The big, bright, saltwater pearls at Roseate Jewelry are a joy to see and wear. These little beauties are the epitome of elegance and sophistication. They come from farms we’ve visited on the northwest coast of Australia and from the tropical lagoons in atolls around Tahiti. In this blog I want to describe the amazing process of how these pearls are cultivated and how they become a part of the jewelry we design for you.
The oysters that produce white marine pearls come from Australia. This oyster is called Pinctada maxima, or just the silver lipped oyster. It is the largest pearl oyster in the world, big and beautiful. The shells are about the size of a salad plate. They can grow even bigger. They reach the size of a dinner plate if they reach their full lifespan of 30-40 years.
Black and gray pearls come from a cousin in the oyster family, the Pinctada margaritifera, commonly called the black-lipped oyster. These thrive in the electric-colored waters in French Polynesia.
Where do the farms get these oysters? Oysters can be grown from spats, baby oysters that come from nurseries. Or you can collect oysters in the wild and then grow them on farms.
Wild oysters for pearl farming come from the sea floor. Divers work eight-hour shifts collecting them, breathing through air hoses and sending baskets of harvested oysters up in baskets to the waiting pearl boats. Up on deck, there is constant motion sorting containers in foam-soaked workspaces. Work is mostly done by hand and helped by simple machines. Chemicals are not used. The environment is delicate and successful pearl cultivation depends on maintaining pristine oceans. Pearl farmers think in terms of ecologic preservation.
Harvested oysters are put in net plackets that hold six to eight big shells. Each month oyster plackets are hauled one by one out of the sea onto boats where the shells are cleaned to get rid of debris and parasites. Oysters also have surprising and helpful partners in the wild: Inside virtually all pearl oyster shells lives a tiny pea crab, a symbiotic partner that helps protect the oyster.
Seeding oysters to grow pearls is careful work. Only a few professionals in the world know how to do it. The big shells are opened and held using a wooden wedge. Oysters are seeded with a small piece of oyster mantle flesh along with a small square shell, usually from the Mississippi mud mussel. This seeding technique causes the oyster to create a new organ, a pearl sac, inside which a pearl grows. The techniques came from trial and error over decades.
Oysters make pearls from a secretion of smooth, iridescent nacre. This is the same substance that lines the shiny interior of an oyster shell from which mother of pearl is harvested. Growing a new pearl this way takes two or three years.
The maxima oyster from Australia makes an incredible array of pale-colored pearls: White, silver, cream, pink, or gold. The light and color are amazing! The margaritifera oyster from French Polynesia makes incredible dramatic pearls colored black, gray, green, and even blue.
Harvested pearls are carefully graded by luster, size, shape, surface quality, and color and sent to market. And at this point, we get them and put them into our beautiful jewelry designs. We can offer them to you complete with a story about their origin that is as vibrant as the natural glow of the pearls.
The warm glow of Southsea pearls reflects their tropical birthplaces. French Polynesia is a stunning location of 118 different islands and atolls. Atolls are ring-shaped coral reefs surrounding a central lagoon. The ocean here is a vibrant blue or electric turquoise color.
The western Australian coast is tropical green with coconut palms bending in the wind surrounded by low, boxy stone cliffs of red, orange, and brown. In Australia marine life is abundant and also scary! There are dolphins, sharks, humpback whales, lethal box jellyfish, venomous sea snakes, saltwater crocodiles, and tropical fish in riotous colors. Oh my!These amazing locations are as exotic as the pearls they produce and Roseate is glad to bring them to you. Pearl farmers use traditional methods that protect clean air and water to ensure beautiful pearls for generations to come.