In the realm of pearls, South Sea pearls enjoy a place of special value and distinction. These pearls, originating in the warm waters of the South Sea of Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Myanmar (erstwhile Burma) and Thailand, are among the largest that one would find in the market today. Australia alone accounts for more than 60% of all South Sea pearls cultured in the world today. However, other regions also produce a large number of these pearls and some of these have very distinctive regional qualities.
South Sea pearls are cultivated in the belly of Pinctada Maxima oysters. These oysters are primarily of two kinds –
- the gold-lipped variety that are responsible for producing pearls of a “golden” body color (actually, yellow to yellowish orange);
- the silver-lipped variety that produces pearls with white or a lighter body color (pale to deep cream).
As has already been mentioned before, the most striking aspect of South Sea pearls is their large sizes. Typically speaking, the larger part of South Sea pearls that are cultured today are about 13.0 mm in diameter. It is interesting to remember in this respect that in comparison, most Akoya cultured pearls, another popular and renowned variety of pearls, range in size from 6.0 mm to 7.0 mm.
Another highly distinctive feature of South Sea pearls is their deep iridescence. Owing to the warm climate of their origin and the extended harvest time, South Sea pearls have remarkably thick nacre that ranges from 2.0 mm to 6.0 mm. The thicker layers of nacre in South Sea pearls create a very attractive satin-like luster which is distinctly different from the mirror-like finish and appearance of an Akoya pearl. In other words, they possess an intrinsic glow that originates from deep within rather than reflecting extraneous light.
South Sea pearls can also be categorized on the basis of their color. Almost 90% of South Sea pearls are usually of a white, cream or silvery shade, with tones of rose, green and blue present in varying degrees. Others may be of a deeper yellowish orange shade. There are two distinct aspects of the overall hue of a pearl – its body color and its hue – with the latter being, in most cases, less prominent than the former.
They are also graded according to the perfection of their rotundity and the presence of natural blemishes. The3 major grades in this respect are
- AAA – The highest grade with a high degree of rotundity, brilliant luster and blemishes less than 10-20%.
- AA – With medium and up to 40% of blemishes or marks.
- A – Noticeably off round with little luster but free from blemishes of up to 70-90%.