Marine Cultured Pearls

Posted on November 1, 2021 by Çigdem Lüle, PhD, FGA, GIA GG, DGA

South Sea and Tahitian cultured pearl producers have experienced significant interruptions to the cultivation process during the pandemic. The effects will be felt during the course of the coming few years. Production and manufacturing related disruptions stemming from COVID-19 have resulted in shortages among some of the most popular products in the international gem and jewelry trade. But of these, none is more pronounced than the shortages emerging in the pearl culturing industry. It is important to keep in mind that if a gem mine closes for a season, the stones themselves remain until mining can return. Unlike most gem materials, pearl production is dependent on living organisms in aquatic environments literally growing the product. Therefore, in pearl farms, if the season passes without the critical steps of culturing, production cannot just immediately resume once the restrictions are lifted. Pearl cultivation relies on stages of a cycle that can last several years to complete. Missing one single crucial step will break the cycle that may not be restored until the following season. Several major producers of popular marine pearl varieties, were unable to complete the collection of spat as well as the grafting (nucleating) of mature mollusks during normal season, the result is harvests will not return to normal levels for at least the next two to three years. CAPTION 1: South Sea and Tahitian cultured pearls at a trade show pre-pandemic. Photo by Stuart Robertson. South Sea and Tahitian cultured pearl producers have experienced just such interruptions to the cultivation process during the pandemic. COVID-19 travel bans simply prevented mostly Japanese grafters from returning to Australia and French Polynesia to conduct their work after the first holiday. As a result, not only is current stock dwindling as the popularity of cultured pearl jewelry soars, but also the shortages are likely to increase for at least the next two to three years before production can return to normal levels. Reportedly, Australian company Paspaley was eventually able to regain their grafters but only after making significant investments in chaptered flights and agreement to house these workers offshore in a ship for a quarantine period. The feature article of this issue, The Supply Problem with Pearls by Jennifer Heebner, has detailed many of the troubles...

GemWorld articles are accessible by GemGuide members only. To access our archive of articles and get many other great features and benefits, become a member now!

Become a member