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Wholesale tahitian pearls : ANATOMY OF THE OYSTER AND COMPOSITION OF THE POLYNESIAN BLACK PEARLS

Wholesale tahitian pearls : ANATOMY OF THE OYSTER AND COMPOSITION OF THE POLYNESIAN BLACK PEARLS

Wholesale tahitian pearlsOf the more than 70 species of mollusks (from the phyllum Molluscs) that can produce pearls, the majority belong to the Pinctada family. Pinctada maxima, the white-lipped or gold-lipped oyster, is prized for both its shell and the large gold-colored and white pearls it produces. It lives in the South Seas, Burma, New Guinea, the Philippines, Australia, and Indonesia Pearls or Lombok Pearls. ( source: Wholesale tahitian pearls )

Pinctada fucata martensii, commonly called Alzoya, has a thin shell of no commercial importance but is valued for its small (usually less than 9 mm] white pearls, which are abundant on the world market today. These mollusks are found in China and Japan. Pinctada margaritifera, the blaclz-lipped oyster, is prized for both its mother-of-pearl shell and its large gray to black pearls. Pearl-bearing inargaritifera are found in Peru, Baja California, Panama, Indonesia, Micronesia, the Red Sea, the Philippines, and Olzinawa, as well as French Polynesia. ( source: Wholesale tahitian pearls )

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Oysters, bivalve mollusks like the Pinctada, have two symmetrical shells hinged together by a ligament. The life span of l? inargaritifera ranges up to 30 years; a single oyster can weigh up to 11 lbs. (about 5 kg) and reach a diameter of 12 in. (about 30 cm). A powerful adductor muscle holds the two shells together, leaving an indentation on the inner surface. One of the most distinctive characteristics of the black-lipped shell is the greenish black color on its inside edges, which is duplicated in many of the fine pearls from this molluslz. The two most important organs in producing
pearls are the mantle and the gonad (figure 8). Not only does the mantle form the shell, but each part of the mantle also secretes different layers of nacre. The gonad is the reproductive gland, a large whitish sack that holds the eggs or
sperm. In the culturing process, the bead nucleus and a piece of mantle tissue are inserted into the gonad to produce a cultured pearl. ( source: Wholesale tahitian pearls )

Nacre, the essential ingredient of all pearls, is composed of approximately 90% aragonite (orthorhombic calcium carbonate crystals) and 5% conchiolin (an organic protein that binds the aragonite crystals together), together with other organic material; the most abundant trace elements in I? margaritifera are magnesium, strontium, and sodium (Wada, 198 1, p. 154). The nacre is secreted in concentric layers about a micron thick. Cultured pearls have a refractive index of 1.53-1.69 and a specific gravity range of 2.72-2.78. The average hardness is 3.5. ( source: Wholesale tahitian pearls )

CULTURING POLYNESIAN BLACK PEARLS

While natural black pearls are still found occasionally, nearly all the black pearls on the market today are cultured. Most natural black pearls have slightly less luster and tend to be larger than their cultured equivalents. Culturing is essentially a two-part process: first, the cultivation of the oyster, P. margaritifera, and second, the growth of the pearl in this oyster. The technique is essentially the same one Mikimoto used to develop the Japanese pearl-culturing industry (Shirai, 1970). Mikimoto even did some culturing experiments with l? margaritifera in 1920, when he established an experimental station at Palau (Cahn, 1949; George, 1979). ( source: Wholesale tahitian pearls )

The oysters used in the culturing process are still drawn from the limited resources in the water around the islands. Although some are retrieved by independent divers (who continue to be restricted by the Tahiti government to certain zones of the atolls), most are produced by spat cultivation. In a contemporary adaptation of Bouchon  Brandely’s original program, young oysters are placed in nurseries, suspended from metal nets by stainless steel or nylon wires, until they are old enough-at least two to three years old-to be used for pearl culturing (figure 9). Some farms are also experimenting with growing mollusks in tanks; positive results are anticipated. ( source: Wholesale tahitian pearls )

Pearl culturing consists of inserting into the gonad of the oyster a bead made of freshwater mussel shell along with a graft of mantle tissue from another live black-lipped oyster. The nucleus is typically made from the mother-of-pearl of a Mississippi River (U.S.) molluslz. Once, only the pigtoe mussel was used; today, three species found in central and southern tributaries of the Mississippi River also provide good nuclei. The mantletissue graft is an essential component of the culturing process, both in terms of stimulating the secretion of nacre and in determining the color and other features of the finished pearl. ( source: Wholesale tahitian pearls )

The entire operation of inserting the bead and tissue takes one to two minutes and is usually done by Japanese, Australian, or Polynesian technicians. The technician chooses the appropriate nucleus size for the oyster being used, typically a bead 5-9 mm in diameter, and then makes a small incision in the gonad, into which the nucleus and mantle-tissue graft are placed (figure 10). The experience of the technician is invaluable in ensuring that the oyster
used is healthy, that the largest bead possible is selected, and that the various components are not damaged in the course of the operation. ( source: Wholesale tahitian pearls )

Once the procedure is completed, the oysters are attached to a nylon rope through holes drilled in the shells. In some farms, the oysters are placed individually in net bags, which catch any beads that are rejected. A diver then attaches the chain of oysters to an underwater platform (figure 11). The operation takes place typically between June and
September, the winter months for this region, when the water is cooler and there is less risk of violent storms. ( source: Wholesale tahitian pearls )

If an oyster rejects the bead, it will generally do so in the first two months following the surgery. Some well-equipped farms have been lznown to X-ray the oysters to see if the nucleus has been rejected or if it is in place properly, but this technique is used much less frequently today than it was in the past (R. Wan, pers. comm., 1989). Oysters that reject their beads can be re-operated on after a couple of months of rest. On some farms, these oysters are instead used to create mabes or assembled cultured blister pearls. ( source: Wholesale tahitian pearls )

Approximately two years must pass before the success of this operation is lznown. At that time, a few mollusks are brought to the surface and checked to see if a pearl has formed and, if so, how thick the nacre is. With three or four layers of nacre deposited a day, a pearl cultured in P. margaritifera will develop a nacre thickness of 2 to 2.5 inm in
two yea&, compared to 1 mm developed by an Akoya pearl over the same time span. ( source: Wholesale tahitian pearls )

During the growth period, the oysters must be watched constantly. They are brought to the surface and the barnacles cleaned off several times a year. Predators, parasites, hurricanes, pollution, and piracy are a constant threat. In both 1983 and 1985, hurricanes did profound damage to oysters, equipment, and buildings in French Polynesia on farms in the Tuamotu Archipelago (Cohen, 1983; C. Rosenthal, pers. comm., 1989). ( source: Wholesale tahitian pearls )

Currently the lagoons of two archipelagos – the Tuamotu Archipelago and the Gambler Islands – are used primarily for cultivating pearls and the mother-of-pearl shells that are now the byproduct of this important industry in French
Polynesia. Efforts are being made to find other suitable lagoons. ( source: Wholesale tahitian pearls )

Articles source: POLYNESIAN BLACK PEARLS, By Marisa Goebel and Dona Mary Dirlam. ( source: Wholesale tahitian pearls )
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