Australian South Sea pearls are produced by the largest and rarest of all pearl oysters – the Pinctada maxima. This species is the most valuable of all oysters due to the superb quality of its mother-of-pearl, highly valued in its own right.
Wild Pinctada maxima oysters live in sparsely populated beds in isolated tropical regions of the Indian and Paci c Oceans. In the mid-19th century, the world’s richest beds of Pnctada maxima oysters were discovered near Broome in Western Australia. These pearling grounds soon became the world’s most important source of mother-of-pearl. During the next century, they were also the source of many of the most important natural pearls ever discovered.
Pinctada maxima oysters have been overfishing in much of their natural habitat. Australia is the last place in the world where wild Pinctada maxima pearl oysters still exist in sufficient numbers to be used for pearl cultivation.
The Australian Government protects and manages the pearl oyster shery with strict quotas and a range of legislation enforcing high standards of social and environmental responsibility in the pearling industry.
As a result of the government’s strict regulation and the good fortune of an isolated and pristine environment, Australia’s pearl beds are healthier today than they have been for more than a century.
Unlike most other pearl-producing molluscs, the Australian Pinctada maxima oyster produces only one cultured pearl every two to three years.
As a testament to their rarity, Australian cultured South Sea pearls account for a mere 0.1% of total global pearl production.
Despite the relatively small quantity of cultured pearls produced in Australia, their superb quality means that they account for an estimated 21% of the total value of cultured pearls produced in the world each year.