8 – 9 – 17 - Interview with Pearl
G’day, from Australia again. In our series Interview with Australians we have a very precious guest today. Maybe our guest could introduce herself.
Thank you, thank you and good morning. My name is Pearl and like you already said, I am very precious.
Why is that, Pearl?
Isn’t it obvious? Look at me. Look at my lustre, I’m so brilliant. Also, my surface is flawless, my shape is perfectly round and my colour is extraordinary. I’m not just bland white. See the third colour in me? This is very special.
I see what you mean. Indeed, you are very shiny. What do you call that again?
It’s called the lustre. Lustre is the interplay of light bouncing off a pearl’s surface (reflection) and penetrating deeper into the pearl’s structure (glow). Lustre is the most beautiful aspect of a pearl!
Very nice. Why is the shape so important?
Well, I guess it is really a matter of taste. Some people don’t mind bulges and outgrowth in a pearl. However, I think a high-class pearl is perfectly round. Size, of course, is decisive too.
So the bigger the better.
Exactly. Look how big I am. You don’t find this size often out there. It is, by the way, something particular to Western Australian pearls just like me. I’m over 2 cm big; I think that is a record.
Pearl, you mentioned Western Australia. Where exactly are you from? Mind you, Western Australia is the whole western coast of Australia down from Perth, if you will, up to the Kimberleys in the north. The coastline comprises about 13.000km.
No, no, the pearl region is only in the north in the Kimberleys. It is specifically located at Dampier Peninsula with Broome as its capital if you will.
I see. How many pearl companies are there then?
There used to be quite a few. But the GFC –
Let me quickly explain that acronym to our readers, Pearl. GFC stands for Global Financial Crisis.
Yes, well, the GFC has reduced the number of pearl companies to only three now.
Interesting and sad at the same time. Do you know anything about the history of this industry?
Do I know anything? What a question. Everyone here does. Everyone that is truly interested in pearls.
Would you be a darling and tell us about it then?
It would be a pleasure. You’d better get a cup of coffee or tea because this may take a bit. I will focus on the Broome area, though, since that is the best anyway.
Aboriginal people used to harvest pearls for centuries and used it as currency and for decorations. That was true for large parts of Australia, not just for the Kimberley region. Now for Broome the pearl industry started in the 1880s. Fishermen discovered the natural oyster beds. The species was the Pinctada Maxima, which already says that these pearls were big. Its value was very much sought for in the textile industry so Broome became pretty wealthy. At its peak around 400 boats were used to go pearling. With the industrial development and the introduction of the cheaper plastic pearl, the industry declined.
If I may ask a question in between: who were the divers that got the oysters up?
Ah yes. Well, it’s the less shiny part of our history. At the beginning it was Aboriginal people who did the diving part. They were excellent divers and knew the waters. However, it was and still is a dangerous job. The divers wore no masks, no snorkels, and had to dive deeper and deeper to get to the pearls. They had to do this all without pay.
When did the diving suit come into play?
That was around the end of the 19th century. With those new suits the divers could go even deeper and stay longer there and hence collect more oysters. The divers in their suits did look a bit like sea monsters if you ask me. They were wearing those round heavy bronze helmets and the lead-weighted boots kept them on the ground of the sea. With two heavy cables for air they worked frantically to collect as many oysters as they could because they were paid by amount, not by hours. By then companies didn’t use Aboriginals anymore. They hired mainly Japanese and Filipino divers because the job was so dangerous no Australian white man would do it. Besides, the Japanese divers were very cheap laborers. They were lured to Australia being promised good money for their work. Unfortunately they rarely had the money to pay for the transportation to Australia so they first of all worked as indentured laborers who had to repay their debt. It seems many died in their job before they could pay their debt off.
What were the dangers?
The dangers haven’t changed that much. Diving is still a dangerous job today. However, with modern technology it has become a bit safer. The sea at the Kimberleys is beautiful but dangerous. It is home of many different sharks; then there is the irukandji jellyfish, a thumb-sized little stinger that can kill you fast without the proper and immediate medication. Don’t forget the salt crocodiles in some areas up here. Not in Broome though. Technology also is far from perfect and getting up to the surface too quickly is just something your human body can’t bear well. And finally there are the cyclones we get here. They are powerful and destructive storms that can take a whole fleet out and they have, believe me. No, pearl diving is not an amusement sport.
I can see that. No wonder the pearls are so expensive.
But that is not the only reason for the price. It just takes a long time to grow pearls. Mind you, they call us wild pearls but we are actually grown.
How do you mean?
It is true that the oysters are wild oysters and have been collected from the ground of the sea. But then the humans put a tiny pearl into the shell and that is where the oyster grows the mother of pearl around. Now the oyster is put back into the water and stays there for up to three years. The problem is that not every oyster grows a pearl or one of good enough quality. In fact it is only five per cent max. that produces a good pearl. You see, the harvest is very slim.
Would you then say that a pearl found in nature outside a farm is even worth more than a cultivated one?
I’m not sure. A pearl is a pearl and both grew in a wild oyster. Both may have lived in the same waters and received the same nutrients. The oyster has of course. The only thing that sets the two apart would be the ‘coming to life part’. I can’t think of a better word here. The cultivated pearl exists because a small pearl was artfully implanted into the oyster. The wild pearl grew because something alien got stuck inside the oyster which was then covered by mother of pearl. So maybe that’s the part that makes this pearl even more precious. But it would still have to reach my perfection!
No doubt about that, Pearl. What’s going to happen next to you?
Oh, I have a world tour coming on. I’ll be traveling the big museums, luxury jewellery stores and even auction houses of the world so everybody can come and see me. I won’t be auctioned off, yet. National Geographic has enquired to make a documentary about me and there will be special photo shootings too.
I see you will be very busy the next months or year then.
So much luckier we have had you as our guest today. All the best to you and keep shining!
Thank you so much. It was an absolute pleasure to be here. Goodbye.