Over one hundred years ago, an extraordinary young boy embarked on the ultimate migration from one world to another. This young boy, named Nicholas Paspaley, arrived in Australia after journeying from the Greek island of Kastellorizo and settling in the Kimberley, the home of the most beautiful pearls in the world. In the 1930s, the boldly entrepreneurial 19-year-old Paspaley purchased his very first pearling lugger. This decision was most likely fuelled by the fact that, at the time, the world’s most significant pearling ports included Broome, Cossack and Darwin. At their peak, the 80 Mile Beach and Broome areas produced a whopping 75% of the globe’s mother-of-pearl. That is, over 400 vessels were collecting up to 2,000 tonnes’ worth per annum! By the 1950s, demand for mother-of-pearl dropped dramatically due primarily to the invention of the plastic button. This significant drop in demand coupled with overfishing eventually destroyed the industry and pushed the world’s natural pearl beds to virtual extinction. These adversities, as well as the general challenges of hard hat diving and frequent cyclones, necessitated a do-or-die response. It was at this point that Nicholas Paspaley began to forge a path that would revolutionise pearling forever by paving the way for the cultivation of pearls.

Inspired by the tried-and-true success of the Japanese approach to cultivation, the Australian pearling industry was forced to adopt a new focus. A working partnership between man and nature was required, and the cementing of this partnership proved to be very challenging. Understanding the intricate functioning of the solitary Pinctada maxima pearl oyster, an oyster unique to the Kimberley – one of Mother Nature’s most remote and unforgiving environments – demanded years of patience, commitment, devotion and study. In fact, unlocking the secret of cultivating superior pearls has proven to be a 50-year journey of discovery, a journey during which Paspaley continues to develop unique cultivation techniques based upon that initial and foundational Japanese expertise of the 1950s. Of course, mimicking nature is no mean feat, so how exactly does the process of pearl cultivation come to fruition?

Paspaley Pearls, Melbourne

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Paspaley Pearls, Melbourne

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Paspaley Pearls, Melbourne

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Simply stated, though rather complicatedly implemented, there are five stages to the pearl-cultivation process: diving, seeding, husbandry, harvesting and grading. Diving entails the careful hand-picked harvesting of the Pinctada maxima oyster, which is then placed in a “nursery” to await seeding. A strictly limited number may be harvested at any one time, thereby ensuring sustainability. The oysters are then delicately and precisely seeded with a polished sphere of Mississippi clam shell to stimulate pearl growth. This stage is performed on the state-of-the-art pearling vessel MV Paspaley 4 and culminates in the oysters being returned to the nursery for 2-3 years. Husbandry entails the oysters being nurtured during this timeframe, allowing them to absorb nutrients from the pristine waters and to uniquely shape each pearl. The harvesting stage is by far the most exciting and exhilarating of the cultivation process. It is the very moment of reveal, the moment during which the oysters are raised from the ocean, returned to the fleet and delicately opened to uncover the naturally produced hidden gems. Once discovered, the high-quality producers are then re-seeded for another harvest. Finally, graders assess each pearl individually, passing it through the “five virtues” of lustre, complexion, shape, colour and size. It is then, and only then, that the pearl’s value is determined.

According to Chairman Nicholas Paspaley, Junior, “Only the most beautiful pearls are hand-picked for our designs.” As such, Paspaley is one of the world’s most renowned and important producers of cultured pearls. Though generally included in the South Sea category, Paspaley pearls have simultaneously become a category of their own due to their superior and widely recognised quality. It is rather pertinent, and timely, to note that pearls possess the power to strengthen and nurture the growth of pure love within an individual. With Valentine’s Day approaching swiftly, a Paspaley pearl might just prove to be the ideal adornment for Cupid’s arrow. Visit Paspaley Melbourne at 3/123 Collins Street and behold, firsthand, “the most beautiful pearls in the world”.    

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