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The State of Cultured Pearls in the Philippines.

Although a term often heard in the jewelry auctions or expos in America, the label "cultured pearl" is unfortunately still (sometimes) misunderstood by a vast majority of the buying public here in the Philippines. We've met a lot of people who believed that cultured pearls meant fake or imitation pearls, but this is most definitely not the case. At the current timeline, over 99% of the world's fine pearl jewelry makes use of these cultured pearls. Those long, perfectly round strands from high-end retailers are also most likely cultured pearls. This is because wild-caught pearls, are incredibly rare, and almost impossible to find in round shapes. They have the tendency to be more baroque or indefinitely formed, although their rarity does attract a market of collectors as well.

Cultured pearls are created using two different methods, bead culturing- wherein a rounded shell bead is implanted into the mollusk for the pearl nacre to slowly encase, and tissue-nucleation, wherein small pieces of mollusk mantle tissue are implanted to cause pearl growth. The first method is used to produce cultured pearls of the Tahitian (Pinctada margaritifera), South Sea (Pinctada maxima), and Akoya (Pinctada fucata) varieties. The second, is used to produce freshwater cultured pearls in large quantities (freshwater mollusks). Those keshi or rice shaped pearls that you might see at Metro Manila's Greenhills 'tiangge' are usually a product of this second method. Traders there do also sell a large variety of South Sea pearls though, most coming from smaller island farms spread across the Philippine seas.

Pearl Farms Produce Cultured Pearls Using a Variety of Methods, Involving Many Different Species of Mollusks.

Here in the Philippines, the Karamar corporation (better known as Jewelmer Joaillerie, their retail counterpart), is a worldwide producer and exporter of golden South Sea Pearls. The operation makes use of several islands and oceanic areas in Palawan, to grow and culture a wide variety of Pinctada maxima pearls. To do this, they must keep the environmental waters as clean and pristine as possible, as the surrounding habitat deeply affects the quality of the pearls being produced. This has the additional benefit of simply safeguarding the clear waters of Palawan from pollution and grime. Jewelmer has done an excellent job of protecting the Palawan islands for several decades now.

Other famously known culturing companies are Paspaley in Australia (which famously produces silver South Sea pearls), and Mikimoto from Japan (famous for starting the cultured pearl processes, and for its mirror-like Akoya pearls).

Just to give a brief introduction to their differences: South Sea pearls can typically grow larger than the other 3 varieties of cultured pearls used in the industry. Round beads of up to 25mm can fetch tens or even hundreds of thousands (USD) per strand in their highest fine qualities. Tahitian pearls can also be very large, and can be produced by pearl farmers in a variety of bodycolor and overtone combinations. These can range from peacock colors (green, pink and blue) to pistachio colors (yellow green and primary green) and even aubergine colors (dark purple to indigo mixes). On the other hand, Akoya pearls are usually quite small, growing to an average of 6-9mm in diameter per bead. Their selling point is the mirror-like luster that they've been coveted for over the centuries. Akoya pearls are often grown in colder waters, influencing the pearl nacre deposition to be incredibly slow. This gradual layering creates a much shinier pearl, and people from all over the world are familiar with the Akoya's reflective sheen.

Cultured pearls are precious gems in today's fine jewelry trade, although freshwater cultured pearls are typically more commercial in value. This short explanatory introduction to their nature should provide some insight on why these beautiful pearls are a class of their own, and definitely should not be associated with imitations like glass-bead or majorca pearl substitutes.

(Update for 2019: *Note that we DO NOT check or evaluate clam or giant clam pearls here at the laboratory.)
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