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Wholesale Pearl : Production of cultured pearls

Wholesale Pearl : Production of cultured pearls

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Cultured pearls are divided in two types: bead nucleated and tissue nucleated pearls (also called non-nucleated pearls) (Scarratt et al., 2000). Principally, bead nucleated pearls are pearls generated from nuclei and mantle tissue while tissue nucleated pearls are generated from mantle tissue only.

Bead nucleated pearls consist of blisters (mabè or half pearls), flat or coin pearls (not common) and round pearls (Fiske & Shepherd, 2007; Kennedy, 1998), while tissue nucleated pearls include several types of freshwater cultured pearls and keshi. (source: Wholesale Pearl)

1.4.1 Cultured blisters or mabè
Wholesale PearlCultured blisters or mabè are types of bead nucleated pearls. They are produced by gluing rounded or hemi-spherical nuclei (or beads) onto the inner surfaces of oyster shells (Strack, 2006). The nuclei are placed in the most lustrous area (Haws, 2002) and attached to either one or both shell valves (George, 1967). Nuclei used for mabè pearl production are manufactured from shells, plastics and paraffin (Strack, 2006). The shapes of the nuclei usually depend on operator preferences but hemispherical nuclei are commonly used. (source: Wholesale Pearl)

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(source: Wholesale Pearl)

Blisters can be produced from all molluscs with nacreous-linings to their shells but only a few of these have been commercially cultivated. For example, the abalone, Haliotis iris, has been developed extensively in New Zealand for commercial blister pearl production (Strack, 2006). Most other molluscs used for culturing blister pearls are bivalves especially from the family Pteriidae. For example, the winged-pearl oyster, Pteria penguin, and the related Pt. sterna are commonly used for commercial blister pearl production (Gervis & Sims, 1992; Ruiz-Rubio et al., 2006; Southgate, 2007). Pt. penguin is mainly found and cultivated in the Indo-Pacific and Pt. sterna is in the Central America (Shirai, 1994). These types of pearl oysters are used primarily for producing mabè pearls due to their ability to produce lustrous nacre but their limited ability to be used for cultured round pearl production (George, 1967; Ruiz-Rubio et al., 2006; Shirai, 1994; Yu et al., 2004). Some mabè pearls are also developed from other members of family Pteriidae that are used primarily for round pearl production such as Pinctada maxima and P. margaritifera (Strack, 2006), however, mabè cultivation from these species is usually conducted once their use for round pearl cultivation has ceased. Cristaria plicata is the common species for blister production in freshwater (Webster, 1994). (source: Wholesale Pearl)

1.4.2 Cultured round pearl

indonesia south sea pearls cultivation
Indonesia south sea pearls cultivation

The second type of bead-nucleated pearls is the cultured round pearl which has greater value. Production of round pearls requires a round nucleus to be implanted with a piece of mantle (nacre secreting) tissue from a donor oyster into the gonad of a recipient oyster. This process is known as ‘pearl implantation’ or ‘grafting’ or ‘seeding’. The mantle used in this process is known as ‘saibo’ (from the Japanese meaning ‘tiny penis’). This method is commonly applied to pearl oysters and is now being applied to freshwater mussels (Fiske & Shepherd, 2007; Strack, 2006). (source: Wholesale Pearl)

1.4.2.1 Pre operation phase
The oysters used for cultured pearl production are usually one to two years old (Haws, 2002). Prior to nucleus implantation, oysters selected for implantation undergo a conditioning or weakening phase for up to one month. They are usually held under crowded conditions which cause nutritional and or physiological stress that reduces their metabolic rate (Taylor & Strack, 2008; Taylor, 1999). They may also be induced to spawn or resorb material within the gonad to provide space within the gonad for nucleus implantation.
The conditioning phase may continue until 24 hours before implantation. With Pinctada maxima, the oysters are sometimes put into tanks overnight after the weakening phase in the sea (Taylor, 1999). Before the implantation, the water level is then lowered until the oysters are fully exposed to air. In this condition, the oysters are forced to open their shells and they are pegged open with wedges. This procedure reduces the potential for injury to the mantle (Joseph Taylor, Atlas South Sea Pearls, pers. comm). (source: Wholesale Pearl)

1.4.2.2 Operation phase
In the operation phase, the pegged oysters are brought to the operator for nucleus implantation or are selected for saibo preparation (donors). This technician is skilled for pearl implantation (Haws, 1998; Tun, 1994). The donor oysters are selected on the basis of their nacre colour and lustre because these characters may contribute to the quality of the resulting pearls (Taylor, 2002). Saibo tissue is usually prepared from the central-ventral region of the mantle where the pronounced colour and lustre exist. Following excision, the mantle tissue is cleaned to remove mucus and is cut into small sections (approximately 3 x 3 mm2) on a chopping board. (source: Wholesale Pearl)

Indonesia south sea pearls (Lombok Pearls)
Indonesia south sea pearls (Lombok Pearls)

(source: Wholesale Pearl)

For the implantation procedure, the oyster prepared for the implantation is placed in a stand and a shell-opening tool is used to hold both valves open while the peg is pulled out. The shell opener is then turned to the posterior part of the shell to allow other operating tools to access the oyster tissue. After that, a spatula is used to move mantle and gills aside to expose the gonad. An incision is then made into the gonad near the foot, or even sometimes on the foot (Fig. 1.5). A nucleus of particular size (selected by the technician on the basis of his/her observations) is inserted into the gonad and is followed with a single piece of saibo (Fig. 1.5). (source: Wholesale Pearl)

The region of the mantle which secretes minerals (outer surface) is placed facing the nucleus. This procedure (Fig. 1.5) is known as pearl implantation or seeding or grafting. However, this is just one of several techniques in pearl implantation. Other technique can be started with saibo before nucleus insertion (Taylor & Strack, 2008). After the implantation, oysters are placed back into seawater for further culture. Pearl nuclei used for the implantation are traditionally manufactured from the shells of freshwater mussels belong to family Unionidae (Roberts and Rose, 1989; Sonkar, 2004; Strack, 2006; Ward, 1995; Webster, 1994). (source: Wholesale Pearl)

The number of nuclei implanted into a recipient oyster varies among species. The Japanese pearl oyster, Pinctada fucata can be seeded with multiple nuclei in one implantation period (Alagarswami, 1976), but only one nucleus is seeded into both Pinctada maxima and P. margaritifera per implantation (Gervis & Sims, 1992; Strack, 2006). However, all species can be reseeded after pearl harvest and healthy oysters that produce good quality pearls can be used for a second (and sometimes third) implantation. (source: Wholesale Pearl)

1.4.2.3 Post operation phase and culture condition
After the implantation, oysters are placed into various positions in the sea; based on farm preferences. Some farms place the oysters onto the seabed while others put them into various types of nets or baskets that are hung from a long-line or raft. Farms that place oysters on the seabed are mostly in south Pacific countries that are surrounded with shallow atoll-reef, and several places in northern Australia. Japanese farms usually use baskets to hold oysters which are hung from rafts (Strack, 2006). The rafts are commonly set up in sheltered areas with low wind and wave actions (Southgate, 2008). However, nowadays most farms put the oysters in panel nets, which are hung from long-lines. The hanging method is an improvement of the Japanese system and makes it easier to maintain the oysters (O’Sullivan & Cropp, 1994; Ryan & O’Sullivan, 2001). (source: Wholesale Pearl)

Culture time for round pearl production (time between nucleus implantation and pearl harvest) varies between species. The longer the culture time the thicker the nacre coating on the nucleus will be. Akoya pearls used to be cultured for more than four years but in the mid 1990s the cultured time was reduced to 6 months only (Strack, 2006; Ward, 1995). South Sea pearls are usually harvested between eighteen months to two years after the implantation (Fong et al., 2004; O’Sullivan & Cropp, 1994; Pouvreau & Prasil, 2001; Strack, 2006). Time for culturing freshwater pearls varies between three and five years (Fiske & Shepherd, 2007). Initially the culture time for freshwater pearls is divided into three steps: firstly, a coin bead and a piece of mantle tissue are inserted to the mantle of a recipient mussel for one year; secondly, the resulting pearl is harvested and the mussel is placed back into the water to grow a keshi for another one year; and finally, the keshi is harvested and replaced by a round bead which produces a round pearl after a further one to two years (Fiske & Shepherd, 2007). From this method the farmer may have three types of pearls within five years period: flat (coin pearls), keshi and round pearls. (source: Wholesale Pearl)

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(source: Wholesale Pearl)

1.4.3 Non-nucleated cultured pearls
A type of non-nucleated cultured pearl is called the ‘keshi’. The term keshi originated from Japanese language to describe something very small (Strack, 2006). In the pearl industry this term was adopted for small unplanned pearls that result accidentally from attempts at nucleated cultured pearl production (George, 1967; Strack, 2006). In this case, the nucleus is expelled by the recipient oyster, which retains the mantle tissue only. However, this term is also sometimes used for small pearls produced naturally by molluscs. Another type of non- nucleated cultured pearl is commonly produced from freshwater mussels when a piece of mantle tissue is the main source to produce pearl. The tissue is usually inserted into the mantle of a recipient mussel and goes on to generate a pearl. This is the traditional method for cultured freshwater pearl production which has now been modified by producing round pearls from re-operating the same recipient with nuclei (Fiske & Shepherd, 2007; Ward, 1995). Using the former method, one freshwater mussel can produce up to 50 pearls in one implantation period (Strack, 2006). (source: Wholesale Pearl)

Article source: Mamangkey, Noldy (2009) Improving the quality of pearls from Pinctada maxima. PhD thesis, James Cook University. (source: Wholesale Pearl)
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