Improving the quality of pearls from Pinctada maxima
by: Mamangkey, Noldy (2009) Improving the quality of pearls from Pinctada maxima. PhD thesis, James Cook University.
Chapter 1 – General Introduction
The pearling industry is among the most potentially profitable aquaculture businesses. For example, a hundred grams of gem pearls could be valued at more than US$ 2,600 (Anon, 2007b). This value is more than hundred times higher than that of other aquaculture commodities on a weight basis. Global cultured pearl production in 2005 was valued at around two-third of a billion US dollars from a total of more than 1,550 tonnes of pearls (Anon, 2007b) (Table 1.1).
It has increased by approximately 40% compared to 2003 (Kremkow, 2005). Cultured pearl production is contributed to primarily by four leading pearl producing molluscs:
(1) freshwater mussels;
(2) the Akoya pearl oyster, Pinctada fucata;
(3) the blacklip pearl oyster, P. margaritifera, that produces ‘black’ South Sea or Tahitian pearls; and
(4) the silver-or gold-lip pearl oyster, P. maxima, that produces white or gold South Sea pearls (Southgate et al., 2008b).
Cultured pearls from both P. margaritifera and P. maxima are generally referred to as “South Sea Pearls” but are differentiated on the basis of colour (Strack, 2006). For clarity in the following text, cultured pearls from P. margaritifera and P. maxima will be referred to as Tahitian and South Sea pearls, respectively (Anon, 2007a).
Freshwater cultured pearls make up 96.7% of total cultured pearl production but only 23% of total value (Anon, 2007b)(Table 1.1).
- Tahitian and South Sea cultured pearls contribute approximately 0.5 and 0.6% of the total volume but make up 20 and 37% of the total value, respectively.
- Japanese Akoya cultured pearls contribute 2.2% of the total volume, which make up 20% of total value.
- Therefore based on the proportion of value of pearl production South Sea cultured pearls are the predominant sector of the industry. Besides producing pearls, pearl oysters or mussels also supply valuable shells and meat.
- Shells are usually supplied to various industries and needs in products including jewellery, accessories, cosmetics, health products or fertilizer (Ward, 1995); while meat – which is taken from the adductor muscle- is used for food.
Table 1.1 Production and the value of world cultured pearl production at the pearl farm level in 2005 according to Golay’s estimates.
Pearl type Production in (tonnes) – Value (Million US$) – Percent of the total pearl market value
- South Sea pearls = 9 – 10 tonnes = $236 Million US$ = 37%
- Tahitian pearls = 8.1 tonnes = $126 Million US$ = 20%
- Akoya pearls = 34 tonnes = $128 Million US$ = 20%
- Freshwater pearls = 1500 tonnes = $150 Million US$ = 23%
Source: Anon (2007b)
Pinctada maxima (Jameson) is the largest species among pearl oysters (Gervis & Sims, 1992; Hynd, 1955; Strack, 2006). It produces the finest, largest and most valuable cultured pearls (Matlins, 2002; Ward, 1995) and is the target species for this study. As an introduction to the study, the remainder of this Chapter provides a general overview of the biology and taxonomy of Pinctada maxima (Jameson), the history of natural and cultured pearls, pearls cultivation methods, pearl formation, pearl grading and pearl quality, and a the major objectives of this study.
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