The lustre of pearls has fascinated mankind for thousands of years. The rarity of these organically formed precious gems propelled them to be a symbol of wealth and prestige throughout history. Favoured by royalty and ruling classes, the pursuit of these deep-sea treasures has led merchants and explorers to the ends of the earth.
Pearls continue to be desired gemstones today, with the most coveted being from the South Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean, Timor Sea, and Arafura Sea, collectively known as South Sea pearls. Formed within the Pinctada Maxima oyster, which comes in both a silver-lipped and gold-lipped species, South Sea pearls are impressive in size with exceptional lustre. Naturally occurring pearls are formed accidentally when an irritating foreign particle becomes embedded within an oyster. The animal reacts by producing a hardened substance called nacre which forms in layers over the top of the irritant.
By the 20th century, the feverish search for naturally occurring pearls and subsequent harvesting of oysters decimated South Sea pearl producing regions to the point of near extinction. Thankfully by the mid-20th century, developments in cultured pearl technology were taking place in Japan with great commercial success, and soon the Australian pearl industry was revolutionised. The culturing method mimics the natural process of pearl formation as closely as possible. Firstly, oysters are selected and seeded with an irritant before being placed back onto the ocean floor and left for three years to develop a beautiful gem.
When it comes to South Sea pearls, perhaps the most exceptional and beautiful are harvested by Australian producers, Paspaley. With pearl beds based off the coast of the Kimberley region in Western Australia, Paspaley is known for selecting only the most high-quality and exceptional gems, admired for impressive size, shape, colour, lustre, and complexion. Whilst the combination of these factors is important in the grading of a pearl, it is lustre which is most closely examined. Referring to the interaction of light with the surface of the pearl as well as the concentric layers of nacre, lustre is considered excellent when reflections are uniform, bright, and sharp.
The March 2023 Fine Jewels auction features several Paspaley jewellery pieces designed using exceptionally high lustre South Sea pearls. The collection features a pendant necklace and ring from the 2021 ‘Dive’ collection inspired by the pearl diving process incorporating ropes, chains, and shipwrecks. Also featured is a ‘Kimberley’ strand set with South Sea pearls and sandalwood beads, inspired by the landscape of Australia’s North-west coast.
BETHANY MCGOUGAN / Head of Fine Jewels & Timepieces
Banner Image: (left) Paspaley, 18ct gold, South Sea pearl and diamond ring $2,800-3,800. (right) Paspaley, 18ct gold, South Sea pearl and diamond ‘Entwined’ pendant necklace | $2,800-3,800