The incredibly large South Sea pearls are farmed in the region between Northern Australia and the Southern Coast of China. They range in size from 9mm up to a magnificent 20mm in diameter. These cultured pearls are only about half the size of uncultured pearls produced. It is not uncommon to find baroque south sea pearls that are larger than 25mm in diameter. These are among the largest sized pearls harvested in the world.
Australian pearl farming began in the 1840s at Shark Bay. This bay is located on the northwestern coast of Australia. At that time, divers would gather Pinctada albina oysters by hand in the search for natural pearls inside. These pearls usually only measured about 3mm in diameter, which is obviously very small by today’s south sea pearl standards. The Pinctada Maxima oysters were discovered by divers in the 1880s. These oysters attracted international interest for their valuable shells. The P. Maxima oyster was so plentiful that they could be literally picked up in the wet sand at low tide. However due to over fishing they became scarce and pearl farmers had to develop more sophisticated diving methods in order to continue their natural harvest.
Pearl culturing began in Australia in the mid-1950s. The first commercial pearl farm was owned by Pearls Proprietary Limited. This company developed a pearl farm on the Kimberly coast, and renamed the area Kuri Bay. It is among the oldest and largest pearl farms in the region. There are more than 300,000 nucleated oysters in the water at any given time.
The larger the shell the larger the resulting pearl becomes. The “Pinctada Maxima” oyster is very large and will grow up to 12 inches in diameter which is similar to the Black-lipped oyster of the Black Tahitian pearls. There are two species of “Pinctada Maxima”. The silver-lipped species and the gold-lipped species of oysters. These are named after the color of the interior of the oyster. The silver-lipped variety usually creates white or silver pearls. Overtones associated with these pearls can be rose, blue, or green. Gold-lipped oysters create the exquisite “golden” south sea pearl. The colors this oyster produces range from yellow to yellowish orange. These different colours create many different beautiful pieces of pearl jewelry.Some of the most popular are the South Sea Pearl Earrings.
Similar to the Black Tahitian oyster, the South Sea oyster will only accept one nucleation at a time and will take up to 24 months growth until harvesting. The South Sea oyster again similar to the Black Tahitian oyster will accept nucleation up to 3 times.
South Sea farmers use long-line systems to hold oysters near the surface of the water. This is for easier access during the pearl growth period. One can only do this however where storms are less likely to be a problem. This is advantageous to the pearl farmers, as they use bottom systems to hold the oysters. This is a common and least expensive way to farm and have appropriate access to the oysters.