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White and golden South Sea cultured pearls

These are produced by the Pinctada Maxima oyster. The silver-lip oyster produces white and silver coloured pearls whereas the golden-lip oyster produces golden pearls. Australia and Indonesia are the two main producers for these pearls. The Philippines are famous for their production of golden pearls. Burma (Myanmar) is one further producer. The difference in colour is due to natural organic pigments present in the shell.


The cultivation of Pinctada Maxima varies from region to region. Whilst in the Philippines they are the product of hatchery production, adult oysters can be collected in the wild under a strict quota system in Australia.


The difference to Akoya pearls is their large size, greater nacreous overgrowth. Whereas Akoya pearls rarely come in sizes greater than 20mm, South Sea pearls can reach up to 20mm. The shell of Pinctada Maxima is greater than that of other species which means that it can grow larger pearls and can also be used as nucleus material.


Andy Müller estimated that white and golden South Sea cultured pearl production was worth US$172million in 2009. Whereas Indonesia is the largest producer of these pearls (43% production share, 27% share in value), Australia produces pearls of higher value (38% production, 61% share in value). 


Burma produces both white and golden South Sea cultured pearls. Photo: Vincent Pardieu
White and golden South Sea pearls and the Pinctada maxima shell from Indonesia. Photo: Henry Hänni