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Burmese South Sea Pearl

Updated: Nov 7, 2023

Burmese pearls are coming back!

Burma South Sea Pearls
Myanmar Burma South Sea Pearls By BURMA JARS

Burma has a long history with pearls, both natural and cultured. For centuries, the native sea-faring population of the Mergui Archipelago known as Salons, were the traditional pearl divers. Pearls from the "Mergui shell" (a.k.a. Pinctada maxima) were some of the finest the world had ever seen. It's no wonder Burma was one of the first places where South Sea pearl farming was first introduced.

In 1954, and Japanese pearl company headed by a Mr. Kikiro Takashima set up the first pearl farm on Sir Malcolm Island as a joint venture with Burmese government agency. The pearls produced are still today considered the finest South Seas ever.

Unfortunately, the farm was nationalized in 1963 and the Japanese pearl farmers given the boot. Burma maintained the operations for a time, but eventually the pearl quality became so bad, the industry eventually came to a near complete stop.

They nearly disappeared for decades under military rule, but the world's most sought-after pearls are once again to be found in Myanmar.

Two international auctions 2016 -- in Hong Kong in March16 and Naypyitaw in late June16 -- saw traders bid up prices to new highs. While Clinton, the U.S. presidential hopeful, and Suu Kyi, Myanmar's de facto leader, prefer traditional white, the latest trend in high-end fashion has spurred demand for pearls of shimmering gold.

Myanmar's celebrated return to the international fold has also helped. "The lifting of sanctions allowed Myanmar pearls to be seen around the world and sold as Myanmar pearls," said Craig Henderson, an Australian who spent five years as a pearl farmer in Myanmar. "Deep golden [pearls] have suddenly become popular and are now the most valued."

South Sea Pearl Overview

Cultured south sea pearls broadly cover a variety of saltwater pearls cultured in a large swathe of the southern seas. This stretches as far east as Myanmar (Burma) and the Bay of Bengal to as far west as the South Pacific Ocean.

Often called the “queen of pearls”, south sea pearls come in large impressive sizes and in a beautiful array of colors. South Sea pearls are extremely scarce making them the most valuable cultured pearls and truly special gems.

South Sea pearls occur in variety of natural colors, but they are two important groupings, primarily based on color. These are White South Sea and Golden South Sea.

Pearl Type White South Sea

Oyster Pinctada maxima

Cultivation Nucleus + mantle tissue

Size 9 to 20 mm

Shape Round, Semi-round, Oval, Baroque, Drop, Button

Natural Color White, Silver, Blue, Cream, Champagne

Region Myanmar, Australia, Indonesia, Philippines

Rarity Extremely Rare

Pearl Type Golden South Sea

Oyster Pinctada maxima

Cultivation Nucleus + mantle tissue

Size 9 to 20 mm

Shape Round, Semi-round, Oval, Baroque, Drop, Button

Natural Color Golden, cream, champagne

Region Indonesia, Philippines, Myanmar, Australia

Rarity Extremely Rare


Cultured South Sea pearls are bead nucleated saltwater pearls, i.e. they are nucleated with a round bead and tiny mantle tissue, similar to Japanese Akoya pearls. White South Sea and Golden South Sea pearls are cultivated in Pinctada maxima, the largest pearl producing oyster. A defining characteristic of the Pinctada maxima is the white, silver or golden lip of the oyster, which often also indicates the color of the pearl the oyster will produce.

Pinctada maxima are extremely rare in nature, only found in deep ocean habitats or grown in hatcheries. Coupled with their sensitivity to environmental factors, the farming of South Sea pearls is a challenging and risky venture and this is reflected in their price.

There are many factors that influence the high price of a South Sea pearl, including the following:

The Pinctada maxima oyster must reach 3-4 years of age before it can be seeded to produce a pearl.

Each oyster usually only produces a single pearl, however some oysters able to be seeded twice.

South Sea pearls are cultivated in tropical regions usually off the coasts of Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Myanmar. White South Sea generally come from Australia and Indonesia, while Golden South Sea is more commonly cultivated in Indonesia, the Philippines and Myanmar. Typically, South Sea pearls are grown for a period of 2 – 4 years, one of the longest cultivation periods in cultured pearls.

High quality South Sea pearls have a soft, glow like luster, and this is due to the large aragonite platelets that make up the pearls.

How do they compare to other types of pearls?

South Sea pearls are generally much larger than other pearl types and have a unique luster quality – a soft reflection due to the large aragonite platelets that make up the pearl. They also have the thickest average nacre of all cultured pearls. These factors make South Seas both distinctive and valuable. South Sea pearls have the highest value and command the highest prices of all types of pearls.

As with other saltwater oysters, the South Sea pearl oyster is bead-nucleated. However, the growth period is approximately 2-4 years, unlike the akoya pearls, which develop in less than half that time. Being a delicate organism, this type of pearl oyster is particularly susceptible to disease and stress, which is one reason why the culturing area for South Seas pearls is quite limited. Attempts to expand South Sea pearl farming have met with little success because the oysters do not thrive outside their native, natural environment.

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, was renowned for its South Sea pearls in the 1800s, when the nomadic and sometimes enslaved Salon or Moken people, also known as "sea gypsies," dived for natural pearls around the 800 islands of the Myeik Archipelago in the far south of the country.

What colors, shapes, and sizes are available?

Silver-lipped South Sea pearl oysters generally produce pearls in the white, silver, aqua and blue family of overtones. The gold-lipped variety produces the cream, champagne, and deeper golden variety. Since the natural colors of South Sea pearls are so rich and beautiful, after harvesting they are merely washed and buffed to remove any residue and bring out their natural glow.

South Sea pearls can be found in the range of 8 to 20 mm, with the average being 12 mm. Although extremely rare, some pearls have been found larger than 20 mm. Only 10-30% of each harvest will be round or near-round.

White South Sea in shades of white or silver and Golden South Sea in a deep golden color in round shape and large sizes will generally command the highest prices of any cultured pearls. Semi round and baroque shaped South Sea pearls are more modestly priced compared to round south sea pearls and are often used in creative pieces of fine jewelry.

Deep Golden Burmese South Sea Pearls By Burma Jars
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