South Sea pearls are grown in the oyster, pinctada maxima, which only lives in sea water. There are two varieties, the gold-lipped and the silver-lipped, which basically means that the colour of the pearls produced falls into the golden or white spectrum, depending on the variety. The Tahitian pearl is grown in the the pinctada margaritifera, the famous black-lipped oyster, which produces the only naturally black pearls. These oyster varieties are large and can produce pearls ranging from 6-20mm, sometimes larger. Both are the Rolls Royce of pearls, commanding very high prices. They can range from perfectly round (the most sought after) to baroque shapes. Price is determined by shape and size.
South Sea pearls are grown in Australia, the Phillippines, Myanmar and Indonesia. South Sea pearls range from white to deep gold, with a few greenish-tinted pale golden ones, like a very pale pistachio. Tahitian pearls are grown throughout French Polynesia. Their colour range is grey (parrot to pewter), peacock, deep green, black, gunmetal, deep pistachio and deep aubergine. The dove grey usually comes from the silver lipped, but occasionally the black-lipped can produce a paleish grey.
Culturing these large oysters started only in the 1950s in Australia, quite a long while after the Akoya farms started in Japan. Tahitian cultured pearls arrived in the 60s, followed by Indonesia and the Phillippines in the 1970s.
These large oysters produce beautiful Mabe 'pearls'. These are not strictly pearls, but hemispheres, which grow on the inside of the shell. These have to be cut out and finished off before they can be made into jewellery.
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