Australian south sea pearls

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Paspaley's quest for perfection

1 November 2012

CJNA November English Translation

Paspaley’s Quest for Perfection

Paspaley’s unmatched expertise and high standards in pearl sorting and grading reinforce its unique position as the producer of the finest South Sea pearls in the world. The ‘Five Virtues’ Although pearl grading standards and nomenclature vary from one company or organisation to another, a pearl’s value is usually assessed based on five criteria: Lustre, complexion, shape, colour and size. “At Paspaley, this is known as the ‘Five Virtues’ grading standard. This is consistent with the standard used by the GIA (Gemological Institute of America). It is the only grading standard that differentiates between natural colour and lustre, and enhanced colour and lustre, making it the most stringent grading standard in the industry,” the pearling company said. “Paspaley’s internal grading system is considerably more exacting and classifies pearls into one of 6,000 different grading categories. This allows pairs and strands to be matched as closely as possible before being classified according to the ‘Five Virtues,’ which is more manageable and comprehensible to both the trade and the consumers.”

Asked to define what a true “gem-quality” pearl is, Paspaley said it is “that rare discovery that has superlative natural lustre and colour combined with flawless nacre and an attractive and desirable shape.” The pearling company also underscored the importance of a “consistent and independent gem certification” in today’s industry. “With so many products available on the market, it is unrealistic to expect jewellery salespeople to have sufficient expertise about every product to provide accurate information in all circumstances,” the company said. “Reliable certification of all gems, including pearls, increases the inherent value of gems by increasing the confidence with which end-consumers can assess their quality and value.” Labour of love Paspaley’s pearl graders possess exceptional skills, experience and patience. “At Paspaley, pearl grading is conducted entirely by our expert team of graders. Each pearl will pass through the hands of the graders at least five times because each of the ‘Five Virtues’ is assessed independently,” the company said.

A Paspaley pearl’s typical journey from the wild waters of Australia to the world’s leading fine jewellery houses is far from simple. The pearl grader’s enormous task starts with the delivery of the pearls from the farms in Northwest Australia. The pearls are carefully cleaned of any salt residue left from the ocean, before moving into the hands of Paspaley graders who sort them into the basic shape categories of round, drop, button, baroque and circle.

Until the 1970s, most pearlers used traditional gaff-rigged wooden pearling luggers, and divers faced the dangers of the deep in cumbersome hard-hat diving suits with air pumped through hoses from the boat above. In 1973, Paspaley commissioned Australia’s first modern purpose-built pearling ship, the Paspaley Pearl. At the time, it was the largest fibreglass vessel in Australia. The next step is to grade the complexion of the pearls. Face grading categorises the pearls, depending on the number, severity, location and type of any surface imperfections. Complexion is generally graded into four categories namely clean, slight, commercial and low grade. The pearls are then graded according to their lustre, which is an assessment of the reflective and refractive qualities of the pearl nacre. “The final step is to assess any internal imperfections in the nacre which can give the pearl a ‘hammered’ or ‘scaly’ appearance,” Paspaley said. “It is only at this stage that the pearls are ready for the exacting process of matching them into pairs and strands.”

Since no two pearls are the same, finding perfect pairs, much more create strands of unsurpassed beauty, is close to impossible. “Pearls are organic and, like snowflakes, no two are truly identical. However, as Paspaley is the world’s largest producer of fine quality South Sea pearls, we are able to match pearls as closely as possible,” the pearling company said. When matching pairs, Paspaley’s graders keep the following things in mind: Pearls are paired to each other when their shape, colour, lustre and size are such that they complement each other and look pleasing together. It really is in the eye of the pair-maker and is a judgement call.

Round pairs are like twins because their shape and size are identical. Baroque pairs are like brothers and sisters, in the sense that they share features in terms of their shape and general appearance. Circle pearls, which are defined by the rings and grooves that encircle them like Saturn’s rings, are the most difficult to pair because there are so many variations in their shape. They have a general resemblance but some may have light pencil-lines while others have heavy grooves. Some pearls may have several rings and others only one. According to Nick Paspaley AC, gathering the finest pearls is the starting point to creating the finest strands. “These are, of course, incredibly rare,” Paspaley said. In a strand, a centrepiece separates two rows of pearls that are paired to the opposite side of the strand. When making a strand, each pearl is matched as closely as possible to those pearls on either side and the pearl opposite it, but no two pearls are truly identical. “The critical requirement is that each pearl must complement and enhance the pearl beside it. A fine-quality strand should have an appearance of perfect balance with no individual pieces standing out from those around it,” Paspaley said.

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