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COLLECTION AND EXAMINATION OF PEARLS FROM WILD AND HATCHERY SHELL

COLLECTION AND EXAMINATION OF PEARLS FROM WILD AND HATCHERY SHELL

wholesale pearlsWhenever natural nacreous pearls are spoken of, the tendency is to think of pearls from the Gulf region, which are produced mainly by Pinctada radiata. Indeed, one young European dealer was overheard saying that the only natural pearls are “Basra” pearls. Many are surprised to discover that high-quality natural pearls are also being produced by Pinctada maxima or at all. Hopefully this paper will serve to address trade misconceptions.

Recently, questions have been raised in some gem laboratories concerning nacreous pearls from Pinctada maxima. These questions are related to the difficulty in some instances of determining whether a pearl from this mollusk is natural, non-bead cultured, or even bead-cultured using a natural or non-bead cultured (atypical) bead. Indeed, some labora tories may have taken, for a time, the extreme measure of not issuing identification reports on any nacreous pearls from Pinctada maxima. An understanding of the Pinctada maxima has therefore become vital to the health of the natural pearl trade; the alternative is for the pearl business to become relevant only to the antiques market, with questions hanging even over these. Further, as the Pinctada radiata mollusk begins to be used in the Gulf for pearl culture, so too will the same questions need to be addressed with regard to this mollusk.

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MATERIALS AND METHODS
Assuring sample integrity has always been a challenge within the gemological community. For the most part, gemologists have proceeded with research based on samples that have been donated or loaned rather than attempting to secure a higher degree of reliability concerning their origin. With gemstones, the highest degree of integrity is assured when a member of the research team collects samples in situ at the mine site, records the find/extraction in precise detail, and secures these samples in such a manner as to avoid any contamination. With pearling, the challenges are often at least equal. We addressed sample integrity by first observing the thoroughness of Paspaley’s stock control systems for both wild and hatchery shell and then working with them in a spirit of complete openness. Over several years, as wild shell were fished and “relaxed” aboard the vessel, the mantle in the area of the opening was inspected for likely natural pearls prior to putting them on the production line. The authors asked that video be taken of any pearls found still in the mantle of these wild shells. As more were eventually discovered, we were invited onboard to record them ourselves and retrieve the pearls and shell for examination in the laboratory. Between July 26 and 29, 2011, the authors achieved their goal and left Western Australia with a clear understanding of how natural pearls are discovered within P. maxima shell, along with a small but suitable group of samples for laboratory examination (table 2).

From the tens of thousands of wild shell fished just prior to the team’s arrival aboard the Paspaley vessel, three were discovered to have natural pearls still present within their sacs in the mantle, positioned in front of the gills and closest to the widest part of the adductor muscle (again, see figure 12). Upon inspection, we found that these shell had not been opened beyond the normal “natural relaxed” position. All three shells, and indeed all other wild shell aboard the vessel, were in the size range allowed for fishing wild shell for pearl culture (120–165 mm DVM; again, see figure 21). The three containing natural pearls ranged from 132.96 to 138.64 mm DVM and weighed (after cleaning) between 242.8 and 258.8 grams. The opening of the shell and the extraction of the pearls were witnessed by all members of the team. Both video and still images were recorded, and neither the shell nor the pearls have left the full
control of the team since that time.

The three natural pearls extracted (figure 24) weighed between 6.128 and 13.596 grains, with minimum to maximum dimensions of 5.93 and 8.20 mm. Their shapes were near round, button, and near oval. The control numbers for each of these three shell and pearls are 1WU, 2WU, and 3WU. None of these three shells had been operated on for pearl culture or any other purpose prior to the discovery of the pearls. A pearl weighing 35.04 grains was found in another wild shell, but in this instance the shell had previously been operated on and had been on the farm for more than a year (figures 25 and 26). As with the three previous discoveries, the pearl was found within the mantle, positioned in front of the gills and near the widest part of the adductor muscle. The shell was considerably larger than the three unoperated shells, with a DVM of 200 mm and a cleaned weight of 775.6 grams, nearly three times the weight of the largest wild unoperated shell. The pearl was almost 2.6 times the size of the largest specimen found in the wild unoperated shells. The control number for this pearl and shell is 1WO.

Four other pearls were discovered during this investigation.

The technicians aboard the vessels were aware of our interest and were on the lookout for anything unusual. In the first instance, one of the staff emerged from the operating room with a small dark pearl that had just been extracted from a hatchery shell that had yet to be operated upon. This pearl (4HU; figure 27) was rather small, measuring 3.10 × 2.43 mm and weighing only 0.74 grains. In the second occurrence a hatchery shell, also yet to be operated upon, was brought out with three pearls in the mantle. This time the pearls were located close to the heel of the shell rather than in front of the gills, as with the wild shell. The three pearls—one round, another round but with a slight drop shape, and the other a high button—weighed 6.784, 6.04, and 2.904 grains, respectively (figure 28). The control numbers for these pearls were 1HU, 2HU, and 3HU.

All microradiographic images from the examination of the pearls and shells were obtained with the Faxitron CS-100, a high-resolution real-time 2D Xray unit installed in GIA’s Bangkok laboratory. The samples were also examined using X-ray computed microtomography with a Procon X-rays CT-Mini model, also in the Bangkok laboratory.
The pearls and shell were examined using Gemolite microscopes at 10×–60× magnification. Photomicrographs were recorded digitally using a Nikon system SMZ1500 with a Nikon Digital Sight Capture System and at various magnifications up to 176×.

The chemical composition of the pearls and shell were determined with a Thermo X Series II laser ablation-inductively coupled plasma–mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) system equipped with an attached. New Wave Research UP-213 laser. UV-visible reflectance spectra for all samples were obtained with a Perkin”Elmer Lambda 950 UV-Vis-NIR spectrometer using a reflectance accessory bench fitted with an integrating sphere to capture data. Both Raman and PL data were recorded using a Renishaw inVia Raman microscope system incorporating a 512 nm
argon ion laser. All instruments are installed in GIA’s Bangkok laboratory.

OBSERVATIONS AND RESULTS

Microscopy.

Selected microscopic images are shown in tables 3–7. As expected, the horny exterior of the shells hosted many foreign life forms taking the shapes of calcified undulating tubes (table 5F) coral exoskeletons (tables 3F, 4F, and 5E), or other unknown forms. We noted that the hinge of one shell also acted as the sarcophagus of a shrimp-like encrustation (table 6F), while a worm-like blister was apparent in shell 2WU (see table 4E). In each case, the shell had three major components: the non-nacreous edge, the nacreous inner core, and the hinge (tables 3A-3B, 4A-4B, 5A-5B and 6A-6B), all of which were characteristic in their appearance.

The non-nacreous edge under magnification revealed a clear prismatic growth in cross-section when viewed directly from above; the appearance differed slightly between reflected and transmitted light (tables 3D, 4D, 5D, and 6D). The nacreous central region, which was solid and had a naturally high luster, revealed the expected structure of overlapping platelets (tables 3C, 4C, 5C and 6C) when viewed at high magnification and in the ideal reflective lighting.

Magnification of each pearl, regardless of the source (wild or hatchery), revealed the expected overlapping platelet structures typical of nacreous pearls, both natural and cultured (tables 3I-3J, 4I–4J, 5I–5J, 6I–6J, 7B–7C, 7H–7I, 7J–7K, and 7P–7Q). In these instances, though, the structures observed in the pearls from hatchery shell (table 7) appeared somewhat coarser than those produced in wild shell. Microradiography and Micro-CT. Dubois (1901) suggested the use of X-rays (radiography) for detecting pearls in oysters and ably demonstrated the technique a decade later (Dubois, 1913). But it was not until the introduction of the round cultured pearl (Mikimoto, 1922) that the importance of X-rays as a gem identification tool was realized. Three X-ray techniques were applied to pearl identification. One in particular, microradiography, proved the most versatile (Alexander, 1941).

Since the advent of X-rays in pearl testing, there have been many technical advances, particularly in the areas of imaging and computerization. While film photography is still used as a backup, many gem laboratories today employ the more convenient highresolution 2-D real-time options, along with 3-D X-ray computed microtomography (micro-CT). Both real-time microradiographs and micro-CT images were recorded for pearls 1WU, 2WU, and 3WU (from wild unoperated shell). For the first sample, microradiographs recorded only the vague appearance of
an organic area toward the center of the pearl in one direction but a clearer image of this small centralized structure revealing micro “growth rings” was produced from another direction (table 3L). This sample was otherwise free of growth structures when microradiographs were taken in any direction. 3-D micro-CT scans revealed structures similar to those seen in the 2-D microradiographs. Zoomed-in areas of selected slices from the X, Y, and Z directions are shown in figure 29.

For pearl 2WU, the microradiographic detail was pronounced. A relatively large area of organic growth extended from the center of this 8.34 mm buttonshaped pearl to encompass about one third of the sample’s apparent volume. Within the dominant organic core, additional ringed growth structures could be observed toward the center of the pearl. Overall, the microradiographic structures revealed a great deal of organic material toward the center, while the outer portions appeared tightly crystalline with negligible organic material (table 4K–4L). 3-D micro-CT scans revealed structures similar to those seen in the 2-D microradiographs, but in slightly more detail. Zoomed areas of selected slices from the X, Y, and Z directions are seen in figure 30.

Pearl 3WU revealed little in terms of internal organic growth using 2-D microradiography (table 5K–5L). Under normal circumstances, therefore, one would regard this natural P. maxima pearl as “solid” Throughout. Yet 3-D micro-CT scans revealed two tiny points of organic accumulation not seen in the 2-D microradiographs. Figure 31 represents three slices, from the X, Y, and Z directions, that show these two dark spots quite clearly.

Pearl 1WO, which weighs 35.04 grains and measures 11.74 × 11.24 × 9.18 mm, was recovered from an older and larger wild shell than shells 1WU, 2WU, and 3WU described above. This shell had already been (gonad-) operated on for pearl cultivation and had been on the farm for about two years. The pearl was recovered from the mantle in a similar area to that of the other three.

2-D microradiography (table 6K–6L) revealed a slightly off-center area of patchy organic material in a P. maxima pearl that otherwise seems to be “solid” throughout. 3-D micro-CT scans revealed images similar to those obtained in 2-D, but in greater detail. While it is impossible to adequately reproduce the 3-D aspect of the micro-CT scans in the two-dimensional medium of this article, figure 32 presents three slices each from the X, Y, and Z directions. Viewing
these, one may surmise that the off-center area of patchy organic material is composed of many very small organic areas, both connected and unconnected with each other.

In table 7A, pearls 1HU, 2HU, 3HU, and 4HU present an interesting nomenclature dilemma: While they were found in mollusks that had not been operated on, these were hatchery-reared P. maxima. One school of thought suggests that as the host is “cultured” (i.e., hatchery-reared), anything that host produces should also be considered a product of culturing—i.e., a cultured pearl. As shown by the series of microradiographic images in table 7, however, nothing in their growth structures indicates a cultured origin. Indeed, all microradiographic indications point toward these pearls as being natural.

Not surprisingly, the microradiograph for pearl 4HU (which has a distinctly gray color) reveals the greatest amount of organic growth (table 7D–7E), and the pearl appears to have entirely natural growth structures. The microradiographs for pearls 1HU and 3HU (table 7L–7M and 7N–7O) reveal virtually nothing in terms of growth structures, which is expected for natural P. maxima pearls. Yet there were no indications that they were a product of culturing, either. Some of the microradiographs for pearl 2HU (table 7E–7G) did indicate a slight “shadowing.” As
with pearls 1HU and 3HU, however, the growth appears to be tight and crystalline. There is insufficient organic growth to appear on a microradiograph as diagnostic data. The same was also true for the micro-CT scans performed on each of these pearls.

Fluorescence.

Viewed under long-wave ultraviolet light, the pearls listed in table 2 showed a strong, fairly even chalky green fluorescence, and a much weaker chalky green under short-wave UV. The pearls were also examined using the DiamondView imaging system, which can produce a fluorescence image of the pearl in real time. The system uses a very short wavelength (below 230 nm) light source to excite fluorescence close to the surface of the pearl. These images have proved very useful in the detection of treatments, particularly coatings that are not visible under the microscope. The DiamondView images shown here (figure 33) will provide valuable reference data in future cases of treatment uncertainty. All three pearl types showed a distinctly blue fluorescence, sometimes slightly mottled, with no phosphorescence.

Raman and PL Spectra.

Raman spectroscopy is a technique in which photons of light from a laser interact with a material and produce scattered light of slightly different wavelengths. Every material produces a characteristic series of scattered light wavelengths, and measuring these can identify a material. The light of a particular wavelength from a laser beam (or other light source) is used to illuminate the gem. Because this laser light is aligned along the optical path of a microscope, the operator can focus it onto a gem to obtain a Raman spectrum (Kiefert et al., 2001). Light emitted by the sample is collected and analyzed by the spectrophotometer to produce a spectrum, which is compared to an extensive mineral database assembled by GIA over the past two decades.

Raman spectra recorded for the pearls listed in table 2 revealed two weak peaks located at 702 and 706 cm–1 (a doublet) and a strong peak at 1085 cm–1 (figure 34). These peaks are typical for aragonite, the crystalline material normally associated with pearls from P. maxima. No peaks associated with carotenoids or polyenes were recorded. No differences in the Raman spectra were noted between the three “types” of P. maxima pearls examined: from wild shell (unoperated), wild shell (operated), and hatchery-reared shell.

PL (photoluminescence) spectroscopy is a noncontact and nondestructive method used to probe the electronic structure of materials. In this process, a substance absorbs and re-radiates photons. It can be described as an excitation (in this study by a 514 nm argon ion laser) to a higher energy state, followed by a return to a lower energy state with the simultaneous emission of a photon (figure 35). The PL spectra can be collected and analyzed to provide information about the excited states, in this case by using the same system used to collect Raman spectra. No differences in the PL spectra were noted between P. maxima pearls from wild shell (operated or unoperated)
and hatchery-reared shell.

UV-Visible Spectroscopy.UV-Vis-NIR spectroscopy is a complementary technique to EDXRF for examining the trace-element composition of gems, particularly when detailed in absorption coefficient. UV-Vis-NIR spectroscopy may provide information about the portions of the visible spectrum that are absorbed by these trace elements to create the gem’s color. Given the opaque nature of pearls, such spectra must be recorded in a percentage reflectance. These spectra are important in defining some species and in some cases whether or not a treatment has been applied.
The white pearls in this group for which spectra were recorded (table 2) revealed curves that differed only in the reflectance at given wavelengths (figure 36). The only exception was 2WU, where there appears to be a slight difference in shape throughout the visible range (nominally 400–700 nm). The percentage reflectance throughout the visible region for each of the other samples decreases slightly toward the longer wavelengths. For sample 2HU, this translates to a percentage reflectance of 77.2 at 400 nm to 72.7 at 700 nm. For 1WO, this translates to a percentage reflectance of 84.65 at 400 nm and 78.41 at 700 nm. A reflectance trough at 278 nm is common to all the spectra for these pearls, as is a peak at 253 nm and a percentage reflectance drop to between 32 and 34 at 200 nm.

Chemical Composition. LA-ICP-MS provides qualitative and quantitative data of chemical elements. The laser sampling area (5 !m) can be focused on very small color and other surface zones. The ablation mark is less than the width of a human hair, visible only under magnification. The ablated particles are carried by helium gas to the plasma torch and mass spectrometer for analysis. The plasma unit atomizes and ionizes the atoms. The mass spectrometer measures the mass of each element for iden ti fi cation according to mass-tocharge ratio. LA-ICP-MS is a powerful method in the separation between saltwater and freshwater pearls and the detection of some treatments.

All of the pearls listed in table 2 were analyzed by LA-ICP-MS, and the results are presented in table 8. The pearls show great similarity in trace-element levels, with only 1WO trending toward the high end for Mn, Sr, Ba, La, Ce, and Pb. Many more examples of each type will need to be analyzed to determine if any significant trends exist.

CONCLUSIONS

The foregoing text and images clearly establish the ongoing recovery of natural pearls from P. maxima in Australian waters, a region with a significant pearling tradition stretching back to the 19th century and earlier (figure 37). The historical evidence is contained within official records as well as personal experiences related by respected authors of the time, such as Kornitzer (1937) and Kunz and Stevenson (1908). Many gemologists have written excellent papers on the separation of cultured from natural pearls using various techniques (see Recommended Reading list), but few have been wholly educational or all-encompassing in terms of the microradiographic structures one might expect from natural pearls. This may be because of the exceedingly wide variation of possibilities, the difficulty of gaining sufficiently high-resolution images, or the research time to devote to a project that produces a large volume of data.

Moreover, the journals would have to be willing to publish the extraordinary numbers of images necessary to convey the scope of the data. Web publishing is beginning to provide a greater volume of microradiographic structural images, which were and are beyond the scope of printed journals or books. An example of this is the document authored by N. Sturman (2009). Sturman (2009) shows through a series of microradiographs both obvious and subtle examples of internal structures recorded for non-bead (intentional or unintentional) cultured pearls. The paper also presents a few historical microradiographs for both natural and bead cultured pearls. Of the eight natural pearls collected during this project, samples 4HU (found in a hatchery unoperated shell), 1WU (taken from the mantle of a wild unoperated shell), and 2WU (from the mantle of a wild unoperated shell) may have sufficient internal growth structures to be identified as natural in a “blind” test.

Pearl 1WO (from the mantle of a wild operated shell) may not have a classic microradiographic structure for a natural or nonbead-cultured pearl, which might result in some debate concerning its nature given that the mollusk had been on a farm. Nevertheless, a blind test would conclude that the pearl was of natural origin, a result that would be consistent with the data collected. Returning to 3WU, the microradiographic structure recorded may easily misinterpreted as that of a nonbead-cultured pearl, and herein lies the first dilemma for those involved in both the pearling industry and pearl testing.

Over the past decade or so, the type of structure observed in pearl 3WU has been assumed to be an indicator of non-bead cultured growth. This assumption probably resulted from the structure’s resemblance to the “classic” nonbead-cultured pearl structure (see Sturman, 2009). This pearl challenges that assumption. The second dilemma concerns more the pearling industry. In industry discussions, it has often been suggested that anything produced by a mollusk on a pearl farm is cultured—and that a pearl produced by a hatchery-raised mollusk should also be considered cultured. Yet the very basis of a pearl culturing operation lies in the ability of technicians to create a
“sac” for the cultured pearl. It is not the host mollusk but the creation of this sac that defines the process. Pearls produced within a sac that is a product of human intervention are clearly cultured. But if a sac is a creation of nature, without human intervention then logic dictates that anything it produces is “of nature.” Even if one opposes this logic, the fact remains that pearls 1HU, 2HU, 3HU, and 4HU, the products of pearl sacs formed by nature within hatchery-
reared shell, are virtually indistinguishable from natural pearls and could not be identified as cultured.

This examination of a small number of definitive samples has therefore produced what may appear to be unexpected results that may add further to the challenges faced with pearl identification. Clearly, many more samples from each of the types discussed will need to be collected and examined before a clearer picture emerges. In the meantime, the authors will conduct ongoing expeditions and research. In late November 2012, some of the authors were able to extract another 30 natural pearls from Australian Pinctada maxima, and the technical data from these will be the subject of another report.

Articles source: Kenneth Scarratt, Peter Bracher, Michael Bracher, Ali Attawi, Ali Safar, Sudarat Saeseaw, Artitaya Homkrajae, and Nicholas Sturman – GEMS & GEMOLOGY, WINTER 2012
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THE MOLLUSK OF NATURAL PEARLS FROM AUSTRALIAN PINCTADA MAXIMA

THE MOLLUSK OF NATURAL PEARLS FROM AUSTRALIAN PINCTADA MAXIMA

wholesale pearlsP. maxima (described in Jameson, 1901) is the largest species of the Pinctada genus and indeed the largest of the “pearl oysters,” reaching sizes that may exceed 40 cm. The species has an extraordinary life span of up to 40 years or longer. It occupies a wide-ranging area of the Pacific, from Burma to the Solomon Islands, with Australian, Papua New Guinean, and Philippine waters the traditional habitats. Indeed, it may still have prolific shell beds in these areas. The range extends from Hainan, off the coast of China, down to the eastern and western coasts of Australia. The mollusk lives at depths of up to 90 meters, but growth rates are optimized if the depth is limited to 30–40 meters.

P. maxima have a light beige color externally, though variants do occur, and radial markings are absent. Internally, the nacre is thick and has a high luster, with the outer border having a gold or silver band, the reason why P. maxima is popularly known as the golden- or silver-lipped pearl oyster. The left valve is convex and the right valve only slightly so. Pea crabs, Pinnotheres villosulus, live in symbiotic harmony with some 85% of Pinctada maxima, both wild and hatchery-grown (figure 11). Such close associations between various mollusks and pea crabs are common. Upon opening P. maxima, one is often treated to the extraordinary sight of a small crab scurrying around within the mantle cavity, as if the lower portion were a bed on which to lay its weary head while the upper portion holds the comforting blankets to its shell cradle.

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As natural pearls may form within P. maxima as the result of some trauma to the mantle, it is interesting to speculate on the possible role of intruding crustaceans in producing these magnificent wonders. The animal certainly does wander in the region of the gills (which filter water and exchange oxygen), and by all accounts this appears to be the area of the mollusk where most natural pearls form. Figure 12 shows this position to be typically within the mantle
and in front of the gills, close to the widest point of the adductor muscle.

Natural blister pearls that encase dead pea crabs inside the shell have been noted on several occasions, not only in P. maxima but also in other shells (Edwards, 1913; Hedegaard, 1996; PearlMan, 2011; figure 13). There have also been reports of “pearlfish” (slim, eel-shaped marine fishes of the Carapidae family) and other cohabiters of this wonderfully protective pearl shell dying inside P. maxima and providing the basis for the formation of other incredibly interesting blister pearls (Smith, 2003; Hochstrasser, 2011).

A supreme example examined by one of the authors (KS) in recent years is shown in figure 14. Here a blister pearl–encrusted pearlfish is attached to the shell, not far from where the heart and gonad would have been in the living mollusk. This attests to the symbiotic harmony of the fish living within the protective valves of the P. maxima. As one ponders the lengthy life cycle of this mollusk and considers many decades of examining microradiographs of the natural pearls produced within its slender and near transparent mantle, it is surprising to find there is still debate over what initiates the growth of a natural pearl. It is clear that within the valves, life is not motionless. Apart from invading life forms, another potential trigger is the tremendous amount of ocean floor debris that likely finds its way over the mantle and onto the mollusk’s gills.

There is no convenient single initiator but rather a wealth of possibilities that make the growth process even more intriguing. Of the hundreds of thousands of microradiographs examined by the authors, very few definitively show what caused a particular pearl’s formation. Two spectacular examples that come to mind appear in figures 15–17.
In figures 16 and 17, the Pectinidae shell is extraordinarily clear. The owner understood the uniqueness of the pearl and stored it safely in his collection, which has allowed us to reexamine the specimen several times as imaging technology has improved. The images in figure 17 were obtained via X-ray computed micro-tomography and further manipulated to obtain the vividly detailed images presented here.

With these two pearls in particular, plus a few others we have documented that are not quite as spectacular, we were particularly lucky to have obtained them from reliable sources. In recent years, a variety of foreign bodies, including natural pearls and even shells, have been artificially inserted into cultured pearl sacs (produced from a graft of mantle tissue, or from mantle damage due to human handling) to further coat them with nacre. These practices, by
deceiving gem laboratories and consequently the industry, have placed a question mark over all natural pearls.

OTHER P. MAXIMA PRODUCTS

There is little if anything wasted by those who farm P. maxima. The mollusk provides us with not only pearls, both natural and cultured, but also very high quality mother-of-pearl and an edible delicacy. Pearl shell (figures 18 and 19) is used today, as it has been for the last two centuries, in the manufacture of luxury utensils, as inlays in jewelry and furniture, and in various art forms. In fact, the value of the shell fished in toward the end of the 19th century often exceeded that of the natural pearls (table 1).

Today, with the main use of the oyster (both wild and hatchery) being the production of large South Sea cultured pearls, the shell has a lower proportional value. Nevertheless, it remains an important element in the value stream of pearling companies. It may be appropriate to quote Kornitzer again, for never have the writer’s words been bettered in any works concerning this great bivalve: A shell it was, as large as a soup-plate, no more. A brilliantly nacreous thing with a natural polish, smooth as a mirror and reflecting not only my still youthful features, but also, it seemed, some of the things the future promised to hold for me. How interesting, and how foolish, to believe that one can see into the future at the magic touch of some alien thing and vaguely guess one’s destiny in a waking dream!

It happened in the prosaic London Docks, that staid businesslike place with its background of romance. As the man lifted the pearl shell out of the open case for me to admire its unusual size and weight, I did what probably nine women out of ten would have done in similar circumstances. I eyed myself carefully in the smooth and shining surface. Presently the reflection of my own face seemed gradually to fade, and even as I looked there took shape in my mind the vision of a life oddly governed by the moon-fired stones of my future love.

The vision faded. I stood like a ninny with the shell in my hand. The man nudged me and said, “Trying to drill holes into this shell with your eyes?” “No,” I said apologetically. “I’ve been dreaming. These outlandish things seem to awaken in me the desire to travel, that’s all.” (Kornitzer, 1937). Pearl meat from the P. maxima adductor muscle is a delicacy, particularly in China but also to anyone fortunate enough to experience this gastronomic delight (figure 20). Eaten raw or quickly flash-seared in a hot pan for just a few seconds or slowly braised, it will excite the taste buds of any dissenter. It is estimated that 60% of all pearl meat harvested in Western Australia makes its way to Asian markets after drying and packing. It sells for Aus$100–$150 per kg. The rest is monopolized by top chefs in Sydney and Perth, as well as Broome, which is why very little pearl meat can be found in the shops (Broadfield, 2010).

Chef Matt Stone of Perth says, “What I love about it most is the texture: It’s halfway between a scallop and an abalone. It’s got a bit of chew to it, but not so much as abalone” (Broadfield, 2010). All of the authors who have tasted the meat of P. maxima are in full agreement.

WILD SHELL COLLECTION TODAY

The pearl culturing industry is one of Australia’s most valuable aquaculture industries, with a value estimated at Aus$120–160 million (Hart and Friedman, 2004). Considering the natural as well as manmade challenges, this is truly a significant statistic. Clearly, one important factor behind the industry’s success is the reliance on hatchery-grown mollusks that offer more control over production processes. Interestingly, the Paspaley Pearling Company, whose operations are focused on the waters of the Northern Territory and Western Australia, still fish for wild shell and use them for much of their culturing operations.

To protect the species, the harvesting of mother–of-pearl (MOP) in Western Australia was virtually phased out by the late 1980s, and strict quota controls were placed on sizes suitable for pearl culturing. Hart and Friedman (2004) point out that the fishing for P. maxima targets smaller shell (120–165 mm dorso-ventral measurement, or DVM; see figure 21) that are more suitable for pearl culture, leaving larger (175 mm+) MOP on the pearling grounds. They add that in 2004, the shell were protected by the “gauntlet” strategy adopted by the Fisheries Department, and that “with almost 20 years of protection from fishing mortality, there has been a buildup of MOP on some pearling grounds, leading to proposals to commercialize (again) this component of the fishery.” The quota system has been so effective that the fisheries sector is now the “only remaining significant natural source of large P. maxima MOP left worldwide.” As wild stocks fluctuate, however, historic norms are the most likely outcome.

The wild shell collected by Paspaley are kept separate from their hatchery shell via a strict stock control system that begins the moment a specimen is brought aboard the vessel. Collection of the wild shell occurs mostly off Western Australia’s Eighty Mile Beach (between Broome and Port Hedland in figure 9), but the company also has a quota in Northern Territory waters. Although divers now operate from modern, specially designed vessels (figure 22), the principles are similar to those used in the days of the lugger. With today’s larger ships, up to six divers are pulled along the seabed as the ship plows a slow-moving grid at the surface. Divers are still connected to the vessels by safety lines and air hoses, but they wear modern wetsuits and are not constrained by the hardhat environment once used aboard the luggers.

As they move along the seabed, the divers trail below them a rope basket for the shells (figure 23). Once the basket is full, the diver ascends to a shallower depth where a large storage container awaits. He transfers the shells from his basket and returns down to the seabed to continue collecting. He may repeat this process several times before the dive ends. There is great rivalry between divers, with “scores” being eagerly awaited once back onboard the vessel. While the practice is unquestionably safer now than it was in the days of the luggers, the everyday dangers of such a remote environment remain just as `real today.

It takes a very special type of person to be a diver on a pearling vessel. Spending up to eight hours a day in the deep and unforgiving waters off Western Australia, the diver needs to be adventurous, but calm and to some extent fearless, while maintaining a focused approach to the task. Decompression sickness, sharks, saltwater crocodiles, jellyfish, sea snakes, tangled air lines, and low visibility are just a few of the very real dangers. These dangers are difficult to convey unless the reader is a seafarer with knowledge of Australia’s rugged western coast. Needless to say, few people who lead the pearling life do not know of someone who has been taken by a shark or nearly died following a sting from the thumbnail-size Irukandji jellyfish.

Articles source: Kenneth Scarratt, Peter Bracher, Michael Bracher, Ali Attawi, Ali Safar, Sudarat Saeseaw, Artitaya Homkrajae, and Nicholas Sturman – GEMS & GEMOLOGY, WINTER 2012
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PEARLS HISTORIC OF NATURAL PEARLS FROM AUSTRALIAN PINCTADA MAXIMA

PEARLS HISTORIC OF NATURAL PEARLS FROM AUSTRALIAN PINCTADA MAXIMA

wholesale pearlsGiven the region’s long history of natural pearling, there can be little doubt that the vaults of important dealers worldwide, including those in Europe and the Arabian Gulf, contain a large number of treasures gained from Australian waters.

Pinctada maxima in these waters indeed produce some of the finest known natural pearls in all sizes and shapes. But as production emphasis shifted to the highly successful “South Sea” cultured pearls, the casual observer began to overlook the natural pearl. And over the last few decades, the natural pearl even strayed from the minds of those most closely associated with the fishing of this incredible mollusk. Indeed, it had become economically unimportant to them.

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Thankfully, the focus is shifting again, and natural pearls from Pinctada maxima are now edging their way back into the minds of those who love all that is rare and beautiful (N. Paspaley, pers. comm., 2011). Perhaps due to the prevalence of snide, few records exist of notable natural specimens from Australian waters, even though it can be assumed that most, if not all, of the largest nacreous natural pearls have been the product of Pinctada maxima rather
than a smaller pearl oyster.

In P.O. Lennon’s interesting account of the Australian pearl industry, a plate illustrates several “empire” pearls and five “Indian” pearls (three drops and two rounds) weighing 9.32–48.92 grains. There are also six somewhat larger “Australian” pearls: one near-perfect round weighing 110 grains, two offrounds (18 and 20.80 grains), and three drops (a pair totaling 62.80 grains and a single weighing 86.80 grains). In August 1949, an account of a major pearl find was reported in the Northern Standard: More than five tones [sic] of pearl shell brought back to Darwin this week has been declared by local shell experts to be of the finest quality ever to be taken in Darwin waters, either before or since the war. The shell represents the catch of two luggers belonging to Mr. Nicholas Paspaley, who said it promised well for future operations of his fleet.

In addition to the shell, the luggers brought back a perfect drop shaped pearl estimated to weigh between 50 and 60 grains. Local authorities say it is the best pearl taken in Darwin since operations commenced after the war. Mr. Paspaley said that last year he had taken a pearl weighing 106 grains but its quality was much inferior to the one brought in this week. (“Pearl shell,” 1949)

In 1917, a Japanese diver working for James Clark (the “Pearl King”) discovered the Star of the West, a 100-grain beauty also known as the Broome pearl. This specimen was described in the July 1918 edition of The Colonizer as a “perfect drop with a skin of iridescent luster diffused with a pinkish glow.” Other pearls of similar size are loosely recorded as the A. G. Russel, a 100-grain perfect round; the Eacott, a large drop; the Bardwell, a double button; the Rodriquez, a 92-grain perfect round; the 100-grain Hawke and Male; and the E. G. Archer, a 76-grain drop.

But the most storied Australian pearl is unquestionably the Southern Cross (figure 8). Kunz and Stevenson (1908) describe its history with both fascination and some disdain: The “Southern Cross” is an unusual pearl or rather cluster of pearls which attracted much attention twenty years ago. It consists of nine attached pearls forming a Roman cross about one and one half inches in length, seven pearls constituting the shaft or standard, while the arms are formed by one pearl on each side of the second one from the upper end. The luster is good, but the individual pearls are not perfect spheres, being mutually compressed at the point of juncture and considerably flattened at the back. If separated, the aggregate value of the individual pearls would be small, and the celebrity of the ornament is due almost exclusively to its form. This striking formation was exhibited at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition at London in 1886, and later at the Paris Exhibition in 1889, where it was the center of interest, and obtained a gold medal for the exhibitors. It is reported that an effort was made to bring about its sale at £10,000, the owners suggesting that it was especially appropriate for presentation to Leo XIII, on the occasion of his jubilee in 1896. The writers have been unable to obtain information as to its present location.

Henry Taunton (1903) offered further details on the Southern Cross in a very interesting account of his Australian wanderings. He presents apparently reliable statements showing that it was found on March 26, 1883, at Baldwin Creek, off the coast between Broome and Derby (figure 9). It was discovered by a boy named Clark, in the employ of master pearler James W. S. Kelly. It was delivered to Kelly in three distinct pieces, though the boy reported that he found it in one piece a few hours earlier. Kelly sold it in three pieces, receiving £10 from a fellow pearler named Roy. Roy sold it for £40 to a man named Craig, who in turn dealt the pearl to an Australian syndicate.

According to Taunton, there were only eight pearls in the cluster when it was sold by Kelly in 1883. To make it resemble a well-proportioned cross—the right arm being absent—another pearl of suitable size and shape was subsequently secured in the town of Cossack and attached in the proper place. In the meantime, the other pearls had been refastened together by diamond cement, for a total of three artificial joints in the cluster: As if to assist in the deception, nature had fashioned a hollow in the side of the central pearl just where the added pearl would have to be fitted; and the whole pearling fleet with their pearls and shells coming into Cossack about this time, it was no difficult matter to select a pearl of the right size and with the convexity required. The holder paid some ten or twelve pounds for the option of selecting a pearl within given limits; and then once more, with the aid of diamond cement and that of a skillful “faker,” this celebrated gem was transformed into a perfect cross. (Taunton, 1903)

When it was examined by one of the authors in 1981 (Scarratt, 1986b), the Southern Cross weighed 99.16 grains (24.79 ct), measuring 37.2 mm long and 18.3 mm wide. The length was similar to that reported by Kunz and Stevenson (1908), while the general shape matched the photo from a 1940s exhibit. Scarratt examined the cluster for both its natural origin as well as the natural formation of the cross. He clearly determined that the pearls were natural, though by that time only two of the joints (A and B in figure 8, right) remained entirely natural.

The microradiograph of the cluster3 (figure 10) clearly shows dark junction lines representing varying degrees of organic material or simply voids between each pearl, indicating the fragility of each junction and going some way toward validating Clark’s statement that the cluster was discovered intact and broke shortly afterward. It may also be noted that the arms of the cross are created by pearls of unequal size and shape, which brings into question Taunton’s “positive statement” that one of the arms was added by a “skillful faker,” for surely that person would have chosen a closer match.

This examination of the Southern Cross also highlights just how fine the growth structures can be in pearls from P. maxima. Figure 10 (center and right) shows magnified microradiographic views of sections from the Southern Cross, which reveal only a very few organic (line) structures, demonstrating how “tight” the crystalline component is for each of the pearls in the cluster. This structural characteristic, while not universal for pearls from P. maxima, may certainly be regarded as common to them.

In Brief

  • Historically, Australia has given the world an untold but significant volume of natural pearls, some of which
    have been quite notable.
  • For several decades, the commercial importance of natural Pinctada maxima pearls has declined as the
    cultured pearl industry has matured.
  • A newly rekindled market for natural pearls has generated interest in natural P. maxima pearls from Australian
    waters.
  • Microradiographic structures previously used to distinguish between natural P. maxima pearls and accidentally cultured specimens are not necessarily conclusive.

Articles source: Kenneth Scarratt, Peter Bracher, Michael Bracher, Ali Attawi, Ali Safar, Sudarat Saeseaw, Artitaya Homkrajae, and Nicholas Sturman – GEMS & GEMOLOGY, WINTER 2012
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NATURAL PEARLS FROM AUSTRALIAN SOUTH SEA PEARLS PINCTADA MAXIMA

NATURAL PEARLS FROM AUSTRALIAN SOUTH SEA PEARLS PINCTADA MAXIMA

wholesale pearlsThe fascinating and colorful history of natural pearling in Australian waters is presented, from the early six-man luggers to the large ships in modern fleets where pearl culture has been the focus for the past several decades.

For the scientific investigation of this paper, the authors retrieved natural pearls from wild Australian South Sea Pearls Pinctada maxima in Australian waters and recorded the various properties that might help to differentiate between natural pearls from this mollusk and those that are accidental by-products of the culturing process.

Three distinct categories of host Australian South Sea Pearls Pinctada maxima shells and mantle pearls were collected and examined by the authors:

  1. from wild shell prior to any pearl culturing operation,
  2. from wild shell after pearl culturing and approximately two years on the farm, and
  3. from hatchery-reared shell prior to pearl culturing. Data were collected from microscopy, X-rays of internal structures (using realtime microradiography and X-ray computed microtomography, various forms of spectroscopy, and LAICP-MS chemical analysis. The results showed that microradiographic structures previously considered indicative of an accidentally cultured Australian South Sea Pearls P. maxima pearl may not be conclusive, and that such criteria should only be applied with the utmost caution by an experienced technician. (Reference: Australian South Sea Pearls)
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According to Cilento (1959), natural pearls have been found off the western and northern coasts of Australia since well before European settlement in the early 19th century. Coastaldwelling Aborigines and fishermen from Sulawesi
had collected and traded pearl shell for possibly hundreds of years.

The pearling industry in Queensland dates from 1868, when Captain William Banner, of the Sydney brig Julia Percy fished the first cargo of pearl shell from Warrior Reef. Captain Banner noticed the natives preparing for a dance, and saw they had big mother-of-pearl pendants round their necks. He made a bargain with Kebisu, mamoose (chief) of the headhunters of Tutu, who, for generations, raided the islands of Torres Strait in their great war canoes. Perhaps the menace of Banner’s shotted fore and aft guns, which could far out-range the eight-foot bows and barbed arrows of the black bowmen of Tutu, had something to do with the friendliness of the blood-thirsty and crafty Kebisu and his headhunters. In return for tomahawks and iron—the most valuable things in their eyes—they gave Capt. Banner as much as he wanted of what they considered the common and relatively valueless pearl shell and pearls. (Reference: Australian South Sea Pearls)

Capt. Banner and his crew won a rich harvest from the coral sea, for pearl shell was then worth £150 a ton in Sydney; and Banner collected many large pearls. (Cilento, 1959) Pearling, particularly for the recovery of natural pearls from the most remarkable of all pearl oysters— Australian South Sea Pearls Pinctada maxima—in the adventure-strewn waters off the Australian coast, has a diverse and fascinating history. This history may be eyed through the literary skills of authors such as E.W. Streeter and Louis Kornitzer, who hailed from a time when natural pearls were objects of great value and wrote about them with passion and wonder.

As one delves into the history of pearling in this region, it is difficult not to become wrapped up in a wondrous web of adventure and intrigue, danger from every conceivable corner, and the ecstasy of the ultimate find: a lustrous sphere, perhaps with that smoothly flattened side that gives it the shape of a button, or slightly elongated to form a teardrop, exposed within the mantle with the gills glinting behind it, the curtained backdrop to this pearl’s debut on the world’s stage Kornitzer takes us on a helter-skelter ride through his journeys from Singapore down through the island realms that encase the Java, Banda, Celebes, and Timor Seas and ultimately into those wild waters that run from Exmouth Gulf and up through Broome and on to Darwin.

His stories are the very epitome of boyhood adventure dreams, leaping from the pages to convince the reader that “a pearling he must go”: It was as a humble young dealer in Hatton Garden that the urge to adventure came to me, that strong, compelling urge like a kick in the pants, which is produced by the fact that one’s family is hungry and growing. I had a chance to go pearl-hunting in the tough pearling grounds in North-Western Australia, and I took it. From Australia the chase for pearls led me in half a lifetime all around the world, but I was a stone that rolled slowly enough to gather a minute quantity of moss. At any rate, I have never regretted it. One looks back with a strange satisfaction on the lonely and risky periods of one’s life. As I was the first white trader ever to penetrate into the pearl fisheries of the Sulu Seas, I still have a proprietary feeling about that part of the world. (Kornitzer, 1947a). (Reference: Australian South Sea Pearls)

These stories are eloquently told and retold in books such as Hurley’s Pearls and Savages (1924), Berge and Lanier’s Pearl Diver (1930), Benham’s Diver’s Luck (1949), and Bartlett’s The Pearl Seekers (1954). Each work adds yet another layer of intrigue to an incredible adventure. Lately, other highly informative and passionate accounts of Australian pearling have emerged. Two of particular note are The Last Pearling Lugger: A Pearl Diver’s Story (Dodd, 2011) and The Pearls of Broome: The Story of TB Ellies (Ellies, 2010). Dodd’s book brings the reader up to the early 1980s, when the luggers (figure 2) left service in favor of the much larger vessels in use today. The latter work recounts the incredible story of the Sri Lankan immigrant T.B. Ellies, who was one of the world’s finest “pearl doctors” of the late 19th century. Practitioners of this lost art enhanced the appearance of a pearl by carefully
removing blemishes on the outer layers.

Like many others in the Australian pearling industry, Ellies made his home in the town of Broome (figure 3). Activity had initially centered around Nickol Bay and Exmouth Gulf, but by 1910 Broome was the largest pearling center in the world. Indeed, pearling remains an important part of the Western Australian economy, albeit largely through the cultured market. In the mid-1880s, the famed English jeweler, entrepreneur, and author E.W. Streeter moved to Broome with his son (G.S. Streeter, a prolific author in his own right) and became heavily involved in pearling. By 1890, the elder Streeter had acquired significant property on the outskirts of the town, establishing a general store and owning one-eighth of the pearling fleet. Renowned for his great work Pearls and Pearling Life (1886) among others, he is also credited with the introduction of hard-hat diving. Indeed, the Streeter name is indelibly linked with the chronicles of this great pearling town (figure 4; Smith and Devereux, 1999). (Reference: Australian South Sea Pearls)

Lennon (1934) describes hard-hat diving as one of the “world’s most dangerous occupations.” He notes, “Divers may work up to 30 fathoms [180 ft], but 22 fathoms is the average depth to which they descend. After bottoming the diver is pulled up a couple of feet and permits himself to be towed along by the lugger. Sighting shell, he signals to his tender, who lets him drop.” Wearing an extremely cumbersome helmet and boots, the diver “works kneeling on his right knee and gathering with his right hand, taking good care to keep his head erect. If his head gets down, the air in his dress may shift and he would shoot aloft, feet first.”

Not recommended, as the normal method of ascending is to haul up the diver very gradually before surfacing, thus avoiding potentially fatal divers’ paralysis, commonly known as “the bends.” Beyond the romance of the written word, early pearling in the region may somewhat be likened to the American “Wild West,” as witnessed by fisheries
inspector Pemberton Walcott. In his report covering the period from April 15 to June 30, 1881, he writes I have on good private information the following, which will require immediate investigation. During last pearling season, the majority of the fleet being at anchor in or near LaGrange Bay, three bush natives were killed by some De Grey River pearling natives; some time, days after, the bush natives retaliated by killing some De Grey pearlers (two or three), when the latter mustered in force, and in fact seem to have organized an expedition and followed the natives up, slaying all they surprised. I have reason to believe twenty to thirty were killed.

His report concludes It frequently occurs that, in holding any communication with the shore, a vessel has to run up creeks and is left high and dry at low water, so at the mercy of the natives, and no white man should land without means of protecting himself, for it may and does frequently happen that however friendly natives be at one time they maybe [sic] found hostile and troublesome at another, in consequence perhaps of some act which they may consider themselves bound to avenge. (Walcott, 1881) (Reference: Australian South Sea Pearls)

The data provided in a report on North Western Australia’s pearling industry to the attorney general by the chief inspector of fisheries (Gale, 1901) explain why intrepid adventurers came to such remote and often inhospitable places. Between 1889 and 1898, some 5,556 tons of pearl shell with a value of £587,181 were “declared” (table 1).

While the annual haul fell between the beginning and end dates, the actual monetary amount rose slightly. Gale’s report also provides some insight into the pearling industry of the time. He noted that during the year from June 30, 1900, 177 boats were officially licensed. This represented a total tonnage of 2,480 tons, with the 159 luggers averaging 10 tons each. The 18 schooners, employed mainly as supply vessels and as storage for shell haul, ranged from 30 to 100 tons. Gale noted that each lugger carried a crew of six, with the diver in command. He added that a large amount of capital had been invested in each lugger: an average of £550 (£51,500 or approximately US$80,000 in 2011, adjusted for inflation) for a fully outfitted vessel. The approximate value of the fleet was £8.19 million, or
US$12.7 million today. (Reference: Australian South Sea Pearls)

Gale also provides us with some interesting asides concerning the value of pearls recovered during this period. He notes (as did other authors of the period) the difficulty of estimating this value from the quantity of pearl collected, due to heavy illicit trading of snide.1 But taking figures from the statistical register for the previous 10 years, he estimates the value to be £300,000, or £28,101,000 today. He comments that these large numbers were somewhat offset by the costly expenditures involved: The average amount paid to the crew of each lugger was about £220, not including a £20 bonus to the diver for every ton of shell collected.

Kornitzer (1937) brings to vivid life the world of snide pearl trading in Broome in recounting one of his experiences. While fishing off the “long Wooden Pier” (probably referring to what is now known as Streeter’s Jetty; figure 4), he is approached by a smuggler named Da Silva, who tells him: Master, you buy fifty-grain round pearl, oh such a beautiful thing – you got thousand pounds in your pockit? If not I trust you. Master, you can sell it for two thousand for sure. I’ve got her here, you like to see?

To control the shady business of snide, one P. Percy designed a box (patented in 1910) to securely hold any pearls found by the shell openers onboard the luggers. Pearls were placed in the box (figure 5) through a round hole in the top. The pearls went into the box along a “bent tube.” The bend in the tube ensured that even if the box were tipped upside-down, the pearls would remain inside. All pearls recovered would be placed in the locked box for delivery to the owner upon docking.

In reality, the skipper had little time for monitoring what went into the box and what did not. His primary concerns were the navigation of the vessel and the safety of the divers. It was therefore more of an “honesty box” than a true deterrent. Judging from the many texts that have alluded to it, a brisk business in snide pearls was prevalent in Broome.

Broome was indeed the Wild West of Australia, and just like any frontier settlement it was full of intrigue and character. One cannot write about the history of Broome without mentioning its Japanese cemetery (figure 6), the largest in Australia. More than 900 Japanese pearl divers are buried here in over 700 graves. The site testifies to Broome’s close ties with the people of Japan and the enormous importance of pearling in the region. (Reference: Australian South Sea Pearls)

The first interment was recorded in 1896, and a plaque at the entrance to the cemetery acknowledges the great many men lost to drowning or divers’ paralysis. A large stone obelisk bears testimony to those who perished in the 1908 cyclone. It records the 1887 and 1935 cyclones, each of which caused 140 deaths. In 1914 alone, decompression sickness claimed the lives of 33 men. Not mentioned are victims of scurvy, the disease caused by vitamin deficiency, which was brought on by subsisting on fish and rice for many weeks aboard the luggers.

Articles source: Kenneth Scarratt, Peter Bracher, Michael Bracher, Ali Attawi, Ali Safar, Sudarat Saeseaw, Artitaya Homkrajae, and Nicholas Sturman – GEMS & GEMOLOGY, WINTER 2012
south sea pearls wholesale (Reference: Australian South Sea Pearls)

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Lombok Pearls : Cultured Pearls General Rule & Exceptions

Lombok Pearls : Cultured Pearls General Rule & Exceptions

Figure 9. Schematic diagram explaining the general way of cultured pearl production in the two organs where a saibo transplant is successful in respect of pearl formation. Modified after Schöffel, 1996.
Figure 9. Schematic diagram explaining the general way of cultured pearl production in the two organs where a
saibo transplant is successful in respect of pearl formation. Modified after Schöffel, 1996.

wholesale pearlsGonad-grown cultured pearls The gonad (reproduction organ) accepts transplanted mantle tissue graft (Japanese ‘saibo’) that will grow out to a pearl sac. As gonad cells cannot precipitate CaCO3 the introduction of the saibo is mandatory. The gonad is deep in the shell where the two shell halves are at an important distance from each other. Here, the space for one or more beads is provided. Nuclei are brought into the gonad and a close contact to the saibo. The process of grafting is often named ‘nucleation’, a term that is also used for inserting the bead nucleus. For clarity reasons it would therefore be better to differentiate and use both terms, ‘grafting’ and ‘beading’. (Reference: Lombok Pearls)

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The introduction of a bead is optional and can be made more than once. The grafting is only done once, to start the formation of a pearl sac. All gonad-grown pearls are cultured, as only transplanted mantle tissue cells can form nacre. A general method to produce gonad grown cultured pearls containing a spherical or other shape nucleus has furnished the well-known Akoya (Pinctada martensii), South Sea Pearls (Pinctada maxima) or lombok pearls and Tahiti cultured pearls (Pinctada margaritifera) (Müller, 1997) (Reference: Lombok Pearls).

Black pearls are also produced in the Sea of Cortez (Pteria sterna) (Kiefert et al., 2004) (Reference: Lombok Pearls) . Since recently, small akoya-type cultured pearls have been grown in the Persian Gulf in Pinctada radiata shells. Figure 9 gives a schematic view on the general methods of producing cultured pearls in the gonad.

Figure 10. Schematic diagram explaining the modifications from the general way of cultured pearl production. These variations lead to more recent products now available in the trade. Modified after Schöffel, 1996.
Figure 10. Schematic diagram explaining the modifications from the general way of cultured pearl production. These variations lead to more recent products now available in the trade. Modified after Schöffel, 1996.

In Figure 10 the variations of the normal routines are shown. It is worth mentioning that most pearl farms are very careful and precise when they select tissue donor oysters that will be sacrificed for their mantle tissue. Only individuals with outstanding nacre quality will be taken for producing mantle tissue pieces, as this quality will vastly define the quality of the resulting pearl. Recipient oysters, on the other hand, must not have nice nacre, but must be healthy, fast growing and provide good housing for the bead and saibo.

Quite often the contact between the bead and the saibo is not very close, due to negligent manipulation by the transplanting technician. Such pearls will be drop shaped or have an extension on the side where the saibo was placed. Should the saibo not reach the bead, the latter will be rejected and the pearl grows as beadless. Due to the missing pre-form (spherical) the pearl will end as a more or less round baroque shaped pebble.

The trade uses the term ‘keshi’ for these products. A more precise and descriptive name would be appropriate, such as non-beaded or beadless cultured pearl of baroque shape. This applies for both: South Sea ‘Keshi’ and Tahiti ‘Keshi’ (Hänni, 2007 a, b). (Reference: Lombok Pearls)

The term ‘keshi’ comes from the Japanese pearl culturing tradition and is used for very small mantle-grown pearls, by-products of the Akoya production. They form as a consequence of injuries on the rim of the shell, due to rough handling when transported and operated. That they are about 2 mm is explained by the short time between injury and harvest. That large gonad-grown South Sea Keshis formed after a tissue transplant have nothing to do with
those minute mantle-grown Japanese Keshis without saibo graft seems obvious.

When some years ago a dealer reported, ‘they are now growing keshis with beads’ it became evident how important it is, to use proper naming. What the dealer was describing were gonad-grown cultured pearls with baroque shaped beads (Figure 11) (Reference: Lombok Pearls). Flat baroque freshwater pearls from China are used as nuclei and overgrown with Pinctada margaritifera dark nacre, producing more baroque pearls.

Figure 11. Beadless freshwater cultured pearls from China with a flat irregular shape are used as beads for producing baroque P. margaritifera pearls. Upper samples are shown as grown, lower samples are cut open and polished; they reveal the core of freshwater nacre. Photo © H.A. Hänni, SSEF and GemExpert.
Figure 11. Beadless freshwater cultured pearls from China with a flat irregular shape are used as beads for producing baroque P. margaritifera pearls. Upper samples are shown as grown, lower samples are cut open and polished; they reveal the core of freshwater nacre. Photo © H.A. Hänni, SSEF and GemExpert.
Figure 12. Four natural pearls with different shape and appearance were used as beads in P.maxima oysters. Upper row shows the coated pearls, middle row shows x-ray pictures, and lower row shows 3 cross sections. Photo © H.A. Hänni, SSEF and GemExpert.
Figure 12. Four natural pearls with different shape and appearance were used as beads in P.maxima oysters. Upper row shows the coated pearls, middle row shows x-ray pictures, and lower row shows 3 cross sections. Photo © H.A. Hänni, SSEF and GemExpert.

An experiment
In previous years the author has used spherical Chinese freshwater cultured pearls as bead material in Pinctada maxima or lombok pearls and Pinctada margaritifera oysters. The procedure and the results have been reported recently (Hänni et al., 2010 a, b). It was then thus worth trying to use poor looking natural pearls as bead nuclei and provide them with a nice P.radiata coating. The experiment was carried out in the Gulf region where local P. radiata shells have been producing the famous Oriental natural pearls from the Gulf region for hundreds of years (see again Figure 2). (Reference: Lombok Pearls)

In May 2010, a number of natural pearls  of different sizes and shapes were seeded with a mantle tissue graft into the gonad of 9 cm P. radiata shells. Three months later a sample harvest was done in order to measure the coating and to count the number of aragonite platelets formed in that period of time. A further sampling was done in November 2010 and tests were carried out, including the x-ray recording of some samples (Figure 12). (Reference: Lombok Pearls)

Previous to this natural pearl coating experiment, natural pearls of brown colour and columnar structure were seeded in P. maxima oysters. The pearls probably are Pinna pearls, their structure corresponds to ‘unripe’ natural pearls. This means that the shells were harvested too early, as they consisted only of the columnar core but had not yet been overgrown by nacre (compare with Figure 1). Results of coated natural pearls by P. maxima oysters, in the shell for 16 months, are shown in Figure 13. (Reference: Lombok Pearls)

Figure 13. A selection of pearls with natural non-nacreous (‘unripe’) pearls used as nuclei, with a coating of P. maxima nacre. Radiograph shows darker concentric rings as characteristic for natural pearls. Photo © H.A. Hänni, SSEF and GemExpert.
Figure 13. A selection of pearls with natural non-nacreous (‘unripe’) pearls used as nuclei, with a coating of P. maxima nacre. Radiograph shows darker concentric rings as characteristic for natural pearls. Photo © H.A. Hänni, SSEF and GemExpert.

Any object fitting in size and having an inert character can be coated with nacre, even a small marine snail shell. To demonstrate the possibility that any core of appropriate size is easily coated with nacre once it is implanted with a saibo, an experiment with trilobites, a fossil of Cambrian age (approx. 500 my) was carried out using P. maxima or lombok pearls oysters (Figure 14). (Reference: Lombok Pearls)

Figure 14. Trilobites from North Africa were used as cores and became overgrown by nacre in a pearl culturing process with P. maxima. Above, some trilobites of approx. 5 mm size. Below, the nacrecoated bodies after a 9-month stay in a P. maxima. Photo © H.A. Hänni, SSEF and GemExpert.
Figure 14. Trilobites from North Africa were used as cores and became overgrown by nacre in a pearl culturing process with P. maxima. Above, some trilobites of approx. 5 mm size. Below, the nacrecoated bodies after a 9-month stay in a P. maxima. Photo © H.A. Hänni, SSEF and GemExpert.

Conclusions

Natural pearls are the reaction of the mantle on an injury caused to the juvenile mantle. External mantle cells displaced to a deeper layer (conjunctive tissue) grow out and constitute a pearl sac that will accumulate CaCO3 and form the natural pearl. Mantle-keshis reported in Japanese Akoya shells are evidence of this process. The injuries occurred during rough handling of the shells in the farms where the rim was damaged. Cultured pearls or lombok pearls are either grown in wild shells collected from the sea, nursed wild spat or from shells grown in hatcheries with a brood stock of selected characteristics. Freshwater mussels are raised in basins where specific fish act as hosts for the larvae. These domestic bivalves are then subjected to a surgical operation where mantle tissue pieces (saibo) are grafted into either the gonad or into the mantle.

Individuals with high quality nacre are selected as tissue donors as such nacre will form the present cultured pearl. Recipient oysters have to be strong, fast growing and resistant to infections. Mantle and gonad are the two organs of an oyster or mussel where a tissue graft can survive and produce CaCO3. Once grafted, the saibo will grow out to a pearl sac. It is optional to add a bead to the saibo graft. Shape and size of a bead nucleus depend on size of shell and where it will be implanted. Generally round beads are placed into the gonad to produce gonad-grown pearls. Coin shaped beads are put into the mantle, and later replaced by spherical ones, when more space is available. Once a pearl sac is formed, it can be used a second time. Re-beading is performed when a first pearl shows a good quality.

There is a certain variety in bead material used (Superchi et al., 2008). (Reference: Lombok Pearls). Traditionally, beads are made of freshwater shell material and according to the size a small number of mussels are used. Washboard mussels may have thick walls and produce beads up to 20 mm. Large composed beads may also be cut from saltwater shell (e.g. P. maxima or lombok pearls) when shell pieces are ground flat and glued together forming a laminate.

Besides common bead material, almost anything that fits in size and is not spiky will get coated with nacre. Experiments with fossils and even natural pearls have shown positive results. Pearl sacs in the mantle of Chinese freshwater mussel, after harvesting a coated coin nucleus, can be filled with mud (G. Wiesauer, pers. comm. 2012). The result is a baroque mantle-grown pearl, now available on the market.

Acknowledgements

Thanks go to the pearl farmers who invited the author to perform interesting experiments in their pearling enterprises. Andy Müller (Hinata Trading, Kobe) has continuously furnished new cultured pearls that attracted our interest. To Mr René Hodel (Hodel of Switzerland, Hong Kong) the author owes thanks for an important literature reference. Georg Wiesauer has been updating the author on freshwater cultured pearls from China. Dr. Michael Krzemnicki, Dr. Franz Herzog, SSEF Swiss Gemmological Institute and Laurent Cartier, University of Basel, (Basel, Switzerland) have supported our research by analytical assistance and always been active partners in discussing the topic. Laurent Cartier has further reviewed the English and proposed significant improvements of the original paper. (Reference: Lombok Pearls)

Articles source: Natural pearls and cultured pearls: A basic concept and its variations, Prof. Dr H.A. Hänni, The Australian Gemmologist | Third Quarter 2012 | Volume 24, Number 11 – (Reference: Lombok Pearls)
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