South Sea cultured pearls ... Many consider them the "Rolls Royce" of cultured pearls. They're certainly among the rarest and most costly cultured pearls available today.
Cultivated in the waters off Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Myanmar, Japan and Thailand, the South Sea pearl's legacy reaches back thousands of years, when early Australian people believed the natural gem had supernatural powers, even using them in dream interpretation.
These ancient people used oyster shells, and the pearls found within them, not only as decorative elements in their tribal costumes, but traded them for food and tools.
In fact, native peoples did the same throughout the South Pacific, wherever the oyster that produces South Sea pearls was found. But it wasn’t until the 16th and 17th centuries, after European explorers arrived in the South Pacific, that these unique pearls developed a global demand.
So much so, that the Western World’s voracious appetite caused South Sea pearl-producing oysters to be harvested nearly to the point of extinction in the 18th and 19th centuries.
At the turn of the 20th century, over 400 sailboats dedicated to pearl diving and shell-collection were operating in Australia alone, and over 3,500 hard-hat divers were employed, to gather shells for mother-of-pearl buttons and inlay, and of course, South Sea natural pearls.
It was in the early part of the 20th century, when pearl-culturing technology arrived from Japan, that pearl cultivation operations began appearing in the South Pacific, in the countries known for it today. Yet, it wasn’t until the 1950’s when South Sea pearl farms began producing harvests of commercial value.
In the decades to follow, however, the number of pearl farms grew to where South Sea pearls were ready to make their splash in the cultured pearl market.
Recently, in the mid-1990’s, South Sea pearls became available in quantities large enough to meet the needs of prestige retailers around the world. Today, in terms of dollar value, South Sea pearls compose about 10 percent of the saltwater cultured pearl market.