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An Essential Guide to South Sea Pearls

  • 4 min read

An Essential Guide to South Sea Pearls

Coined the ‘Rolls Royce of Pearls’, South Sea Pearls are highly prized for their size, shape and lustrous surface. They are some of the largest pearls you can buy and also the rarest.

Whether you’re looking to invest in your very first set of South Sea pearls, or you’re simply curious to learn more about these exquisite natural gems, keep reading. Pearl experts since 1989, in this post we’ll cover everything from the origins of South Sea pearls to their defining features, the natural colours available and how best to take care of them.

Everything you need to know about South Sea pearls

Where do South Sea pearls come from?

South Sea pearls are so named because they are found in the warm ocean inlets of the Southern Hemisphere. White South Sea pearls are usually cultivated off the crisp beaches of the northwest coast of Australia, while golden South Sea pearls come from beautiful Indonesia and the Philippines. These pearls are also sourced from the exotic seas of New Guinea and Burma.

Are South Sea pearls natural or cultured?

As with the majority of pearls on the market, South Sea pearls are cultured. This simply means that they are formed with the help of human intervention – this is because natural pearls are very rare and difficult to source. However, unlike freshwater pearls that develop around a natural ‘irritant’, these beautiful saltwater pearls develop their nacre around a mother of pearl bead. As a result, a smooth, lustrous, spherical finish is more likely to be found. 

How to identify South Sea pearls vs other pearl types

The main distinction between South Sea pearls and other variants is their size. South Sea pearls are found in Pinctada Maxima oysters, which are some of the largest in the world. The pearls they produce are often between 9-14mm in diameter, and if left to cultivate long enough, they can even reach up to 20mm! This is why people often associate South Sea pearls with strands of white, lustrous pearls accentuating the neckline of style icons such as The Queen and Audrey Hepburn.

Another defining feature of South Sea pearls is their lustre. The unique, satin-like sheen is more luminous than that of freshwater pearls and softer than the mirror glow of Akoya pearls. As well as being highly alluring, this silky finish flatters a range of complexions – particularly when featured in a set of South Sea pearl earrings.

What are the natural colours of South Sea pearls?

As with other saltwater gems, South Sea pearls mimic the nacre of the shell in which they are produced. Pinctada Maxima oysters are either silver or gold-lipped, which determines the colour of the pearls within them. Silver lipped oysters produce white South Sea pearls with cool silver, blue or pastel pink overtones. Silver is the most common and helps to create the magnificent white finish that these pearls are known for. Meanwhile, gold lipped oysters generate golden South Sea pearls with varying degrees of warmth. Typically, the closer to the equator the pearl is cultivated, the richer the gold hue and the higher the pearl value. Gold pearls with rose, bronze and green overtones are also possible, but much rarer.

Why are South Sea Pearls so expensive?

Despite the size of the Pinctada Maxima oysters in which South Sea pearls are produced, they only produce one pearl in their lifetime and less than a third of those harvested meet the standard used in jewellery. As such, sourcing a strand of South Sea pearls that match in colour, lustre and quality is really tough.

Additionally, the cultivation of South Sea pearls is a laborious process that takes place over 3-5 years. This is considerably longer than any other pearl type and requires clean ocean waters protected from pollution, as South Sea pearls don’t develop well outside of their natural environment.

As a result, South Sea pearl jewellery does come at a premium. However, these stunning saltwater pearls do tend to retain their value over time, making them a great investment piece. If your budget is limited, a delicate South Sea pearl pendant with a single pearl or pair of natural beauty-enhancing pearl earrings is an ideal alternative. Or you could opt for modern baroque pearls. These imperfectly shaped pearls are unique, playful and effortlessly add a youthful touch to your look!

How do you take care of South Sea pearls?

While South Sea pearls have the thickest nacre of any saltwater pearl due to their lengthy cultivation time, they are still vulnerable to damage. Chemicals from beauty products such as hairspray, imitation  tan and perfume can erode the surface of the pearl and cause discolouration after a while. You should therefore put your pearls on last when getting ready to limit contact and wipe them down with a damp cloth after use.

When it comes to storing your South Sea pearls, it’s best to either keep them in their box or place them in a silk-lined pouch. This will help to protect them and prevent them from drying out. Just make sure you store other jewellery that could scratch the pearls’ surface separately.

Explore beautiful South Sea pearls at CD Pearls

At Coleman Douglas Pearls, we design and supply an exquisite array of South Sea pearl jewellery, each crafted with the highest quality pearls and metals possible.

Choose from creamy pearl necklaces with diamond accents to feminine pearl drop earrings that light up your face through the light's refraction. We also offer baroque pearl bracelets that are sure to add a sense of laidback glamour to your outfit, and a range of styles featuring colourful gemstones such as tourmaline and citrine. So, whatever your preference, we have a South Sea pearl design to suit every taste, budget and occasion.

Or if you’d rather, we can even tailor-make a piece of South Sea pearl jewellery to fit your exact requirements. Simply visit our bespoke jewellery page to learn more or email your enquiry to cdp@pearls.co.uk and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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