Pearl farming is the process of nucleating freshwater or saltwater oysters to produce genuine cultured pearls of varying sizes, shapes, colors and qualities. Pearl farming is a business that relies as much on good fortune (luck) as it does on the high skill and dedicated care of each pearl farmer. Since most pearl producing oysters require 2-5 years of tender care and nurture prior to a successful harvest, many man-made and natural forces can destroy an entire harvest. Those dangers include pollution, disease, severe storms and irregular spikes of heat or cold. Given the severe risks associated with this business, what elements are needed to increase the chances of a successful pearl farm?
Proper Water Conditions
Stable water conditions are very important to Akoya and Freshwater pearl culturing. For example, freshwater mollusks thrive best in temperatures ranging from 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit. The waters should be calm with proper circulation and should maintain nominal depths (typically 6-8 feet). If the water is too shallow, temperature changes can occur rapidly, resulting in “shock” and high mortality rates among the pearl producing oysters/mollusks. pH is also important to pearl culturing. If the waters are overly acidic, the pearl nacre will erode resulting in smaller pearls. If too alkaline, the pearl nacre will exhibit undesirable “yellowing”. While many freshwater lakes readily meet these conditions, finding appropriate ocean locations (such as protected gulfs) that have not been sullied by man-made pollutants is exceptionally difficult.
Before pearl farming can begin, a farmer first needs thousands of healthy oysters or mollusks. Typically, oysters are either harvested directly from the ocean for this purpose, or in recent years, bred for pearl culturing. Bred oysters/mollusks are typically kept in a “nursery” for up to 2 years until they have reached sufficient maturity for nucleation. During those 2 years, the baby oysters are given exceptional care and proper nutrition in order to ensure a healthy and mature oyster population capable of producing high quality pearls.
After many years of preparation and constant nurture, it is finally time for the pearl farmer to collect their harvest. The harvesting process is typically carried out in the winter months of October through February. Pearls are collected from the oystsers and mollusks, cleaned and dried. They then go through a rigorous sorting process based on many parameters such as size, color, shape, and surface quality. The pearls are then sold to pearl dealers who distribute them to manufacturers and jewelers around the world.