Pearl Cultivation – the Art
The process of pearl cultivation is truly an art, and is a long and delicate process. During earlier times, divers devastated collections of shells but current techniques of breeding and harvesting have gained prevalence. The pearl cultivation process begins with the gathering of oyster shells or mussels. These are then seeded and returned to the holding area at the pearl farms. At the right time these are harvested to produce pearls. The process of pearl cultivation can basically be classified as nucleated and non-nucleated cultivation, used for saltwater pearls and freshwater pearls respectively. Pearl cultivation is further detailed below.
Pearl Culturing: Gathering of the oyster shells
Pearl culturing begins at the sea with the collection of young oysters from the wild. These are gathered by divers with the aid of the pearl boat. These boats serve as diving platforms for divers and help to transport thousands of live oysters in its holding tanks. On board, oysters are counted, cleaned and weighed, then placed in a window-sized metal frame between layers of nylon netting. These are then transported in a saltwater tank to a holding area, where the frames are attached to the sea bottom in order to recover from the stress of their capture. For freshwater pearls on the other hand, mussels are collected.
Pearl Expertise and the Seeding of the Oyster
The seeding process involves the implantation of a nucleus and a tiny piece of mantle cut from a nearby oyster into another oyster. The process is delicate and requires high level expertise. Once seeding is complete, the oysters are quickly returned to the holding area in their panels for further convalescence. After several months the shells are transported, often up to 2000 nautical miles away to remote farming bases. In case of freshwater pearls, only mantle tissue is inserted into the mussel. Also various pearls can be cultivated at once, by inserting the required number of mantle tissue pieces.
Pearl farms are areas of pearl cultivation chosen for their geographical protection from cyclones. While fresh water pearls are cultivated in lakes and rivers, sea water pearls are cultivated in seas. These farms are best located in sheltered areas with active tides of up to 10 meters and where water pollution is scarce and people are few. The big tides feed the oyster a rich mixture of organic food. Here the oyster shells are suspended from culture systems; the panels holding the shells are hung on long lines and supported by buoys. They are tended daily by farm workers who carry out the intensive husbandry required for the next 20 to 24 months. The oysters are cleaned to keep them free of marine growth and, occasionally, even hauled up for x-ray to assess their progress. Freshwater mussels do not need to be cleaned at all once they are returned to the pearl farms.
Harvesting of pearls
The pearls are harvested during the months of June and September. After the pearls are taken out of the oysters, they are initially sorted, usually by shape and size. The oysters are then seeded anew. A healthy oyster can be reseeded as many as four times. As the oyster grows, it can accommodate progressively bigger pearl nuclei. Therefore, the biggest pearls most often come from the oldest oysters. Harvesting period for freshwater pearls on the other hand is much shorter. Freshwater mussels are not reseeded as often as saltwater oysters.
Pearl history is quite rich, and so are pearl values. These come in exquisite hues and shades and hold an important place in various ceremonies too.