Pearl History

Throughout history, the world’s best pearls came from the Persian Gulf near the Gulf of Oman, especially around what is now Bahrain. The pearls in this area were naturally created and were aquired by breath-hold divers. The secret to the special luster of these Persian pearls came from the mixing of fresh and salt water around the island. Unfortunately, The natural pearl industry of the Persian Gulf ended suddenly in the early 1930’s when they discovered of large deposits of oil. Once the economy was pearls then people sought prosperity in the oil industry. The water pollution resulting from spilled oil destroyed the natural habitat for oysters, and ruined the pearl industry in the Gulf.

Today, pearl diving is only practiced  as a hobby. Now the largest area of natural pearls resides in India. Ironically, much of India’s stock of natural pearls came originally from Bahrain. Unlike Bahrain, which has essentially lost its pearl resource, traditional pearl fishing is still practiced on a small scale in India. The art of culturing pearls was invented in Japan in 1893 by a man named Kokichi Mikimoto. He discovered that by introducing a tiny bead of mother-of-pearl the white substance on the inside of a mussel’s shell into an oyster, that oyster would began to cover the irritant with nacre the secreted substance that makes up akoya pearls.

Interestingly, one of the first places to begin farming cultured pearls outside of Japan was near the Gulf of California in Mexico. Unfortunately, Mexican pearls disappeared from the international markets when over fishing of natural pearl oyster banks took its toll and the Mexican government had to impose a No- Fishing law in the late 1940’s. Mexico is attempting to return to the pearl market today with cultured half-pearls meaning they are only pearl slices or hemispheres, not round.

Majority of Pearls come from Japan, Australia, Indonesia, Myanmar, China, India, Philippines, and Tahiti. The South Sea waters around Australia, Indonesia, and Myanmar are renowned for their large, white pearls, while Japan’s pearls are highly valued for their lustrous character. Freshwater pearls constitute the bulk of China’s pearl efforts. And as mentioned earlier, India is recognized as one of the last producers and handlers of naturally occurring pearls. Interestingly, although Australia’s pearls derive from the same sea as those from Indonesia and Myanmar, Australia consistently advertises their pearls as distinctly superior to other South Sea pearls, emphasizing the importance of the country of origin, not simply the body of water from which they came. The picture shows locations where pearls are prevalent.