To produce pearls of natural beauty with no enhancement requires farming practices that mimic the natural life of the oyster as closely as possible. For more than 50 years, Australian pearl farmers have sought to understand the secret behind the Pinctada maxima’s ability to produce natural pearls of superlative quality.
Step 1: Diving
The pearl culturing process begins in the pristine waters off north-western Australia, with the careful collection of the wild Pinctada maxima oyster. Operating from ocean-going vessels, teams of divers face the dangers of the depths to hand-pick oysters from the seabed. The collection of oysters by hand is an environmentally responsible form of commercial fishing causing no damage to the seabed and producing no wasteful by-catch.
Step 2: Seeding
Implanting the nucleus from which each pearl grows is a meticulous and specialized operation. Onboard the pearling ships, the oysters are held in tanks of constantly circulating seawater until a polished sphere of Mississippi freshwater clamshell is delicately inserted by a skilled technician. This material is expensive but is used because it has an almost identical chemical composition and density as a natural pearl. Once seeded, the oysters are returned to the sea to allow nature to take its course.
Step 3: Husbandry
Maintaining the oysters in optimum health is key to the production of high-quality pearls. Throughout the 2-3 year husbandry period, the oysters are individually cleaned every ten to fourteen days to remove marine growth that would otherwise compromise their health.
Step 4: Harvest
After a minimum of two years of careful nurturing, the oysters are raised from the sea once again and brought to the mother ships for harvest. Until the moment that technicians extract each pearl, the result is unknown. Great care is taken to minimize any harm or stress to the oysters, as they can be used for a second and sometimes a third seeding.
Step 5: Grading
Each pearl is individually sorted according to "The Five Virtues" grading system. The pearls are graded in the same natural state as they emerge from the oyster and the range of categories is vast. Paspaley Pearling Company, the primary producer of Australian South Sea pearls classifies its pearls into nearly 6000 individual grades. This stringent process makes the grading exacting but is necessary to ensure consistency.