The Golden South Sea pearl is a true miracle of nature. After traveling to the location that these pearls are farmed it is no wonder they are so beautiful! Between the islands of the southern Philippines you will find farms responsible for the majority of the worlds golden pearls production. The second leading producing nation is Indonesia. In order for these pearls to be cultivated there are a number of factors that have to come together in perfect harmony. Even in the most remote and pristine corners of the earth there may not be the proper elements to start a pearl farm, so much research has to be done.
THE GOLDEN COLOR
The oyster that is responsible for producing the GSS pearl is the gold-lipped oyster also known as the Pinctata maxima. Similar to humans, oysters have genes. The dominant gene in the Pinctada maxima is the white or silver lipped oyster and the recessive gene is the gold-lipped oyster. Through selectively breeding oysters and selecting specific tissue during the culturing process the pearls that are being produced fall into a color category ranging from gold to crème to champagne. On occasion a pearl of deep golden color will be harvested which is the most desirable and rarest color produced. The golden color of these pearls is not the result of treatment or dye but 100% natural color. Below you will see a representation of colors that you will find in the GSS categories.
Pilawan the site of Golden South Sea pearl farms located in the southern Philippines.
Generally south sea pearls are some of the largest cultured pearls ranging in size from 8-20 mm. The reason that they are generally larger than Akoya or even Tahitian pearls is due to the fact that the Pinctada maxima tends to grow larger than other oysters. Since the pearl is a gem of nature you should expect each pearl to have characteristics that make it specifically unique to other pearls. When I see a spot on a beautiful pearl it tends not to bother me so much as it is a reminder that it is a piece of nature and was produced by a living organism.
GSS pearls come in a wide variety of shapes. In this image to the right you see a good example of some of the different shapes that this pearl type offers. Some of the pearls may be ringed, baroque, semi baroque, oval and drop shaped. I am often asked why pearls are not all round. As I stated earlier the reason that pearls are not all round is because they are gems of nature. While they are growing out, the shells move in the ocean and have to be pulled up routinely for cleaning. As these shells are being handled or bumped around by large waves, the nacre that is being deposited can take non-symmetrical shape. This is why it is so important that every time the shells are handled they are done so with extreme care.
So why is the Golden South Sea pearl so valuable? For starters, you must realize that the oyster that produces the pearl happens to be extremely sensitive. Where as other pearl producing oysters can be handled roughly the Pinctada maxima must be handled with extreme care. Where as most oysters can survive with less nutrients the Pinctada maxima must have the proper concentration of plankton while in the water to ensure it's healthy growth. Even the way that they are farmed has to be much different than the methods used in other verities of pearl farming. For example, while the Tahitian pearl oyster is producing it's pearl the oyster is drilled and attached to a chaplet (rope) where the oyster stays for the duration of its harvest period. If the Pinctada Maxima was drilled and hung in the same manner there is almost no chance that it would be capable of producing a nice pearl. Instead they must be enclosed in nets, which hold the shell from both sides.
In the images below on the left you will see the method used to grow Golden South Sea pearl oysters, and on the right you will see the method used to grow out the Tahitian pearl oysters. Neither method harms the oysters in the slightest and one method is no better than the other. As I said above the Golden South Sea oyster simply could not endure the exposure to open water, the drilling or the stringing that we see in Tahitian pearl farming.
Golden Southsea Pearl Farming
This image illustrates the way in which Golden South sea pearls sit in nets while growing out their pearls.
Tahitian Pearl Farming
Known as a chaplet this rope serves as the station in which the Tahitian pearl oyster remains while producing it's beautiful pearl.
The other factor that causes the high value of these pearls is the fact of how rare they actually are. Compared to most other pearl types the GSS pearl is produced on a much smaller scale. To date there is only one large operation located in the Philippines and several medium to small operations in Indonesia. We have been seeing an increasingly large demand on the market for these pearls so as you can imagine the laws of supply and demand are in full effect maintaining the high value of these pearls.
The waters of the southern Philippines are brimming with a rich diversity of life, including rare and endangered species indicative only to the region. This makes for amazing snorkeling and scuba diving but also presents a challenge to pearl farming. There are so many different predators stalking the Golden South Sea pearl oyster including species of fish sponges, other oysters, the list goes on and on. The farmers, in order to give the oysters the best chance of survival must constantly tend to them and care for them. It takes several years for an oyster to fully develop or grow out. During this time, farm workers record all weather and marine variations that may affect young oysters, such as temperature, salinity, and plankton density. Baby oysters are placed in baskets or nets submerged at depth, allowing for undisturbed growth. Still, various predators abound, so only a certain percentage of the oysters will make it to adulthood. About two times a month these oysters must be taken out of the water and carefully cleaned. Known as competition for resources other marine life actually attaches itself to the oysters and feeds off of them. These organisms must be removed so that the oysters can have the proper amount of nutrients to grow healthy and produce high quality pearls
At Imperial we pride ourselves on being able to offer our customers all varieties of any given pearl type. Our collection of Golden South Sea pearl jewelry as well as loose pearls and strands can rival that of any company in the U.S., and most of the world. We have long standing friendships with the worlds largest GSS pearl farmers. At Imperial we do not attend auctions, instead we buy at the farms directly eliminating any middlemen and competition. This buying strategy ensures that we can get what we need to continue our goal of making rare and valuable pearl jewelry available to everyone at more than reasonable prices. No matter your budget or how large or small the quantity please consider us your source for all things pearl.
Gallery of my trip to the Philippine Golden South sea pearl farms (move your cursor over the images for more details)