Paspaley Drop Shaped Pearls

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Origin of Name

The Paspaley Drop Shaped Pearls refer to two extraordinary natural drop-shaped South Sea pearls discovered from the pearl oyster Pinctada maxima inhabiting the pearl oyster beds off the northern and western coasts of Australia, and belonging to Paspaley Pearls Pty. Ltd. the pioneers of South Sea cultured pearls based in Darwin, Northern Australia. The two pearls were given on loan to the National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution for the "Allure of Pearls" exhibition held in the Harrison Winston Gallery of the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals, from March 18 to September 5, 2005, and co-sponsored by the GIA, Paspaley Pearls Pty Ltd. and Iridesse Pearls.

Characteristics of the Pearls

The size, shape, color and luster of the pearls

The Paspaley Drop-shaped Pearls discovered from the pearl oyster Pinctada maxima (white-lip or silver-lip oyster)  inhabiting the oyster beds off the coast of Northern and Western Australia, are extraordinary in terms of size, shape, color and luster. A combination of all these desirable characteristics have made the Paspaley Drop-shaped Pearls to be listed among the most famous pearls in the world. The two pearls have coincidentally the same weight, 18.75 carats equivalent to 75.00 grains. Even though both pearls are characterized as drop-shaped their shapes are not identical. One of the pearls of course has a typical drop-shape or pear-shape, perfectly symmetrical, broader towards one end and narrowing down towards the other end. The dimensions of this pearl are 19.19 mm in length and 12.26 mm in diameter at its widest point. The other pearl is more oval or oblong than pear-shaped, broader at the middle and narrowing towards both ends, with dimensions of 19.62 mm in length and 11.22 mm in diameter at its widest point. The perfect symmetry of the two pearls is very striking, well proportioned with respect to a median line of symmetry

Paspaley Drop-shaped Pearls ©Smithsonian Institution

Both pearls have a very clean surface without any blemishes and the satin-sheen luster is characteristic of most high quality South Sea pearls, imparted by a rapidly deposited nacre in the warm waters of the sea. The color of the pearls are white typical of South Sea pearls,  other common  colors being silver, cream, yellow and golden. Thus the clean surface or skin of the pearls along with their fine luster, combined with the highly desirable drop-shape and the size of the pearls have made the Paspaley Drop-shaped Pearls extremely rare and extraordinary, deserving to be included among the most famous pearls of the world.

The size of South Sea pearls

South Sea pearls whether natural or cultured are among the largest pearls in the world. The size of cultured South Sea pearls vary between 9-20 mm, with an average size of around 13 mm. Even the Paspaley natural South Sea pearls having a length of around 19 mm and a width of about 12 mm are quite large when compared to the average size of other natural pearls. This is directly correlated with the size of the pearl oyster species that produces these pearls, Pinctada maxima, that can grow up to a size of 12 inches (30 cm) in diameter. The size of the gonad where the pearl grows naturally or artificially after the implantation of a bead, is larger than in other species of oysters, enabling the growth of a larger pearl and a quicker deposition of nacre around the nucleus, in the warm waters of the South Sea that accelerates the metabolism of the oyster. The thickness of the nacre deposited is also greater varying from 2-6 mm, compared to the thickness of nacre deposited by Akoya pearls, which is only 0.35-0.70 mm. Apart from the larger size and larger gonad of South Sea oysters, another factor that plays a crucial role in the growth and development of the pearl is the environment. The clean waters and the abundant food supply in the South Seas, with its dense plankton growth, the favorite food of Pinctada maxima, also helps nacre formation and the growth of a larger pearl with thick nacre.

For cultured South Sea pearls besides the larger size of the pearl oyster species, and environmental factors, other factors that affect the size of the pearls include the size of the implanted bead and the time given for the pearls to grow in the oyster. The larger gonad enables a larger bead to be implanted, resulting in a larger pearl. The minimum time given for cultured South Sea pearls to grow is two years, which results in a larger pearl. In comparison Akoya pearls are harvested only after 9-16 months, which results in a smaller pearl with thin nacre.

The shape of South Sea pearls

South Sea pearls are formed in a variety of different shapes. Eight basic shapes of South Sea pearls have been recognized. They are arranged  in order of their market value as follows :- round, semi-round, button, drop, pear, oval, baroque and ringed. Perfectly round pearls are the most valuable and the least valuable pearls are the circle or ringed pearls. Baroque pearls which are irregular in shape are more valuable than ringed pearls. Perfectly round pearls are not only the most expensive and the most sought after, but also the most rare of South Sea pearls. If an oyster tend to lie on one side while the pearl is being cultured, the pearl will most likely be unevenly coated and attain a shape other than round. Likewise if the oysters environment is disrupted by unpredictable weather  conditions, the chance of the formation of a perfectly round, blemish-free pearl also decreases. Thus the availability of a perfectly round South Sea pearl is considered to be a paragon. Semi-round pearls are more common than perfectly round pearls, and are also more valuable, second in value only to perfectly round pearls. Thus it is more common to see  South Sea pearl necklaces mixed with round and semi-round pearls, rather than a South Sea pearl necklace made up of only perfectly round pearls, which is extremely rare and considered to be an investment grade South Sea pearl necklace.

Button pearls which are symmetrical and flat on one side are quite common and used in necklaces, and also in jewelry pieces and earrings either alone or in combination with diamonds. Drop-shaped pearls that resemble a drop of water are symmetrical and broader at one end and narrower at the other. The term pear-shaped is self explanatory, symmetrical and broader at one end and narrower at the other. Oval-shaped pearls are also symmetrical, but broader in the middle and narrower at both ends. Baroque pearls are irregular in shape without any symmetry, and ringed or circled pearls have rings encircling them. The term drop pearl has a vague usage and can be variously used to refer to the actual drop-shaped pearl, pear-shaped pearl and sometimes even for oval-shaped pearls.

What is a perfectly round pearl ?

A perfectly round South Sea pearl is defined as a pearl having the same diameter all round when measured with a vernier calipers or has a variation in diameter of less than 2% between its shortest and longest diameters. The variation in diameter is given by the formula :-

(1 -  shortest diameter/longest diameter) x 100.

eg :- If the shortest diameter of a pearl is 10 mm and the longest diameter 10.1 mm, the variation in diameter is

= (1 - 10/10.1) x 100%

= (1 - 0.99) x 100%

= 0.01 x 100%

= 1.0%

Thus the pearl has a variation in diameter of 1% and is still considered a perfectly round pearl.  The ratio shortest diameter/longest diameter x 100% is known as the roundness of the pearl. In this instance it is equal to 0.99 x 100 = 99%. Thus only pearls that have a roundness of 98% to 100% are considered as perfectly round pearls.

What are semi-round pearls ?

A semi-round pearl can also be defined using the above criteria of variation in diameter and roundness. Accordingly a semi-round pearl is a pearl that has a variation in diameter of greater than 2% and less than 20%. In other words a semi-round pearl has a roundness of between 80% and 98%.

eg :- If the shortest diameter of a pearl is 10 mm and the longest diameter is 10.4 mm, what is the variation in diameter and roundness of the pearl ?

 variation in diameter = (1 - shortest diameter/longest diameter) x 100

                             = (1 - 10/10.4) x 100

                             = (1 - 0.96) x 100

                             = 0.04 x 100

                             = 4%

The roundness of the pearl = 96%

Thus the variation of diameter being between 2-20 % and the roundness between 80-98%, the pearl is a semi-round pearl.

What is a button pearl ?

Using the same criteria of variation in diameter and roundness,  a pearl that has a variation in diameter of approximately 20% and a roundness of 80% is known as a button pearl.

eg :- If the shortest diameter of a pearl is 10 mm and the longest diameter 12.5 mm, what is the variation in diameter and the roundness of the pearl ?

variation in diameter = (1 - shortest diameter/longest diameter) x 100

                            = (1 - 10/12.5) x 100

                            = (1 - 0.80) x 100

                            = 0.2 x 100

                            = 20%

Thus the variation in diameter of the pearl is 20% and the roundness 80% and the pearl is a button pearl. A range of variation in diameter of 19-21% and roundness of 79-81% may still be considered as a button pearl.  

The color of South Sea pearls

The color of pearls, a combination of body color, overtones and iridescence

The Australian South Sea pearls produced from the silver-lip variety of Pinctada maxima found abundantly in the north-west coast of Australia, occur in shades of silver, silver-white, silver-pink, cream and yelow. Golden colored pearls are also found although not as common as the other colors. The Paspaley drop-shaped pearls are actually silver-white pearls, with the characteristic satin luster.

The color of pearls are complex. They are a combination of three important properties of pearls - body color, overtone and iridescence or orient. The body color is the predominant basic color of the pearl, usually caused by a pigment and not by light interference as overtones and iridescence (orient)Three main factors that  affect the body color of pearls are 1) the species of pearl oyster 2) the quality of the nacre 3) conditions of the aquatic environment.  

The species of pearl oyster is crucial in determining the color of the pearls produced, eg:- the black-lip oyster usually produces black (gray) pearls, the silver-lip oyster produces silver, silver-white and silver pink pearls, and the gold-lip oyster produces golden pearls. The quality of the nacre includes the thickness and the number of layers of nacre. A thick nacre as found in South Sea pearls is usually associated with rich body color, more overtones and iridescence. Conditions of the aquatic environment, includes the presence of certain trace elements that impart color to pigments associated with body color.

Pigments or biochromes are involved in imparting body color to some pearls and also the external shells of mollusks. Some pigments that have been identified are yellow carotenoids, green porphyrins, blue and red indigoids and black melanins. Color pigments are secreted by special glandular cells in the mantle, while other glandular cells secrete fluid calcite and aragonite, during nacre formation. The pigments bond with the conchiolin, the protein part of the nacre that helps to glue together layers of calcite and aragonite.

In the case of white and cream colored pearls, no colored pigments are secreted, and thus the conchiolin is free of bonded pigments and transparent, allowing the white or cream color of the aragonite to show through. The silvery white color is believed to be caused by iridescence, caused by the interference of light as it passes through the alternating layers of aragonite/calcite and conchiolin.   

New research on the color of South Sea pearls - the edge-band structure produces interference colors characteristic of its width

New research carried out by Australian scientists from the South Australian Museum, University of Adelaide, and the Flinders University of South Australia, in the year 2004, have thrown new light on color formation in South Sea pearls. The array of colors identified in pearls produced by the pearl oyster Pinctada maxima, include a range of silver tones, creams, yellows and gold, in various degrees of color saturation. The research team established that the primary body color of South Sea pearls arises not from any pigmentation but mainly from the interference of light within the binding regions of the aragonite tiles. The team found that the origin of the variety of body colors exhibited by South Sea pearls, is due to a newly recognized structure of the nacre, the "edge-band structure," which give rise to interference colors characteristic of its width. The width of the edge-band structure for silver pearls is 74 nm, for cream pearls 80 nm, and for golden pearls 90 nm. The edge-band structure is a nano-composite structure containing an organic matrix within the margin of the aragonite tiles. The colors produced by the edge-band structure, mixed with the specular reflection of the nacre, and modified by any pigmentation present give rise to the body color of pearls. The commonly found white pearls are formed by the disorder of the edge-band structure, leading to an unsaturation of the color.   

The luster of South Sea pearls    

Besides the size, shape and array of colors that make South Sea pearls extraordinary, it is the deep satin-luster that make these pearls unique and distinctive and the most expensive and sought after pearls in the world today. The luster of a pearl  is the reflective quality or brilliance of the surface of the pearl. It is a measure of the quality and quantity of light that reflects from the surface, and just under the surface of a pearl. The luster of South Sea pearls whether white, silver, cream, yellow or gold is deep and velvety, and rich and luxurious. The pearl owes much of its value to its color and deep luster, that is less likely to fade or degenerate with time. The color and rich satin-luster of South Sea pearls are associated with their thick nacre, which in cultured pearls can be as high as 2 to 6 mm. The thick nacre is responsible for the rich colors, overtones, luster and high iridescence of the pearls. The warm tropical waters in which Pinctada maxima lives causes the rapid deposition of nacre, which is believed to be one of the factors influencing the rich satin-luster and soft coloration.

History of the Paspaley Drop-shaped Pearls

The History of the Paspaley Family

The arrival of Theodosis Michael Paspalis in Cossack, Western Australia, in 1919

The history of the Paspaley family in Australia dates back to the year 1919 when Theodosis Michael Paspalis, a tobacco merchant from Kastellorizo in Greece, arrived with his family in Cossack on the Indian Ocean coast of Western Australia, their ship's first port of call in Australia. Cossack was the center of the pearling industry in Australia since the 1870s, and was one of the most multicultural cities of Western Australia, inhabited by Europeans, indigenous aborigines and Asian pearl fisherman. The town also had a port, the hub of the pearling industry in the area. Theodosis decided to settle down in Cossack where the pearling industry was the only viable industry in the area, and made an investment by buying a share in a pearl lugger. Around this time Australia had become famous in the world as a source country for top quality mother-of-pearls used in the production of buttons, knife handles, jewels and inlay of clocks. Theodosis died 5 years after his arrival in western Australia, and his children Michael, Nicholas and Mary continued their father's interest in pearling.

The Paspaleys move northwards to Port Hedland

When the pearling grounds in the sea around Cossack were exhausted, the pearling community in Cossack, including the Paspalis moved further northwards to Port Hedland, which became the new pearling port for the industry. Michael Paspalis expanded his interests in pearling and acquired several pearl luggers. He gathered enough experience in pearling that not only made him a good pearler but also a good sailor. The other brother Nicholas Paspalis followed suit, and was introduced to the trade at the age of 14. Within a short period of four years Nicholas Paspalis too had gathered enough experience, and in 1932 was manning his own pearl lugger diving for shells to supply the market for mother of pearls. 

The Paspaleys again move northwards to Broome in northwest Australia

After engaging in pearling activities in Port Hedland for some years, the Paspalis brothers realized, that the area was heading for the same fate that befell Cossack, their first pearling station. The area was becoming less profitable as the pearl beds in the region were getting exhausted. Therefore, the family decided to move further north to Broome, a small coastal town in the northwest of Western Australia, where they set up their business, and Nicholas Paspalis changed the family name to Paspaley. Broome acquired international fame in the early 20th century, as the world center of mother-of-pearl production. In the year 1925, the population of Broome had reached 5,000, and the pearling industry could boast of 400 pearling luggers, with the town producing almost 80% of the world's requirement of mother-of-pearls.

The collapse of the pearling industry during the depression and World War II

Then came the depression of the 1930s followed by World War II, which resulted in a fall in demand for the mother of pearls. The entry of Japan into World War II brought about the collapse of the pearling industry. In Broome 500 Japanese divers who were engaged in the pearl industry were arrested and interned during the period of the war. Even most of the pearl luggers were dragged ashore and destroyed by burning for fear of falling into enemy hands. Some of the luggers however sailed down south to safer areas like Perth.

Revival of the mother-of-pearl industry after World War II and its final collapse in the mid-1950s

After the war the pearl industry in Broome showed some signs of revival, but the Government of Australia dispensed with the services of Japanese divers who it believed could not be trusted, and instead brought in the Kalymnian divers from the Kalymnos in the Aegean. The mother-of-pearl industry again boomed after World War II, with an unprecedented demand ensuring record prices until the mid-1950s, when the manufacture of cheap plastic buttons spelt the doom of the industry.

Nicholas Paspaley begins pearling activities from Darwin after World War II

During the period of World War II, Nicholas Paspaley moved from Broome back to Port Hedland, where he remained until the end of the war, even though most civilians were evacuated from the town. After the end of the war he purchased four pearl luggers which were abandoned by the Australian Navy on Darwin's Dinah Beach. Thus Nicholas Paspaley became the first person to engage in pearling again after World War II, basing his operations in Darwin. He continued with pearling operations from Darwin during the boom period for mother-of-pearls, until the collapse of the industry in the mid-1950s, following the invention of the plastic button.

Nicholas Paspaley turns his attention to pearl culturing after the collapse of the mother-of-pearl industry.

After the collapse of the mother-of-pearl industry Nicholas Paspaley turned his attention to pearl culturing. He was well aware of the success story of the Japanese cultured akoya pearls, and dreamt of bringing the same technology to the South Seas. He was convinced that the giant Pinctada maxima oyster endemic to the South Seas, could be induced to culture pearls of a quality and beauty of the internationally famed natural South Sea pearls, which were very scarce and virtually extinct.  In the year 1956, he established the first cultured pearl farm in Australia, in Kuri Bay, 420 km north of Broome, in partnership with a Japanese businessman Mr. Kuribavashi, in whose honor the bay was named. Again in 1963, the Paspaley Pearling Company in collaboration with another Japanese Company, the Arafura Pearling Company, started a second cultured pearl farm at Port Essington, East of Darwin.

Initial difficulties encountered  by Nicholas Paspaley in the culturing of South Sea pearls

Initially in the culturing of South Sea pearls using Pinctada maxima in Kuri Bay and Port Essington, Nicholas Paspaley and his team of technicians applied the same technique used by the pearl culturists in Japan in the culturing of Akoya pearls.  The results were not so encouraging due to the high mortality rates of the sensitive Pinctada maxima oysters. Many oysters died while being transported from the deep ocean oyster beds to the land based farms, but the mortality was even higher during the delicate seeding process. During some years up to 90% of the oysters died, and the commercial viability of the projects were threatened.

Steps taken by Nicholas Paspaley to overcome these problems

Pearl farming methods adopted  from the Japanese model were found to be inappropriate for the conditions in Australia, and was not suited for the frail and sensitive Pinctada maxima oysters. Nicholas Paspaley and his son Nicholas Paspaley junior, together with their team of technicians and scientists, studied and researched on each of the major problems encountered by them, and after years of observation and  patient trial and error, evolved solutions to all these problems, developing new systems and techniques for every phase of the pearl culturing process. It was Nicholas Paspaley who first realized the frailty of the Pinctada maxima pearl oysters, very sensitive to environmental changes such as pollutants, and vulnerable to stress such as being out of water for long periods of time, and removal from their natural environment. As such he correctly predicted that if the stress placed on the oysters could be minimized, and the seeded oysters allowed to grow in their natural environment, the chances of success would be enhanced. This is exactly what he achieved in the 1970s. after minimizing the stress placed on the oysters, by commissioning Paspaleys first pearling ship in 1973, which enabled the seeding of the pearls to be carried out in the ship itself, and the seeded oysters to be quickly returned to their natural habitat. The new farming methods evolved that laid emphasis on a respectful partnership with nature, eventually resulted in healthier oysters, with drastically reduced mortality rates, and bigger and more luxurious pearls.

Pasparley Pearling Company sets the standards for culturing South Sea pearls

Pasparley Pearling Company is today the undisputed leader in the culturing of South Sea pearls, and the new systems and techniques developed by the company for all phases of the culturing process are now regarded as the standard for the culturing of South Sea pearls by countries like Indonesia, Philippines, Myanmar, Malaysia and Thailand, countries situated in the South Sea, where pearls are cultured. Today the company operates around 20 pearl farms situated along the 2,500 km stretch of coastline in northern and western Australia, extending from the Cobourg Peninsula to the northeast of Darwin to Dampier in Western Australia. The farms are located in isolated bays along this coastline, chosen mainly for the pollutant-free pristine waters ideal for South Sea pearl culturing, and the protection they provide from seasonal cyclones common in this area.

The company has deployed a fleet of  a dozen ships and three aircraft to take care of all aspects of pearl culturing, delivering supplies and the movement of crew

The company has also deployed a fleet of pearling ships to take care of all aspects of pearl culturing, and supply ships that carry supplies to the isolated farms that stretch across a distance of 2,500 km. The efforts of the supply ships are supplemented by three light aircraft, that are used for crew movements and supplies on a daily basis.  Today the company has more than a dozen ships and countless smaller working craft that are employed for all aspects of the pearl production cycle, including fishing, transport, seeding, husbandry and harvesting, as well as delivering supplies and maintenance. Among the fleet there are five "dive ships" working the pearl beds off the famous "Eighty Mile Beach." These ships are the "Paspaley Pearl" the first pearling ship commissioned in 1973, "Clare II," "Odin II," "Paspaley II," and "Marilynne." Divers who operate from these ships collect wild pearl oysters from the pearl beds, which are then transported to the "mother ships" also operating in the vicinity. There are three mother ships serving the "dive ships." These are "Paspaley II," "Paspaley III," and "Paspaley IV." Paspaley II serves both as a dive ship and  mother ship. The "mother ships" are floating laboratories where the crucial "seeding operation" takes place, before the pearls are returned to their natural habitat, which reduces the time the oysters are out of the ocean, and thus decreases the risk of trauma. The mother ships shuttle between the oyster beds and the farms. In remote locations smaller ships remain as permanent headquarters, performing all tasks such as diving, transport, seeding, husbandry and harvesting.

Nicholas Paspaley Senior dies  in 1984 at the age of 71

Nicholas Paspaley died in 1984 at the age of 71, and today the company is managed by his son Nicholas Paspaley Junior, and daughter Roselyn. Another daughter Marilynn is a well known actress. The life of Nicholas Paspaley Senior is a testimony to what an individual can achieve if he develops a clear vision, and goes about with indomitable courage, determination and hard work in realizing this vision, surmounting all obstacles on the way, not being discouraged by failures, persevering in spite of all odds against him, and finally achieving the goals set by his vision. Starting work at the age of 14, he worked continuously for 57 years, even working on the day he died in 1984. During the 57 years of his working life, his vision became a reality with Paspaley emerging as the world's leading producer of quality South Sea cultured pearls. Nicholas Paspaley was a pioneer in a harsh and unforgiving industry. He lived and died, on the cusp of a revolution in the pearling industry, a revolution partially initiated by him, that led to the domination of cultured pearls in the international pearl markets. Ironically, Nicholas Paspaley died in 1984, on the very day he returned home with the finest crop of South Sea cultured pearls of his life.

The history of harvesting natural South Sea pearls in Australia

Exploitation of South Sea pearl oysters by the Aborigines  

The South Sea pearl oysters occurring in the most prolific oyster beds off the coast of northern and western Australia, had been harvested by the Australian Aboriginal people for hundreds or perhaps thousands of years, mainly as a source of food, or for their shells which perhaps were used by these ancient people to turn out various utility items including jewelry, as in other ancient cultures. It is now known that traders from China, Macassar (Celebes) and Indonesia had established trade links with the Aboriginal people of Australia, and some of the items traded were oyster shells and the occasional pearls found in them. It has been reported that by the time the first Europeans settled in Australia, the aborigines had a well established network for trading in pearl shells, both inside Australia and with the Makassan traders, who had visited Northern Australia since the 17th and 18th centuries, to trade with the indigenous inhabitants.

Exploitation by the first European settlers beginning in the early 1860s

In western Australia commercial pearling for pearl shells began in the early 1860s and developed in parallel with the cattle industry, after the pioneering pastoralists arrived on the shores of Sharks Bay and Nickol Bay, 500 km and 1,500 km north of Perth. The new settlers subjugated the aboriginal pearl shell harvesters, and used their skills to exploit the predominant oyster species found in Sharks Bay, the small bivalve Pinctada albina, which yielded commercial quantities of small irregular shaped yellowish pearls of around 3 mm in size. At Nickol Bay they exploited the much larger oyster species Pinctada maxima, for both their mother-of-pearls and the much rarer lustrous silvery-white pearls. With the rapid depletion of oyster shells in the shallow coastal waters, the aboriginal harvesters were forced to move into deeper and deeper waters, sometimes up to 2 km offshore, using large boats carrying 6-8 aboriginal men and women, who used to "naked-dive" into the deep waters, each diver recovering an average of 10-25 pairs of shells in a day. However over exploitation of the pearl beds including indiscriminate removal of undersized and immature shells, caused rapid depletion of resources, and forced the pearlers to move progressively northwards until they reached Roebuck Bay, in Broome, which by the end of the 19th century became the largest producer of mother of pearls in the world.

Edwin Streeter a pioneer of the West Australian pearling industry

During this period the Australian pearling industry attracted a great pearling enthusiast and investor from Europe, the famous English gem merchant Edwin Streeter who migrated to western Australia after his retirement from the London retail jewelry trade, and settled down in Broome in the mid 1880s. Streeter invested his time, effort and money in developing the pearling industry in Broome, and was the first to introduce hard hat diving to the area, which was a distinct technological advancement. The successful entrepreneur that Streeter became, he was able within a short time to purchase several schooners, that were employed to service fleets of smaller pearling luggers operating in the waters of northwestern Australia in searh of pearl shells and pearls. By the year 1890, Edwin Streeter had established himself in Broome, having acquired a pastoral property on the outskirts of the town, and built a store and house in Broom, and  becoming the owner of almost one-eighth of the pearling fleet operating out of Broome. Streeter who is considered a pioneer of the West Australian pearling industry died in the year 1923.

First attempts to culture pearls in western Australia in the 1890s and the 1920s and government intervention that stifled these attempts

The first attempts to grow cultured pearls in Australia were made in the 1890s, when another pioneer of the pearling industry and pearl enthusiast G. S. Streeter grew cultured pearls in Roebuck Bay, in Broome. However the attempt proved to be economically unviable. A second attempt was made by A. C. Gregory in the early 1920s to cultivate pearls near Broome, that met with the disapproval of the West Australian Government, who killed all attempts by introducing legislation prohibiting the production, selling and possession of cultured pearls. The new legislation was probably intended to protect the natural pearl industry, but in the long run had a negative impact on the pearl industry, as natural pearls were becoming scarcer, and the Japanese were able to forge ahead with their culturing program, which led to their domination of cultured pearl market for the next half a century.

It was only in 1949 that the Australian Government thought it fit to repeal this retrogressive legislation, a step that was too little and too late, to catch up with the Japanese cultured pearl industry which had already captured the world markets, spelling the doom of the natural pearl industry, in the traditional pearling countries of the world. However, in the year 1956, solely after the collapse of the mother-of-pearl industry in Australia, following the successful production of  plastic buttons, that were a cheap substitute for the MOP buttons, an enterprising Greek immigrant based in Darwin, Australia, Nicholas Paspaley went into collaboration with the Japanese and Americans to launch the first successful cultured pearl farm at Kuri Bay, to the north of Broome in northwestern Australia. The project was successful in spite of some initial hurdles, and by 1973, Kuri Bay was producing almost 60% of the world's large white South Sea pearls. Today around 16 commercial pearl cultivators are operating in the West Australian waters, prominent among whom are the companies belonging to Paspaleys and M.G. Kailis.

The possible period of discovery of the Paspaley Drop Shaped Pearls

From the year 1919 when the Paspaley's first settled in Cossack in Western Australia up to the mid-1950s when the mother-of-pearl industry collapsed in Australia, the Paspaley Pearling Company had been dealing mainly in pearl shells which were collected by their pearl luggers for export. The rare natural South Sea pearls which were discovered occasionally from the daily haul of South Sea pearl oysters brought in by the pearl luggers, were actually a by product of this mother-of-pearl collection industry, and might have made significant contributions to the annual income of the company given the international demand for the rare and unique natural South Sea pearls. Thus the Paspaley Drop-shaped pearls which are now a part of the Paspaley treasures preserved by the company, would have been most probably discovered during this period, when the company was dealing in natural South Sea pearls, the by product of their shell collecting industry. That could have been anytime between 1919 and the mid-1950s, save the period of the world depression and World War II. In all probability the pearls would have been discovered after World War II, when their was a boom in the mother-of-pearl industry, with an unprecedented demand that ensured record prices, until the mid-1950s, and a corresponding increase in production to cater to this demand.

The source of the Paspaley Drop Shaped Pearls

The source of the Paspaley Drop Shaped Pearls were undoubtedly the unspoiled oceans off the coast of western, northwestern, and northern Australia, the natural home to the world's largest beds of the most prized of the world's pearl oysters, the giant Pinctada maxima oyster. The Paspaleys lived and worked successively in the port cities of Cossack, Port Hedland, Broome and Darwin, during the period 1919 to the mid-1950s, and exploited the rich pearl oyster beds off the coast of these cities. Thus the Paspaley Drop Shaped pearls could have originated from any one of these pearl oyster beds in northwestern and northern Australia, which included the famous pearl oyster beds off the eighty-mile beach. If the pearl was discovered during the boom period of the mother-of-pearl industry immediately after World War II, it would have most probably originated in the pearl oyster beds off the City of Darwin in Northern Australia, where the Paspaleys were based, and from where they conducted their operations.

Classification of Pinctada maxima

Kingdom    :  Animalia

Phylum      :  Mollusca

Class        :  Bivalvia

Order        :  Pterioida

Family       :  Pteriidae

Genus       :  Pinctada

Species     :  maxima

The five important Pinctada species of commercial value and their distribution

The Genus Pinctada under the family Pteriidae is an important Genus of bivalve mollusks, to which belongs most of the saltwater pearl-producing oysters. There are five species under the Genus Pinctada which are of significant commercial value. The five species are listed in the table below, which also gives their common name, their distribution and the type of pearls produced by them.

      Pinctada species of commercial value and their distribution

S/N

Pinctada species Common name Distribution

Type of pearls produced

1 Pinctada radiata Gulf-pearl oyster Persian Gulf, Red Sea, Gulf of Mannar, Panama, Colombia, Venuzuela Silvery white, cream, and light pink pearls; also occasionally yellow, brown, and violet
2 Pinctada margaritifera Black-lip oyster Persian Gulf, Australia, Fiji, Tahiti, Myanmar, Baja California Black South Sea pearls or Tahitian pearls
3 Pinctada maxima White-lip oyster, Gold-lip oyster  Myanmar, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand,  Australia, Fiji, Tahiti White and Golden South Sea pearls
4 Pinctada fucata martensii Akoya pearl oyster Japan, China Akoya cultured pearls
5 Pinctada albina Smaller Australian oyster or Shark Bay pearl oyster Australia, Philippines, China, Vietnam, Korea, Micronesia yellow and small pearls

Species used for culturing blister pearls

Back to Famous Pearls 2

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Related :-

1) The Imperial Hong Kong Pearl

External Links :-

1) www.paspaleypearls.com

2) www.americanpearl.com

3) www.arafura.net

4) www.gem.org.au

References :-

1)All about Pearl - What causes pearl color ? - www.allaboutpearl.com

2)The origin of color of pearls in iridescence from nano-composite structures of the nacre - Michael R. Snow, Allan Pring, Peter Self, Dusan Losic, and Joe Shapter. American Mineralogist, October 2004, V 89, No. 10, p 1353-1358

3) The Allure of Pearls - www.mnh.si.edu/exhibits/pearls/intro.htm

4) Darwin's Pearl Jewelry - www.enjoydarwin.com

5) South Sea Pearls - www.pearl-guide.com

6) South Sea Pearls - www.americanpearl.com

7) Pearl - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

8) The Australian Pearls and the Greek Connection - www.arafura.net

8) The Australian Pearling Industry and Its Pearls - Grahame Brown, www.gem.org.au website of the Gemological Association of Australia.

9) GIA Alumni Pearl Tour - Paspaley Pearls, www.pearl-guide.com

10) Paspaley - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


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