Beautiful South Sea pearls are renowned for their large size as well as their beauty.
Lustrous South Sea pearls are found in the warm, tropical waters of the South Seas. Most of these pearls hail from Australia, but they also come from Indonesia and the Philippines.
South Sea pearls are so large because they come from the pinctada maxima oyster, the largest pearl bearing oyster in the world. The pinctada maxima can grow to be around 12 inches in diameter! These pearls can be up to 20 mm in diameter, though they average in the 14 mm range.
A century ago, pearls were found by divers who had to open thousands of oysters in order to find a single pearl. Thanks to Kokichi Mikimoto, that all changed in the early 20th century. Mikimoto developed the technique for creating cultured pearls, and today almost all pearls on the market are cultured pearls from pearl farms.
Cultured pearls are formed when a pearl farmer inserts an irritant, or nucleus, into the mantle tissue inside the oyster. The oyster responds by coating the irritant with nacre, the same substance it uses to coat the inside of its shell. This substance is called mother of pearl when it is used in jewelry. The pearl farmer waits two or three years before opening the oyster, during which time it continues to cover the irritant with nacre, resulting in a pearl.
While some oysters can make several pearls at once, the pinctada maxima will only take one nucleus at a time.The unique nacre of the pinctada maxima oyster results in the magnificent luster of South Sea pearls. The longer the pearl farmer waits to remove the pearl, the larger it will grow.
Although most people think of pearls as perfectly round, perfectly round pearls are actually rare. As the oyster coats the pearl with nacre over time, the shape often becomes irregular. For example, if an oyster tends to lie on one side, the pearl will most likely be unevenly coated. While round pearls are the most sought after, South Sea pearls with different shapes also make beautiful and interesting pieces of jewelry.
- Button pearls are symmetrical and flat on one side.
- Drop pearls are symmetrical, smaller on one end than the other and resemble a drop of water.
- Oval pearls are symmetrical and larger in the middle and smaller at the two ends.
- Ringed or circled pearls have rings encircling them.
- Baroque pearls are not at all symmetrical and have a sort of abstract, free form appearance.
South Sea pearls are known for their silvery or white color, but they can also be yellow, gold, pink or green.
South Sea Pearl Jewelry
It can be difficult to find enough of these pearls that are close enough in size and shape to make a necklace, however when it is done the result is stunning. While an entire necklace of South Sea pearls can be expensive, with its impressive size, even a single pearl in a pendant can make a beautiful, eye-catching piece of jewelry. Likewise, a single pearl in a ring or pin is lovely without being over the top, and a large baroque South Sea pearl will always draw the eye.
Black pearls and Tahitian pearls are often referred to as South Sea pearls, however this is inaccurate. Black and Tahitian pearls come from the oyster pinctada margaritifera, not pinctada maxima. Although they come from warm tropical waters, they must be from the pinctada maxima oyster in order to be called South Sea pearls.