Pearls and the Tsunami

Posted By: Anthony White FGA, 18th July 2017 Tags: Pearls

PEARLS and Tsunamis

Q: What do the Somerset Levels have in common with the Japanese oyster pearl fisheries?

A: They’ve both been devastated by a Tsunami wave!

The infamous 2011 Tsunami destroyed the Fukushima nuclear reactor and devastated much of the east coast of Japan and its population. BBC's Timewatch last week showed compelling evidence for a 1607 Tsunami that also left widespread destruction and death across the Somerset Levels and the Bristol Channel coastline.....only 410 years ago!

The Japanese Tsunami destroyed about 90% of the Akoya oyster pearl fisheries on the East coast of Japan. Not surprisingly therefore, the price of Japanese oyster pearls has increased quite sharply over recent years, partly as a result of the impact on supply. The knock-on effect of this has been to make other seawater pearls (eg. South Sea and Tahitian) more expensive and adding in the fall in the value of Sterling since June 2016, pearls have once more become truly precious. China has for many years been the largest source of freshwater pearls. Here too we are seeing prices increase as supply is being affected by the closure of many freshwater pearl fisheries for environmental and economic reasons.

The British Pearl Association recently said “Young A-listers from Hollywood…. have put pearls centre stage”, but in reality they are just continuing an historical tradition as old as the hills. Bling worn by Henry VIII and Elizabeth I  was overwhelmingly pearls: sewn into clothing, worn as necklaces, earrings and rings they were the outstanding statement of wealth and power in those times (see the superbly researched Wolf Hall series)  all without a diamond in sight! These were of course all natural pearls, probably from the Persian Gulf and centuries before the advent of the cultured pearl.

The quality and hence value of pearls rests on their shape, colour, lustre and size. The ideal pearl is a sphere the colour of silver or white (perhaps tending pinkish) colour, with an intense lustre ("internal sparkle") and consistent sizes for making into a necklace. Its alluring lustre comes from the surface structure of every pearl -- microscopic platelets of Aragonite crystals overlapping like fish scales over the whole surface.

We are sometimes brought very old natural pearl necklaces for restringing. They are typically less than 5mm diameter but have often become barrel shaped as a result of reaction between the surface of the pearl and skin of the wearer. Pearl care is therefore something very different from other gems' care: the lustre-forming Aragonite is a form of calcium carbonate, susceptible to attack by anything even mildly acidic such as make-up, hair spray or even skin itself.

At PSJ we have every type of pearl you could wish to see---- Akoya, South Sea, Tahitian, Freshwater, Abalone--- white, silver, pink and grey necklets, pendants, earrings. The only bad news is that Pearl was June's birthstone, but you don't have to wait another year to buy pearls!

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