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The Cultivation of South Sea Pearls

Australian South Sea Pearls have been cultivated since the late 1950s in the Northern Territory, North West Australia, and Far North Queensland.

Pearl cultivation originated in Japan at the beginning of the nineteenth century with the insertion of a round nucleus and a strip of oyster mantle tissue into a host oyster that then is irritated by this foreign invader and covers the implanted nucleus with a pearl sac to isolate it within its body and then covers it with layers of nacre, the pearl substance itself that comes in the colors of the host oyster.

Japanese oysters produce white cream and blue colored pearls, Chinese Freshwater molluscs produce pink, peach, white, cream,  apricot, and purple colored pearls. Tahitian and Fijian oysters produce black pearls colors with hues of green, blue, pink, red, pistachio, platinum, gold, and silver tones. Australian South Sea oysters produce white and silver and occasionally blue colored pearls.  In the regions of Burma and The Philippines, the oysters produce golden and cream-colored pearls. Indonesia produces white, silver, cream, and golden colored pearls. These are the major cultured pearl producing countries and centers.

 

Cultured pearl business has been active in Japan since the early 1900s and Japan has long dominated the marketing and sales of all pearls. Pearls were traditionally used in Japan to celebrate birthdays, coming of age, weddings, and engagements. As surrounding countries started to cultivate pearls more and more found their way to the Japanese market as the world’s most sophisticated market followed rapidly by the United States and Europe. Bombay / Mumbai in India has long been one of the world’s pearl capitals with a rich tradition of pearl wearing by both men and women, especially within the royal families.

Pearls have always been synonymous with royalty and represent culture, breeding, refinement, connection to Nature, Royalty, and class. Not surprising that European monarchs of the 1500’s financed many trips to the New World which was North and South America to requisition pearls to festoon the crown heads of Europe.

Some of these more famous pearls are still around today notably La Peregrina gifted to and worn by Elizabeth Taylor in the 1970s, the very same pearl was a wedding gift to Queen Mary, Henry the Eighths daughter by Queen Katharine of Aragon back in the middle 1500s. Marie Antoinette’s huge baroque pearl sold at auction to a Viennese lady who wears it most days having paid over $33 million AUD for it at auction in 2019.

Pearling in Australia was centered around the town of Broome in the North West of the continent and at the height of the town of population when naturally occurring pearls were all the rage and demand for mother of pearl products such as combs, cutlery, and the bible, and photograph frame inlays were all the rage amidst the fashion-conscious of the period 1895-1929, there were over 500 pearl luggers and crews and captains centered around Broome which was a bustling and highly cosmopolitan center of commerce.

 

David Norman Founder of Aquarian Pearls comes from a long line of pearl farmers and traders. His great uncle, Alec Goldstein was the local doctor in Broome in the 1930s and is credited with installing the first iron lung in the Broome hospital in 1937 to help pearl divers recover from “the bends”, a term for the condition where bubbles of nitrogen trapped within the diver’s bodies caused by the diver resurfacing too quickly.

David’s paternal grandfather Michel Nossivitsky born near Kiev in 1885, traveled from Paris where his business was based, to Melbourne, Broome, and Perth to purchase pearls throughout the 1920s and married his pearl dealer’s daughter Rebecca who gave birth to David’s father Boris in Paris in 1926. Boris purchased Australia’s first commercial pearl harvest in 1959 as well as some of the earliest harvests in French Polynesia in the late 1960s and pearls from Burma as well in the annual Burma Pearl and Jade Auction held each year over four to six weeks in Rangoon.

David himself, spent over 24 months in Broome over 12 years, grading and valuing the Kailis family harvests before spending the rest of the year selling the harvests around the world. David also worked for the Paspaley family establishing and running marketing centers in Hong Kong, Sydney, and New York, before returning to his own business established in the mid-1980s dedicated to supplying the trade with the finest south sea pearls from all over the world to the world’s best retail jewelers.

 

Today television shopping has become a huge part of David’s’ distribution and he partners with North America’s Gem Shopping Network Incorporated as their pearl expert and supplier under the Aquarian Pearls brand and within Australia, David works with TVSN Pty Ltd using the brand name Matahina Pearls. Television shopping has expanded Aquarian and Matahina’s businesses to use pearls much more in finished jewelry and the finished jewelry business accounts for over 80 percent of the business now, pushing the company to widen its use of diamonds and colored stones in pursuit of ever more interesting designs and ways of wearing pearls.

The pearl market has matured worldwide as has the marketing and sale of pearl jewelry to be a truly global business. We see a very bright future for the pearl business, perennially popular since Cleopatra’s times, we are certain the market will adapt and remain current and grow as newer and newer ways of wearing pearls continues to diversify.

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