Cultured south sea pearls broadly cover a variety of saltwater pearls cultured in a large swathe of the southern seas. This stretches as far east as Myanmar (Burma) and the Bay of Bengal to as far west as the South Pacific Ocean.
Often called the “queen of pearls”, south sea pearls come in large impressive sizes and in a beautiful array of colors. South Sea pearls are extremely scarce making them the most valuable cultured pearls and truly special gems.
South Sea pearls occur in variety of natural colors, but they are two important groupings, primarily based on color. These are White South Sea and Golden South Sea.
Cultured South Sea pearls are bead nucleated saltwater pearls, i.e. they are nucleated with a round bead and tiny mantle tissue, similar to Japanese Akoya pearls. White South Sea and Golden South Sea pearls are cultivated in Pinctada maxima, the largest pearl producing oyster. A defining characteristic of the Pinctada maxima is the white, silver or golden lip of the oyster, which often also indicates the color of the pearl the oyster will produce.
Pinctada maxima are extremely rare in nature, only found in deep ocean habitats or grown in hatcheries. Coupled with their sensitivity to environmental factors, the farming of South Sea pearls is a challenging and risky venture and this is reflected in their price.
South Sea pearls are cultivated in tropical regions usually off the coasts of Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Myanmar. White South Sea generally come from Australia and Indonesia, while Golden South Sea is more commonly cultivated in Indonesia, the Philippines and Myanmar. Typically, South Sea pearls are grown for a period of 2 – 4 years, one of the longest cultivation periods in cultured pearls.
High quality South Sea pearls have a soft, glow like luster, and this is due to the large aragonite platelets that make up the pearls.
What colors, shapes and sizes do they come in?
White South Sea pearls naturally appear in hues of white, silver, aqua and blue with silver and pink overtones. Golden South Sea pearls naturally occur in hues of gold, champagne and cream with varying intensities of color. The most sought after and expensive color for Golden South Sea color is a deep and intense gold.
While South Sea pearls occur in many natural colors, they are occasionally treated or dyed and the most common treated color is brown. The White South Sea and Golden South Sea pearls used in Mikura are completely natural in color and free of any enhancements or treatments.
Like Japanese Akoya pearls, due to the round bead nucleated into the oyster, South Sea pearls are more likely to occur in round shapes, but this is still relatively rare. Round is the most expensive and sought after shape in cultured South Sea. Other shapes that are common include baroques, semi-round, oval, button, and drop shapes. These are generally more affordable then round South Sea.
South Sea are the largest cultured pearls occurring in a range of sizes starting from 9 mm all the way up to 20 mm. In reality, the majority of South Sea pearls are between 9 mm and 14 mm. High quality South Sea pearls above 14 mm are extremely rare and the price rises exponentially with the size of the pearl. This explains the high prices associated with high quality, large sized South Sea necklaces.
Rarity and Value
South Sea pearl production is a fraction of Freshwater or Akoya pearl production by volume. In addition, only South Sea pearls are offered in size up to 20 mm. The supply of this top tier of large sized, high quality South Sea pearls is extremely scarce. White South Sea in shades of white or silver and Golden South Sea in a deep golden color in round shape and large sizes will generally command the highest prices of any cultured pearls. Semi round and baroque shaped South Sea pearls are more modestly priced compared to round south sea pearls and are often used in creative pieces of fine jewelry.
A necklace of white or golden, round, large sized south sea pearls represents the pinnacle of nature’s beauty. Their value and rarity seems to offer great value when compared to other precious gems whose rarity is often artificial.