful waterside location, that inspires the company's world class designers to set the most beautiful cultured pearls in the world, available in a myriad of shapes, colors, and sizes, in innovative designs, the hallmark of Paspaley's distinctive jewelry collections.

Percentage yield of cultured pearls

According to mathematical estimates only around 65 % of implanted shells finally produce cultured pearls. This figure is arrived at as follows :- The overall mortality rate for seeded shells, over the two-year cultivation period  is 5%. The 4% of live oysters initially sacrificed to yield the nacre-secreting graft tissue, which was implanted together with the nucleus, is added to this, giving a loss of 9%. A 5% post-operation mortality of shells, increases the loss to 14 %. The nuclei rejection rate after seeding is around 20%, increasing the loss to 34%. Thus the percentage of implanted shells left healthy enough to form pearls is 66%, which is approximately 65%, and in agreement with the above estimate.

Re-seeding of pearl oysters after obtaining the first yield

At the time of extraction of pearls from the oysters, those that produce good quality pearls that are marketable are separated, and out of this only about 60% of shells are selected for re-seeding, and 40% are rejected. The 60% selected for re-seeding represent shells that produced the highest quality first crop pearls, and hence have the potential of producing an acceptable quality second crop pearl. Re-seeded pearls generally tend to be of lesser quality than original pearls, hence the reason for selecting only 60% of original shells for re-seeding. The re-seeded shells are then cultivated for a further two years under the same conditions as the original shells. The second crop of pearls produced by re-seeded shells are larger in size as well as weight. After allowing for mortality and nucleus rejection, out of the surviving re-seeded shells, only about 40% are suitable for implantation with a third nucleus. The average size of the third crop of pearls produced is around 17-19 mm. Yet another implantation might be possible with the surviving shells, and up to four pearls have sometimes been produced from a single shell, before the shell is finally discarded as unsuitable for round pearl production. Statistics maintained for the production of white South Sea pearls in Western Australia, show that the output of marketable pearls in the first extraction is around 85%, with an average weight of 16.5 carats; in the second extraction around 65%, with an average weight of 21.5-23 carats; and a variable yield in the third extraction, consisting of large size pearls.

Cultivation of South Sea Mabe pearls

Mabe pearls are half pearls, hemispherical in shape and produced inside pearl oysters where the nucleus gets lodged on the inner surface of the shells, outside the mantle tissue. Under natural conditions normally only a single mabe pearl may develop inside an oyster, on the inner surface of one of the two valves. But, technically the inner surface of both valves have the potential of producing mabe pearls at the same time, though under natural conditions the possibility of that happening is very remote. However, pearl culturists have made use of this ability of the valves of a pearl oyster, to culture two mabe pearls, one on each valve at the same time.

In the culturing of Australian South Sea pearls, once a pearl oyster is considered to be incapable of producing further round pearls, which may be after the first, second or third seeding, the live and healthy oyster can still be made use of, to produce half pearls or mabe pearls. Plastic nuclei of hemispherical shape are glued on to the inner surface of both valves, and the shells are cultivated for a further 10 to 12 months, during which period a hemispherical cultured pearl would have grown on the inner surface of  each of the valves. At the time of harvest the shell is killed, and the mabe pearl is cut out of the shell with a circle-bit drill. The nucleus is then removed and the cavity filled with an epoxy resin, and backed by a mother-of-pearl plate. Mabe pearls are also known as blister pearls. Due to their flattened side, Mabe pearls are the ideal choice for jewelry such as earrings and rings, which allow for a secure setting , and a concealed flat back.

The five virtues of South Sea pearls used by Paspaley in grading their pearls

After harvesting every Paspaley pearl is graded according to five key criteria which are referred to as the five virtues of South Sea pearls. These are :- Luster, Complexion, Shape, Size and Color.

1) Luster

The luster of a pearl, caused by its nacre, is the single most important determinant of pearl quality. Luster of a pearl is defined as a measurement of the quality and quantity of light that reflects from the surface and just under the surface of a pearl. It represents the reflective quality or brilliance of the surface of the pearl nacre. High luster is associated with thick nacre, and low luster with thin nacre. The more lustrous a pearl, the more brilliant and shiny the pearl appears. On the contrary when a pearl has a low luster it appears white or chalky. Another light-related effect caused by nacre is its "Orient," also known as iridescence, which is the unique play of colors on a pearl's surface. Iridescence is caused by the scattering of light as it is refracted through successive layers of tiny aragonite platelets that constitute the inorganic part of the nacre. Saltwater pearls tend to have a greater luster than freshwater pearls. However "Orient or Iridescence" is a property characteristic of only saltwater pearls, and not found in freshwater pearls. The body color of the pearl is determined by the color of the mother-of-pearl of the shell, in which the pearl is formed, and caused by colored pigments or biochromes. The body color of a pearl can be induced or enhanced artificially, but the orient and luster of a pearl cannot be replicated. Artificial color enhanced pearls only have a superficial shine.

2) Complexion 

Pearls being creations of nature can have flaws such as blemishes on their surface or imperfections within the pearl's nacre, referred to as "movement." Complexion is defined as the presence or absence of flaws on the surface of a pearl. Pearls without any flaws are said to be of flawless complexion, such as the "Paspaley Pearl." the subject of this webpage. Pearls with a flawless complexion are the most valuable. Complexion flaws may or may not interfere with a pearl's beauty. This depends on the quantity, depth and visibility of these flaws. Using this as a criterion, Paspaley pearls are further divided into four grades :- Statement, Fine, Fashion and Foundation, each one of which refers to a certain quality of the complexion. It is the combination of luster and complexion that determines the quality of a pearl.

3) Shape 

The shape of a South Sea pearl depends on how uniformly the layers of nacre are laid around the nucleus of the pearl. To encourage a uniform deposition of nacre the seeded pearl oysters are turned around regularly inside their net panels during the three month post operation period, while still in the nursery, and also after transferring to the pearl farms. A uniform deposition of nacre leads to a round or semi-round pearl. Pearl culturists can only encourage the oysters to produce a spherical pearl, but the ultimate decision lies with the oyster itself, which may instead decide to produce a baroque pearl. Seven pearl shapes are recognized by the company. These are :- round, semi-round, drop, button, baroque, semi-baroque and circle. It is important to remember that the shape of a pearl does not affect its quality. A good quality pearl, with brilliant luster and flawless complexion may have a less desired shape such as baroque or circle, but still be considered good quality. Likewise a poor quality pearl with a poor luster and flawed complexion may have the much desired spherical shape, and still remain poor quality !!!

4) Size

South Sea cultured pearls surpass all other cultured pearls in terms of size and quality, and correspondingly they have a much higher value than other cultured pearls. South Sea pearls have  a diameter of between 10 to 16 mm. Pearls larger than this, varying from 16-20 mm and over, do sometimes exist, but are much rarer and highly prized by connoisseurs. "Due to their greater size and thick nacre that imparts a deep luster, and make them less likely to discolor or degenerate, South Sea pearls are 3 to 10 times more expensive than other varieties of pearls," according to Yoshihiro Shirnizu, president of the Kobe-based Japan Pearl Exporters Association.

5) Color

The most common and popular body color of South Sea pearls, is white. Other colors include cream, silver, pink, yellow and gold or combinations of two colors such as silvery-white and silvery-pink. These are natural colors of the South Sea pearl shell, which includes both the silver-lip and golden-lip pearl oyster. Besides the body color, South Sea pearls also show various overtone colors, which are translucent colors that appear to float over the surface of the pearl, and tend to modify the color of the pearl. Whereas body colors are caused by actual pigments and biochromes, overtones are caused by the interference of light as it passes through the alternating layers of aragonite and conchiolin in the nacre.

Limitations of the pearl culturists - Comments by Nick Paspaley, Executive Chairman, Paspaley Pearls

In spite of all the efforts by pearl culturists such as diving for the wild shells, maintaining "nurseries," seeding operations, turning of seeded shells, transferring to farms for the growout period, cleaning of shells every 2-4 weeks during the two-year culture period etc. human intervention has little control over what the oyster does after the seeding operation. In fact it is the oyster that decides all important characteristics that the future pearl would possess, such its size, shape, body color, overtones, luster etc. etc. This is summed up in a comment made by Nick Paspaley, the owner of the Paspaley Pearling Company Pty. Ltd., "We don't have control over what the shell does with the pearl itself. It decides what color it's going to produce. It decides if it's going to produce fine nacre or coarse. And if the rainbow of colors are in the pearl or not. We control what we do but nature controls the rest."

Discovery of the Paspaley Pearl in the year 2002

Pearl farms operated by Paspaley Pearls

Paspaley Pearl Pty. Ltd. operates around 20 pearl farms which are scattered along 2,500 km of mostly uninhabited coastline, stretching from the Cobourg Peninsula to the northeast of Darwin, in the Northern Territory, to Dampier in Western Australia. Most of the farms are situated in isolated bays that provide some protection from the seasonal cyclones, and most importantly contain pollutant-free pristine waters, that can sustain the sensitive Pinctada maxima oysters, and encourage the growth of microscopic plankton on which the oysters thrive.

The Vansittart Bay pearl farm

One such pearl farm is situated in the Vansittart Bay, in the Indian Ocean off the northeast coast of Western Australia. Vansittart Bay has a tropical climate, with a wet and dry season. The wet season extends from November to May, with a total rainfall of 780 mm, most of which falls in January. The dry season which extends from June to October has a total rainfall of less than 60 mm. The temperatures in the wet season vary between 31°C to 32.9°C during the day and 25.2°C and 27.2°C in the night. In the dry season temperatures vary between 28°C and 31.5°C during the day and 22.1°C and 26°C during the night. The slightly lower day and night temperatures in the dry season corresponds with the winter season in the temperate regions of Southern Australia.

Discovery of the "Paspaley Pearl" on the day Nick Paspaley visits the Vansittart Bay farm

In the year 2002, the Vansittart Bay pearl farm was taking their annual harvest. The net panels containing the seeded oysters that had been nurtured for two years, were raised from the sea and transferred to the mother ship for the extraction of the pearls. Almost by good fortune Nick Paspaley AC, the Executive Chairman of the company, was visiting the Vansittart Bay farm on that particular day. Coincidentally that same day the implantation technicians working on the ship, who were also responsible for retrieving the cultured pearls after their growth period, discovered what is arguably the most significant cultured pearl in modern history, an event that made the Paspaley's  2002 harvest a most significant and memorable one. The pearl was one of the most perfectly rounded pearls ever harvested, and had a uniform diameter of 20.4 mm, a flawless complexion, and an extraordinary luster, with a soft pink overtone. When the news of the discovery spread among the crew of the ship work paused on the ship for some moments.

The Paspaley Pearl - the Pearl of all Pearls

This unique pearl whose discovery heralded the Chairman's visit to the Vansittart Bay farm on that day, was eventually christened the "Paspaley Pearl" a most appropriate name, symbolic of the extraordinary beauty of the world renowned Paspaley's cultured South Sea pearls, the crème de la crème of all pearls worldwide, whose beauty is achieved not by any artificial enhancement, but by going into partnership with nature, and providing all ideal natural conditions required for the successful development of a cultured pearl. Nick Paspaley AC, summed up his feelings on this natural miracle, when he made the following comments :- "I have never seen a pearl like this and I believe that there has never been a pearl in the world anywhere of this size and quality. It really is the "pearl of pearls." It has an intense pink coming from within, the finest nacre, perfect shape, perfect color and luster - truly unbelievable. We may never see another pearl like this one again." The "Paspaley Pearl" has now become the most outstanding pearl in the unique collection of  the finest pearls maintained by the company.

The Paspaley Pearl displayed at the "Allure of Pearls" exhibition

The "Paspaley Pearl" was one of a rare grouping of 12 pearls, each with its own history, beauty and science, that went on display at the "Allure of Pearls" exhibition held between March 12 and September 5, 2005, at the Harry Winston Gallery, of the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals, of the National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution, and co-sponsored by the Gemological Institute of America, Paspaley Pearls Pty. Ltd. and Iridesse Pearls. The pearl was loaned for the exhibition by Paspaley Pearls Pty. Ltd., the major producer of white South Sea pearls in Australia, with its headquarters based in Darwin, Australia.

Paspaley, the leading producer and distributor of the world's finest pearls

Australia is the world's largest producer of South Sea pearls, whose value in 1998 was estimated at US$220 million. Paspaley Pearls Pty. Ltd. was responsible for over 50% of this annual production. Thus, Paspaley Pearls Pty. Ltd. is undoubtedly  the world's largest producer of South Sea pearls. Today the company has a world class design studio in Darwin, whose talented and experienced designers set the most beautiful cultured pearls in the world, in innovative designs, that has become the hallmark of Paspaley's jewelry collections, available through a network of Paspaley Boutiques in Australia, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Hong Kong and Tokyo. The company's clients also include some of the world's leading jewelry houses, such as Tiffany & Co., David Yurman, Cartier and Harry Winston.

Back to Famous Pearls 2

You are welcome to discuss this post/related topics with Dr Shihaan and other experts from around the world in our FORUMS (

Related :-

1) Paspaley Drop-shaped Pearls

2) Imperial Hong Kong Pearl

External Links :-



References :-

1) The Australian Pearling Industry and It's Pearls - Grahame Brown,

2) Website of Paspaley Pearls Pty. Ltd. -

3) The Allure of Pearls -

4) South Sea Pearls -

5) South Sea Pearls -

6) Pearl - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

7) The Australian Pearls and the Greek Connection -

8) GIA Alumni Pearl Tour - Paspaley Pearls,

9) Paspaley - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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