Tag: saltwater pearls

A South Sea Pearl Necklace

What’s the deal with so many pearl colors?

A variety of pearl colors

Pearls are sometimes referred to as the world’s most colorful gem, a title they have certainly earned! Rivaled only by garnets, which are available in every color of the rainbow, pearls are known for the amazing colors they display. However, not all of these colors occur naturally. There are many treatments that are considered acceptable in the jewelry trade to enhance the color and luster of the pearls in question. At Pearls International, we offer many color enhanced freshwater pearls so that you can find a color and style that suits your own personal flair. Note that when these treatments are done correctly, they do not detract from the value of the pearl. Here are the main treatments used to prepare pearls for use in jewelry:

Polishing: While it is is not necessary to cut a pearl or polish it in the manner you think of with other gemstones, they still have their own polishing procedure they are subjected to before being drilled and prepared to sell. They are simply tumbled in a salt water solution that is just course enough to remove any build up or organic matter from the pearls. This process can also sometimes remove small surface imperfections.

Maeshori: This is a process that originated in Japanese pearl farms, meaning “Before Treatment.” It refers to a range of treatments done at the farms, including polishing. When you hear of maeshori today, it means the process by which the pearl has been heated and then cooled in order to “tighten” up the nacre´ (smooth Mother-of-Pearl substance that forms the pearl) which causes the pearl to show increased luster. This process is comparable to a person getting a facelift.

Bleaching: Many freshwater and saltwater pearls are bleached to improve the color of white pearls. Bleaching also evens out some surface flaws. A natural color white strand will show slight variances in the hues of each pearl, while a bleached strand will appear very uniform. Pearl bleaching has been practiced for over 100 years and is considered an industry standard in production of white pearls.

Dyeing: Fancy color pearls such as cranberry and bright blue or green pearls have been treated with an organic dye. Sometimes freshwater pearls are dyed to mimic the color of saltwater pearls at a much lower price. Black freshwater pearls, for example, are dyed to look like Tahitian pearls. The same is true for chocolate color freshwater pearls. Chocolate Tahitian pearls are few and far between as it is, so it is a highly desired color based on rarity. Sometimes Tahitian pearls are dyed brown to make a matched chocolate Tahitian strand, without the pearl farmers having to wait the several years it would take to create a full strand of naturally chocolate color pearls. Dyeing a pearl does not detract from the value of the jewelry as long as it is done well. If you can see blotchiness on the surface of the pearl, or if you can see the original white color around and inside of the drill hole in the pearl, it has been poorly dyed. The color should be smooth and even across the surface of the pearl. Another common practice, related to dyeing, is called “pinking” which is most commonly done on Akoya pearls to increase the rosey overtones in the nacre´. This is achieved by soaking the pearls in a diluted red dye.

Freshwater Stick Pearl Necklace
Gorgeous color treated cranberry pearl necklace featuring both round pearls and stick pearls.

Irradiation: This is a treatment most commonly applied to saltwater pearls. It is rarely seen in freshwater pearls, because the cost of this treatment usually outweighs the value. The pearl is subjected to gamma rays, which darkens the pearl. In the case of saltwater pearls, it darkens the shell bead nucleus (which is made from a freshwater mussel). Because the center of the pearl has been darkened, the layers of nacre´ covering the pearl appear darker because of how the light refracts on the surface of the pearl, allowing you to see the nucleus underneath. The thicker the layers of nacre´ (so, the larger the pearl) the harder it is to see. Saltwater pearls treated in this manner will usually become silvery or gunmetal grey in color, not black. Freshwater pearls treated with irradiation will become very dark and it is a good way to get black freshwater pearls with high luster. It’s important to note that these pearls are not radioactive, and therefore are completely safe to wear and enjoy.

There are a couple of other treatments that some pearl farms may choose to do, but these are the most common and most acceptable in the pearl industry.

So, how can you tell if your pearls are a natural color or an enhanced color? Certain types of pearls are available in a range of natural colors. All others not listed are dyed or otherwise enhanced for fashion.

Akoya Pearls: Japanese Akoya pearls are one of the most popular pearl types on the market, and are the most obtainable saltwater pearls. They come in white and cream, with rose, silver, or gold overtones. They are also sometimes seen in a stunning silver-blue color, although these are very rare.

Graduated white akoya pearl necklace
Beautiful graduated white akoya pearl necklace.

South Sea Pearls: These rare treasures are available in white and gold, with the darkest golden pearls being considered the most valuable.

A South Sea Pearl Necklace
A multicolor south sea pearl necklace, showing the varying shades of gold and white these pearls naturally occur in.

Tahitian Pearls: One of the most sought after saltwater varieties of pearls, Tahitian pearls are prized for their dark color and ‘peacock’ overtones, although they can occasionally be found in chocolate as well. Most Tahitian pearls lean towards silver or grey rather than true “black.” (As in jet black, which is an unnatural color.) Pinctada margaritifera, the oyster that produces these gorgeous pearls, also produces their cousin, Fiji Pearls. Fiji Pearls are truly the most colorful pearl in the world, and one of the rarest. Because the waters they are farmed in are so nutrient-dense, they come in a rainbow of colors including the traditional blacks and greys, as well as bronze and gold.

Black Tahitian Pearls
Black peacock Tahitian Pearls

Sea of Cortez Pearls: As only one pearl farm is currently culturing these pearls, Sea of Cortez pearls are the most rare. They are also never enhanced to improve their color, so you know that if you purchase a Sea of Cortez pearl, it is unaltered by man once it leaves the oyster. Their colors are similar to those shown in black peacock Tahitian pearls, although they are somewhat more bold and rich in color than the Tahitians are.

Sea of Cortez Pearls
Pearls from the Sea of Cortez, produced from the Rainbow-Lipped Oyster

PS – You can click here to read more about the amazing Sea of Cortez and Tahitian black peacock pearls mentioned above!

Freshwater Pearls: Making up the bulk of the pearl market, most pearls you will come across while pearl shopping are freshwater. They take the least amount of time and effort from the pearl farmers to produce, and are cultured in several places around the world from a few different species of freshwater clams. These pearls naturally come in white and cream, as well as pastel colors such as peach, lavender, and pink. Any unusually dark or very brightly colored freshwater pearls are typically dyed.

Multicolor Freshwater Pearl Bracelet
Naturally occurring pastel color freshwater pearls, strung together in a bracelet.

When in doubt, a reputable company should always be honest with you about the jewelry you are buying – just ask!

Sources:

http://www.jewellerytechnology.com/education/Treatment_done_on_Pearls.php
http://www.pearl-guide.com/forum/content.php?92-Pearl-Treatments
http://www.professionaljeweler.com/archives/articles/1998/sep98/0998fys2.html
http://www.pearlsofjoy.com/Pearl-Colors_ep_45-1.html
http://www.pearlblogger.com/?p=137
http://www.purepearls.com/pearl-colors.html

Tahitian Pearls

Choosing the Perfect Pearl – Your Guide to Making an Informed Decision.

While much of the process of choosing pearls is subjective, and depends on the wearer’s taste, there are a few questions to ask that will ensure that the pearls you choose will be of the highest quality. Just like diamonds have their “4C’s”, pearls have common properties that should be considered as you shop.

 Color

A pearl’s color is more a matter of personal taste than one of quality, but naturally colored pearls will typically weather trends and fads better than those that have been artificially dyed. Beware especially bright or garish pearls, as these are almost certainly the result of manmade color processes and the dye can be prone to fading or even wearing off onto skin or clothing. Strong colors may sometimes indicate a lower-quality pearl, as the dye may have been used to disguise unsightly color variations in the surface of the pearl.

Pearl Colors

Orient and Overtone

There are very small differences between orient and overtone. The orient of a pearl is the beautiful iridescent shimmer of color that spreads across its surface. Often, this causes a ‘rainbow’ effect on the surface of the pearl. This color is not the same as the color of the pearl itself, but the iridescence that may seem to dance and move across the pearl as you turn it. In contrast, the overtone of a pearl is the secondary impression of color from a pearl as it is viewed against a white background. For example, a black pearl may seem to have a subtle blush of green. This color, unlike the orient, does not shimmer, but may differ depending on which side of the pearl is viewed, due to the refraction of light within the pearl.

Examples of Overtone on a White Pearl

Overtone on White Pearl

Examples of Overtone on a Black Pearl

Overtone on Black Pearl

Black Pearls Displaying Excellent Orient

Black Pearls with Excellent Orient

Size

The larger the pearl, the longer it had to remain in the oyster’s shell, and as a result, these are usually more costly. Very large pearls are a rarity, due to the cost of producing them. Consider that the oysters must be kept healthy and safe from predators, parasites, and destruction of their natural habitat for several years while the pearl is allowed to form. Additionally, the extra time in the shell increases the likelihood of blemishes forming on the pearl as small imperfections in the nacre are magnified as they are coated. Flawless pearls of a large size will command very high prices.

Pearl Size

Surface

Surface indicates the perfection of the exterior of the pearl itself. Higher quality surfaces have very few marks, bumps, ripples, or blemishes, indicating that the oyster was very well cared-for during the cultivation process. Pearls that show little to no variation in their surfaces will typically cost more than those with a few marks here and there.

Pearl Surface

Regularity

Regularity refers to the shape of a pearl. The more spherical the pearl, the more regular it is said to be. No pearl is perfectly round, but some come close to being spherical. The best pearls are typically smooth and even. Do not pay for a pearl that is absolutely spherical and has no defining marks unless it is certified, as these are probably synthetic, and therefore of low value.

Pearl Regularity

Luster

A pearl’s luster, or shine, is determined by the layers of ‘nacre,’ the substance pearls are made of, that coats its central nucleus. Usually, more nacre results in higher luster. The surface curvature of a pearl can also have an effect on the luster, as light passes through the delicate outer layers and refracts off of the aragonite crystals in the pearl, giving the pearl its signature glow. This causes the highly desirable translucent appearance that very fine pearls display.

Pearl Luster

Authenticity

A genuine pearl will typically show minor variations in shape, color, and surface. Truly perfect pearls are rarely real, but may be simply convincing fakes. One way to test their authenticity (although this test can be fooled) is to gently rub the pearl on the edge of your tooth. Genuine pearls will feel very slightly gritty, due to their crystalline structure, while faux pearls and glass pearls will feel smooth and silky. The exception to this rule is composite, or “shell” pearls, which are created by grinding low-quality pearls into a powder and then reconstituting them using epoxy or acrylic. Due to their nacre content, these will feel gritty to the teeth, but since they are usually perfectly round, they are easy to spot and avoid.

Real vs Shell Pearl

Other fake pearl types to look out for:

  • Plastic: Ultra-shiny, easy to chip the paint. Very lightweight. Usually unknotted. Smooth to the tooth.
  • Glass: Higher quality, usually knotted in between and heavy. Look for paint flaking near the drill-holes. Smooth to the tooth.
  • Mallorca: A specific variety of glass pearl, very high quality and usually difficult to identify. The paint is very similar in luster to real pearls, but if on a strand, will be perfectly uniform. Smooth to the tooth.

Check out our post on Real vs. Faux pearls for more info on Authenticity!

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The World’s Most Colorful Pearls

Fiji Pearls in shell

If you read our blog highlighting the truly amazing process used to create black saltwater pearls, you already know why we love these little gems so much. Aside from the obvious, of course – they’re gorgeous!

But did you know that our beloved South Pacific oyster, the Pinctada margaritifera, can produce pearls of an even greater variety of hues than seen in Tahitian and Sea of Cortez pearls? Fiji pearls are said to be the world’s most colorful pearls due to the nutrient rich waters that the oysters thrive in. They are found in black and grey, with overtones of silver, blue green, peacock,  and purple, which are often seen in Tahitian pearls. In addition to these traditional colors, Fiji pearls are also seen in bronze or gold instead of the common darker colors, and overtones can include varying shades of blue or green, pinkish red, and even colors as light as tan or white.


Fiji Pearls
Fiji Pearls in gold, cream, grey, bronze, and bright blues and greens.

Pearl farming in the waters surrounding Fiji is relatively new – it only began in 1998. Today, there are only 4 active pearl farms in that area, so these unique gems are quite hard to come by in the pearl market.

sources:

http://www.seafiji.com/SpecialsFlyers/Fiji’s%20unique%20pearls.pdf

 http://pearlfiji.com/index.html

Branding Pearls: Is This the First Truly Designer Gem?

Toward the end of 2013, scientists, pearl farmers, and consumers alike started searching for a way to learn more about their pearls and where each one is sourced. If you saw our last blog on this subject, you already know that scientists have discovered how to extract trace amounts of DNA from pearls, in order to determine the species of mollusk that produced it.

On the same track, another way to trace your pearls has arisen – branding. It is becoming possible for pearl farmers to brand their pearls, either with a small silver logo on the nucleus, which can only be viewed under an x-ray, or with an RFID chip. RFID, or radio-frequency identification, is similar to the process in which you would have your pet microchipped so that he or she could be traced back to you if they were to get lost. Each pearl chipped in this way would have a unique identifier linking it to the farm from which it originated.

Branded Pearls From Kamoka Pearl Farm that show their logo when x-rayed.
Branded pearls From Kamoka Pearl Farm show their logo when x-rayed.

Many designer-brand loving consumers may adore this idea, while many others may be asking “why?” The main goal for farmers like Josh Humbert of Kamoka Pearls is to be able to reach out to consumers specifically interested in producing eco-friendly jewelry.

Aside from the prestige of being able to say, with proof, that your pearls were sourced from Perlas Del Mar De Cortez, Kamoka Pearls, or any other high-end marine pearl farm, the main upside to this is emerging process is the ability to learn about the region in which your pearl was formed, and the methods around its creation. It is more satisfying to many consumers to say “this is my strand of black Tahitian pearls. The pearls were produced by Kamoka Pearls, which uses methods of sustainability and environmental farming techniques not seen by many other pearl farms” than it is to simply say “These are my black Tahitian pearls”.

With this emerging technology, consumers have a deeper connection to their pearls because they are able  to see photos of the exact farm where the pearls were produced, without ever having to travel all the way to Tahiti, the Gulf of California, or Japan. With this new step in tech, a pearl retailer will have the ability to educate the consumer even further on the purchase they are about to make. The retailer’s ability to extend this knowledge to the customer can also help to build trust and better relationships with clients. In addition to this, a gemologist or appraiser can give the customer a more accurate representation of value by providing this information. For example, if you were to buy a set of branded pearls, you would still have electronic information about their provenance via x-ray or microchip after they have been handed from generation to generation and their future owners had long forgotten where they came from.

The downsides, however, are numerous (at least for the time being). Both the logo method and the RFID chip are pricey, raising production costs by 2-3 dollars a pearl, something that many pearl farms will not be able to afford if the idea does not catch on with the majority of consumers. While many customers would be interested in hearing this information, there is no guarantee they will also be willing to pay the increased retail price for a branded pearl. Another thing to consider is that this process is nearly impossible for freshwater pearls, which make up the majority of pearls on the market today. Since most freshwater pearls are nucleated with mantle tissue only, rather than a shell bead as with saltwater pearls, there is hard nucleus to attach a brand or RFID chip to. Freshwater pearls already sell for a more commercially affordable rate to the general public than do saltwater pearls. If the majority of marine pearls were to become branded, this price gap would increase. Would this damage the market by causing more consumers to choose the less expensive freshwater pearls, or would sales of saltwater pearls increase as more pearl farm education is spread through branding?

Only time will tell.

source – http://www.jewellerynetasia.com/en-us/editorial/list/-C42-Editorial-Article/WEBONID/466/TYPE/Blog

Angry Ocean

Winds, Waves, and Wonders: Is There Room for Pearls in a Changing World?

(This post is part of our blog series that deals with Pearls International’s take on social and environmental responsibility. For more information on how Pearls International gives back, please click here.)

While the pearl as a gem is one of the oldest jewels known to man, the pearl industry in its currently recognizable form came about only in the last century with the advent of improved pearl culturing methods that made it possible to produce these lovely trinkets on a scale fit for the masses.

While the sudden glut of inexpensive cultured pearls sent the centuries-old natural pearl market into a tailspin, a new buyer appeared. The solidly middle-class families of post-WWII America, newly solvent and looking to make their mark on the world of fashion by keeping up with the Joneses, were at once fascinated by the exotic provenance and mystery of the pearls they saw adorning the necks of Hollywood’s darlings, and charmed by the clever marketing schemes of sellers determined to convince them of the value of gems previously considered counterfeits. Not only did this glamorous gem catch the eye of Americans, the pearl industry began to boom all over the world. Growing economies made for perfect consumers, and today, pearls make up a significant portion of the jewelry market worldwide. In fact, Australia is the leading country in pearl production. In Western Australia alone, the total allowable annual catch of oysters per licensed pearl production company is 572,000 oysters, equaling over $200 million dollars’ worth of pearls!

50s Style

Post-War, business was booming, but not without repercussions to ancient oyster beds, which were rapidly depleted by the sudden demand. Oyster species that ordinarily took several years to mature were now being forced to produce pearls faster and more frequently, leading oyster farmers to breed stock with shells so weak they were flexible to the touch. Due to pollution, over farming, industrialization, and other factors from man made activities, water quality in many marine oyster environments was slipping. These animals are very sensitive, and productivity dropped drastically. Many pearl farmers in coastal China were forced to take their business to cleaner waters in other countries. From this turmoil, the Chinese freshwater pearl business began to grow and become more prominent.

Initially, cultured pearls from China were created from the irritant being implanted into the animal at one year of age. Eventually, in order to increase quality, they made a few changes, including switching the species of mollusk used and waiting until they were two and a half, rather than one year old. These freshwater mussels are raised in former rice paddies that have been flooded to create lakes for pearl farming. They enrich these lakes with manure to increase algae growth, on which the mussels feed. They also add filter-feeding carp to the environment to filter out phytoplankton and prevent algal blooms. This increases the quality of the food source for the mussels. The aim is to raise healthy animals so that they can continue to produce quality gems. However, sometimes the artificially created ecosystem does not function as well as was intended. A few years ago, mussel farming was banned in one province of China due to concerns from questionable levels of manure content in the paddies. While the mussels do benefit from the steps taken to build their habitat, it must be monitored and the water must be kept clean. Just as the lakes the mussels are raised in are affected by outside sources such as pollution, construction, and waste, the surrounding ecosystems are effected by the pearl farms. One pearl farmer was quoted as saying “We must keep a Confucian balance with nature.”

Pearl Farm in Zhuji

 

Chinese pearl farmers may use as many as 10 irritants per mollusk, where many other countries (particularly when producing saltwater pearls) only use 1-2 irritants. In fact, by 2015, it is predicted that China will surpass Australia as the leader in pearl production worldwide. Because they can turn out so many pearls, they sell them at a much lower cost. This has raised fears among other countries that the pearl industry as a whole may become endangered. Chinese workers in pearl farms make a low wage of $15 – $23 a day. Looking to reduce costs even further, some Chinese companies are developing pearl-sorting machines rather than having them chosen and placed with similar pearls by hand. These machines take pictures of the pearl from every angle as it drops, then catches the gem and evaluates it based on size, luster and imperfections. It automatically assigns the pearl to a bin in which it will be kept with similar pearls. As these machines can run day and night and work quickly, they will be able to replace around 15 human workers per machine. This hurts the job market for individuals working in pearl production, and could have drastic effects on the Chinese economy.

Sorting Pearls in China

You could imagine that with such a constantly growing, worldwide industry, there are a lot of people on our planet who are affected by pearl production. Let’s look at French Polynesia, a small group of islands that makes a good bit of its livelihood from pearl farming. Much of their revenue comes from international exports, and 55% of their exports in 2008 were black Tahitian pearls. An estimated 4,000 persons in French Polynesia live from pearl farming, with much of this industry being made up of family-owned businesses.

This booming industry has led to a decrease in emigration from the Gambier and Tuamotu archipelagos to Tahiti, which is what many young people had to do in order to find work previously. Consequently, both the populations of these small islands and the quality of living have increased sufficiently to allow many people to remain living on the islands of their birth. Social and health benefits have arisen from this as well, as many inhabitants of the region enjoy the kind of outdoor physical work provided from pearl farming, as it provides a way of life close to the traditional activities of the population.

On the flip side, not all family-owned pearl farming operations are successful. Many families who try to get into the business without knowledge of entrepreneurship go bankrupt when they are unable to pay back their small business loans. Socially, this creates inequalities among the population, as on some islands the pearl business is booming and on some it is nearly impossible to produce pearls. Some families who are successfully producing pearls are producing low quality jewels and marketing them poorly, leading to many big producers pushing for more regulations on pearl farming in the islands. Also, many local families of the smaller islands face competition from non-locals who have taken over pearl farming on the main island of Tahiti. In addition to local competition, the value of the Tahitian pearl market is being challenged by pearl production companies worldwide, particularly from Chinese freshwater pearls. As Chinese pearls are more cheaply produced, they sell for a much, much lower wholesale cost than saltwater Tahitian pearls. The majority of the buying market would rather buy freshwater pearls at a third of the cost of a similar Tahitian strand.

Tahitian Pearling

Although the competition may be tough, the pearl industry on the French Polynesian islands is still a major point of production on a global scale. In the words of Laurent Cartier, an environmental science Ph.D. who did some work on a research paper on sustainability of pearls, “In the long run, only those producers who work in ecologically responsible ways will continue to produce top-quality pearls.” Cartier believes that the methods used by Chinese pearl farmers can over crowd the mollusks, and ultimately thinks that saltwater pearl farming tends to use more environmentally conscious methods. Kamoka Pearl, one French Polynesian family-owned pearl farm, tells National Geographic about their efforts to remain environmentally conscious in an article published this year. The oysters are kept loosely packed into nets within the lagoon that they are harvested from, in order to be watched over and kept track of by pearl farmers.

A problem that oyster farmers face by keeping them this way is that they then begin to grow barnacles and other organisms on their shells. In order to keep the oyster growing at a normal and healthy rate, and therefore producing high quality pearls, these growths must be cleaned. There are several ways to effectively clean an oyster. The most common method is bringing the nets out of the water and spraying them with a high pressure hose. This is inexpensive and effective, but creates a large amount of organic matter in the water. This decreases the water quality, because it becomes to much for the fish and other marine animals to break down efficiently. Kamoka Pearl, however, has found an environmentally conscious way around this problem. Rather than hosing the oysters off, they move them to shallow areas of the lagoon where fish life is more abundant and varied. After a few days, the fish clean the oysters naturally. Although this isn’t as quick or cheap in means of labor costs, the company prefers to spend the extra money to do what they feel is best for the environment.

Whether or not pearl farming is beneficial or detrimental to the environment depends on the methods used to farm the mollusks and environmental factors from other industries. Research is still underway. New knowledge, methods of farming, and innovations in technology are being discovered day-to-day. The question of whether there is room for pearls in a changing world can safely be assumed as a yes, as long as we leave enough room for the ocean to continue its natural processes. We have seen since the invention of cultured pearls all the way to today that with changes in society, come changes in the pearl industry, and these changes can have varied and lasting effects. It appears that the pearl industry has set itself up to be as timeless as the gems themselves are.

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Beautiful Coral Reef under Threat

Our Oceans Are Depending On Us.

(This post is part of our blog series that deals with Pearls International’s take on social and environmental responsibility. For more information on how Pearls International gives back, please click here.)

WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE,
BUT OUR OCEANS NEED YOUR HELP.

This is a topic that is very near and dear to my heart. We are polluting our oceans, killing off our sea-life and obstructing our very own eco-system. We must make changes. It won’t be long before this planet is taken over by…PLASTIC! This plastic over-pollution issue is a sign of over consumption and we need to bring it to an end, and I believe this is possible simply through awareness. If we can make everyone AWARE of the horrendous consequences of their actions, wouldn’t it only be right to change our actions to create positive consequences?  Before I continue my rant, I’d like to share a few eye-opening  statistics and it is then that I feel you will better grasp the severity of this issue.

Did you know:

  • Ocean pollution affects at least 267 species worldwide, including 86% of sea turtle species, 44% of all sea bird species, and 43% of marine mammal species.
  • 60,000 plastic bags are discarded in the US every 5 seconds
  • 1 million plastic cups are used just on airline flights in the US every 6 hours
  • 2 million plastic beverage bottles are used in the US every 5 minutes

saveourshores.org

If that isn’t enough to make want to stop using plastic products forever, what about our helpless marine life? These little guys depend on us to keep their environment clean and safe but we are doing exactly the opposite. We are turning their sanctuaries into deadly trash ridden dump sites in the middle of the ocean!

These are just a few things our sea creatures are having to battle, daily.

Ingestion: Many birds mistake pieces of plastic for tiny fish. Once the birds ingest the plastic their bodies are unable to digest it. Because the plastic does not get digestion, the bird feels full eventually resulting in malnutrition.

Suffocation: Animals will make the mistake of thinking that six-pack holder and plastic bag you left behind on the beach is their dinner. Once the plastic is ingested the plastic blocks airways resulting in suffocation or inhibiting its growth patterns. A sea turtles favorite meal is jellyfish…often plastic bags look just like this tasty treat. Lucky for the jellyfish, but poor turtles!

Entanglement: This most often is a result from fishing line and plastic material left from 6-packs. Once the animal become entangled their breathing is restricted along with their ability to eat and swim.

What about us? This over consumption of plastic affects us too!

Plastic is made of petroleum which would be oil or natural gas, but plastic also consists of harmful checmicals not found on labels. Time to expose these bad boys.

First, we have Phthalates: chemicals used to create soft and flexible plastics that are commonly used in the in food and construction industries, as well as in beauty products, pesticides, wood finishes, insect repellents, and solvents. Studies have found abnormal male sexual development, infertility, premature breast development, cancer, miscarriage, premature birth and asthma all associated with exposure to phthalates (saveourshores.org).

Second, there is  Bisphenol-A (BPA) is the chemical name for polycarbonate plastics, found in everything from 5-gallon water jugs, baby bottles, and the lining in many cans of food, including baby formula. Studies of Bisphenol-A show it is an estrogen disrupter with the ability to migrate into liquids and foods that it comes into contact with (Earth Resource, 2000). Numerous studies have found unsafe levels of BPA in children, adults, baby bottles, water bottles, teethers, baby formula, and other common household items.

Plastic more than likely isn’t going to disappear (anytime soon), but by bringing awareness to the catastrophic effects it has on our Planet I hope the next time you go grocery shopping you remember to bring your own bag and say “No Thanks” to plastic!

Even our decisions on what jewelry we wear is effecting mother earth!  One eco-friendly option we suggest… PEARLS! The pearl industry is proud to say that they are more eco-friendly than your typical mined gem. Pearl farmers are working harder than ever to constantly find new ways to make the pearl farming industry more eco- friendly. Ultimately, to keep this precious gem on the market without destroying nature. Although pearls are not mined,  that does not mean pearl farming is 100% harmless. Aquaculture can damage the environment from the use of high-powered hoses that are used to clean the oysters. Solution? Pearl farmers are using tropical fish to clean the oysters (saveourshores.org)! Resources, lets use all of our resources! Stay tuned for our next installment in the sustainability project to find out, ‘Are pearls threatened?’

 

 


Black Saltwater Pearls – The Leader in Pearl Sustainability

(This post is part of our blog series that deals with Pearls International’s take on social and environmental responsibility. For more information on how Pearls International gives back, please click here.)

Black Saltwater Pearls demand a much higher price on the market, and are harder to come by than their freshwater cousins. But, if you are into ethical, environmentally friendly jewelry, these saltwater pearls are worth the extra cost.

Black Saltwater Pearls come from two general areas, the Gulf of Mexico and Tahiti.  The Rainbow-Lipped Oyster (Pteria sterna) and the Panamic Black-Lipped Oyster (Pinctada mazatlanica) are referred to as “Sea of Cortez” pearls, are found in the Gulf of Mexico.  Pearls from the Black-Lipped Oyster (Pinctada margaritifera) are thrive in the waters surrounding the Tahitian Islands.

We love these black saltwater pearls for their “peacock” ability – the wide variety of colors in their orient and their high luster allows them to capture almost any colors around them.  Because of this adaptability, they can flex to match any color or colors in your outfit!  These pearls are amazingly beautiful on the surface, but the more we dug into the world of pearl sustainability and ethical pearl farming techniques, the more we found that the value of these gems goes much deeper than the surface.

Sea of Cortez Pearls
Sea of Cortez pearls.

In the world of sustainability, the progress that has been made by the producers of the Rainbow-Lipped Oyster is incredible. Found only in the Gulf of California off the coast of Mexico (the “Sea of Cortez”), this oyster is still extremely rare.   The beautiful pearl it creates was at one time so coveted that divers drove this species of oyster to the brink of extinction.

The popularity of pearls from the Rainbow-Lipped Oyster began as long ago as 1533, when Spanish Conqueror Hernán Cortez sent expeditioners into the area. The Spanish explorers were so taken with the pearls they saw natives wearing that for the next 300 years it became the area’s most valuable export, actually bringing in more capital than gold, silver and spices combined!  By the 1800’s, the species was near extinction.

In 1939 a ban was set in place to protect the oysters from being used for food (fishing ban), and along with the prohibition on pearl diving, the Mexican black pearl industry became virtually nonexistent.  But around 1996, the practice of culturing pearls slowly began to catch on in the area, bringing the Mexican pearl industry back to life.

In the wild, only ten spats (baby oysters) out of a million will grow to adulthood, however, around 80% of the oysters raised under the protective conditions of pearl farms survive long enough to breed successfully and multiply the population.  The Sea of Cortez pearl farms act as breeding stations, helping to re-populate the waters with the once critically endangered oysters.

The Perlas del Mar de Cortez pearl farm currently tends around 230,000 pearl oysters in their facilities, but less than 4,000 of these pearls are cultured per year. The pearls take two to three years to grow, meanwhile there are a host of predators that try to prey on the oysters. Difficulties abound, but the pearl farmers at Perlas del Mar de Cortez are determined to bring back these lovely pearls.  Sea of Cortez pearls are so rare that there are still no full strands of these beauties available on the market!

Sea of Cortez pearls
Amazing color variations on these Sea of Cortez pearls.

How is it possible for the Sea of Cortez pearls to go from near extinction to actually making their way one-by-one back onto the market? – The answer is that the pearl producers have invested a lot of time, care, and ethical business practices.

Sea of Cortez pearls are actually the only pearl to fully meet each and every one of the qualifications for Fair Trade Jewelry.  Pearl jewelry that is considered Fair Trade Jewelry contains pearls that are produced with great care to the environment, are never treated to enhance color, and in the production of which all workers are paid fair wages.

One example of the steps Perlas del Mar de Cortez pearl farm has taken towards sustainability is that it raises not one, but two types of native oysters.  The pearl producers culture only one of the two species, the Pteria sterna.  This means that the second species, Pinctada mazatlanica, is kept apart for the environmental benefits and to help grow the oyster population, rather than to draw in more profit.

Protective oyster cages in a pearl farm
Protective oyster cages in a pearl farm.

Another pearl farm, the Kamoka Pearl Farm in Tahiti, also stands out for its ethical farming methods. Here, the oyster’s journey toward making a pearl begins when it is just a spat. The farmers at Kamoka Pearl Farm put out their nets during the changing seasons, when oysters are breeding, to catch the baby oysters.  This gives them a secure place to grow.  Then two-and-a-half years pass under the care of the pearl farm before the oyster is large enough to produce a pearl.

Black Tahitian Pearls

Tahitian Black pearls

When the oyster is finally mature enough to undergo the surgical procedure of nucleation, precision tools and antibiotics are used in the process to insure the oyster’s health. Most saltwater pearl farms use shell bead nuclei from the Mississippi mussel, as it has a thicker shell than most other species. However, due to over-harvesting this mussel for culturing saltwater pearls, this animal is also becoming threatened. Therefore, the farmers at Kamoka use only mother-of-pearl beads from native oyster stock, usually their own Pinctada margaritifera, in order to protect the threatened Mississippi mussel.  The oysters are kept high above the sea floor, where they have more access to oxygen and food sources.

Oysters must be kept clean of barnacles and other growths in order to be healthy and produce perfect pearls. In order to remove the barnacles and growths, most pearl farms pull the oysters out of the water and spray them with a high-pressure hose. This method doesn’t harm the oysters and is cost-effective and fast, but it creates excess organic matter in the farming area that can negatively effect the water quality for fish and other animals.

Kamoka chooses to use a more environmentally-friendly method and allows the native fish populations to clean their oysters for them!  The oysters are moved  to waters where fish feed and the process works naturally, because the varied fish population feeds off of all the different organisms that grow on the oysters.  In this way, all of the oyster pests are handled while at the same time supporting and actually helping to grow the fish populations in the area.

The care that the oysters in this farm receive is second-to-none, and much of the rest of the company’s business practices are ethical and green. For example, all of their electricity is solar- or water-powered, their freshwater source comes from rainwater capture systems, and their septic systems are completely biodegradable.  The Kamoka Pearl Farm in Tahiti is truly an impressive example of how a modern pearl culturing company can give back to the environment.

 

A Kamoka Pearl Farmer inserting a nucleus into a Tahitian Black Lipped Oyster
A Kamoka Pearl Farmer inserting a nucleus into a Tahitian Black Lipped Oyster.

Sustainable pearl farming is a great industry.  It is gratifying to find companies that strive to do what is right for the environment, the consumer, and their employees even when it is not always the easiest course of action. Healthy oysters clean our oceans and rivers, so the more we have, the cleaner our water will be. And with a bi-product as beautiful as these black pearls, it’s a win-win!

 

sources:
www.rawpearls.com.au/our_pearls/rainbow_lipped_pearls, www.perlas.com.mx/en/, www.pearl-guide.com/cortez-pearls.shtml, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/08/130811-eco-friendly-pearl-farming-kamoka-polynesia-oysters-environment/, http://www.kamokapearls.com/

 

Pearling Lugger

Pearls from ‘Down Under’

The world’s most sought after mother-of-pearl shell, which sparked an industry in commercial button manufacture, was harvested first in the mid-1950’s in the small, bustling town of Broome, in the Kimberley region of Northwest Australia.

At that time, if a pearl happened to be found inside an oyster gathered for its shell, it was considered a bonus of sorts and to shell gatherers, would have been considered “Winning the Lottery.” With the high value of truly natural pearls at the time, it would have permanently altered the finder’s (financial) destiny.

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The pearl’s mystique has long inspired men the world over to risk their lives, braving icy waters, drowning, and shark attacks for the chance to find the perfect gem. Setting out on small wooden luggers, sailing ships that were often at the mercy of strong winds and cyclones, an ongoing treasure hunt sent helmeted pearl divers to an unknown fate in the depths of the mysterious open waters in hopes of a great find.

Booming since the 1950’s, the town of Broome has been able to keep up the pace making itself a hub of pearling operations. As Australia’s pearl industry has expanded over the years, their reputation for quality and purity in their gems has grown.

Australian pearls captivate the true natural beauty of pearls from the moment they are taken from their oysters. These Australian pearls are of such high grade that common enhancing processes such has bleaching, dying and tinting are rendered unnecessary. Harvested by hand and cleansed with sea salt, the beauty of an Australian pearl will never fade, lasting generation after generation.

www.costellos.com

Baroda Pearl Carpet

Pearls Under Your Feet

When you think of pearls, the words ‘elegant’ and ‘classy’ usually come to mind. After reading about Basra pearls, you might just add the word ‘luxurious’ to that list.

Originating from the Persian and Arabian Gulf and countries such as Bahrain and Kuwait, Basra pearls have created quite the reputation amongst pearl enthusiasts the world over.

Produced by the Pinctada Radiate (Gulf Pearl Oyster) the earliest records of these pearls date back to 300 B.C.!  The supply has diminished significantly since the oil industry boomed in the Arab countries, which dealt a heavy blow to the pearl culturing industry the region. This plot takes a fortuitous turn, since this shrinking market has made the Basra pearl all the more desirable.

Basra pearls are of an irregular shape, often having a yellow or pink tint. The most sought after Basra Pearls are the natural, un-drilled pearls with a silvery white tone and a spherical shape.

This is a one of a kind piece called the Baroda Pearl carpet. It’s hard to imagine, but here you can see how 30,000 carats of pearls will look if you decide to use them as a carpet for your living room!

Take a closer look…

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Basra Pearl Carpet
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The House a Necklace Bought

In my search for unique pearls, I came across an inspiring story about the origins of the famous Cartier building in New York City. The story is told that in 1915 Louis Cartier made history with the first natural, double-stranded Oriental pearl necklace costing $1.2 million ($16 million today). This necklace was placed on exhibition all over the world including Paris, London, and New York City. In the fall of 1916, the necklace’s appearance in New York reportedly caused a huge uproar with women from all over coming to admire them. Among these ladies was Mae “Maisie” Plant. At the time Cartier’s New York Salon was on the second floor of a small building in an inconspicuous part of town. Coincidently, Maisie had just placed her $1.2 million mansion up for sale. Knowing she wanted to sell her mansion anyway, Maisie approached Cartier and proposed a trade…the mansion for the pearl necklace. Surprisingly, Cartier accepted. Ever since that exchange, the Cartier firm has been located in the former Plant mansion and has come to be a great landmark for tourists in New York City.

Cartier

Regrettably, things did not go as well for Maisie as with Cartier. Seeing how she didn’t anticipate the depression, war, or the introduction of cultured pearls her necklace did not end up being an even trade. Maisie died in 1956 and in 1957, her $1.2 million necklace was sold at auction for a mere $170,000; the current value of the Fifth Avenue mansion I’ll leave to your imagination. More recently, in 2004, a similar natural, double-strand pearl necklace sold at Christie’s for $3.1 million. Because only one gem-quality pearl is uncovered from every 25,000 wild oysters found in the ocean, these pearls are considered the rarest in the world today. If only Plants’ heirs had held on to her necklace for a few more decades, they could have sold Maisie’s pearls for much more!

Maisie Plant and her fabulous double strand of natural pearls from Cartier.
Maisie Plant and her fabulous double strand of natural pearls from Cartier.