South Sea Pearls
Of all the pearls across the globe, there is one that is rare and revered. In pristine waters where the temperature is gentle and the atmosphere nurturing, there is a pearl with a strange perfection which bears the fingerprint of forever, the South Sea pearl.
The South Sea pearl is a labour of love, spending three silent years within the host oyster – the Pinctada Maxima (commonly known as the silver or gold lipped oyster) or the Pinctada Margaritafera (commonly known as the black lipped oyster). The breathtaking gift that is finally delivered into our world is well worth the wait.
The guide below considers the quality of a South Sea Pearl based on its Shine, Surface, Shade, Shape and Size, and provides an in-depth explanation to understand pearl classification.
As in all things, true beauty comes from within, so the virtue rated above all others in a South Sea pearl is its lustre and shine. Lustre is where the magic lies. Like the fire of a diamond, a pearl's lustre or shine has the power to mask other imperfections. Lustre is the result of light reflected from the pearl’s surface combined with its deep inner glow (iridescence).
South Sea pearls are made up of many fine layers of a crystal-like substance called nacre, comprising organic and inorganic materials secreted from within the living tissue of the oyster. The quality and thickness of nacre gives a pearl both its radiance and its deep glow. The combination of light reflecting on the pearl’s surface and light refracting between each layer of nacre within the pearl is what makes this gem unique.
The surface of a pearl is essentially its skin. Because South Sea pearls have layers of lustrous nacre built up over time, a flawless surface is extremely rare. Blemishes can manifest as a kind of patina, slight pitting or other such things. Pearls with a smooth surface and minimal imperfections are therefore more valuable.
As pearls are a gift of nature from a living mollusc, the most beautiful and valuable pearls may still have slight imperfections which appear in the form of small blemishes. These naturally bestowed ‘beauty marks’ characterise each pearl as an individual creation and can be seen as spots, bumps, chips, scratches and wrinkles.
The pearl grain refers to the composition of the pearl’s skin and its structure. The tighter the structure of the pearl, the less evident is its grain. The grain will appear as slight ripples on the pearl’s surface.
Pearls come in a variety of natural colours associated with different regions, from black (Tahitian) to golden (the Philippines/Indonesia) and white (most famously Australia). Unbeknownst to many consumers, South Sea pearls can also be dyed to enhance their colour. This is something to look out for when purchasing pearl jewellery. A strand that has been commercially dyed is greatly reduced in value. Within each colour band, pearls also exhibit a graduation of hues. For example, within the white spectrum pearls exhibit ivory, silver, grey, blue and pink hues.
South Sea pearls come in a variety of shapes, making them an incredibly difficult gem to classify without a professionally trained eye. A product of nature, each pearl is individual and unique.
The major categories of South Sea pearl shapes are; round, near round, drop, button, baroque and circle. With the exception of round and near round pearls, there is a variation of different types within each shape category.
South Sea pearls are renowned for their large sizes. The Pinctada maxima oyster is the largest species of oyster capable of producing a pearl. South Sea pearls are measured in millimetres and commonly range from 9-20+mm, with the majority falling within a range of 10-17mm. Though extremely rare, the irregularly shaped baroque South Sea pearl can reach sizes of up to 40mm or more. The largest fine quality, round South Sea pearl cultivated by one of our producers measured in at a magnificent 22.8mm.
The weighing unit for pearls is momme, an old Japanese measure of weight still used for all pearls. One momme is equal to 3.75 grams or 18.75 cts