South Sea Pearls: Large, Luxurious, Long-Lasting

Considered the most exclusive and coveted of all cultured pearl varieties, South Sea pearls are exceptionally high quality pearls. They are the rarest and most extraordinary quality pearls found in fine jewelry. Typically, they range in color from white or cream or champagne hues to silvery or golden tones. In size, they range from 8 mm to 20+mm. These pearls come from the literal “South Seas” – the geographic area of the Pacific Ocean south of the equator, near countries like Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Ever since Salvador Assael started bringing magnificent South Sea pearls home to the U.S., the Assael brand has become the premier source for South Sea cultured pearls in North America. Salvador was a true treasure hunter, with a devoted passion for acquiring only the finest and most distinctive pearls. His eye for quality and his penchant for procuring the best of the best built the Assael legacy.

Given our fascination with the allure and luxury of South Sea pearls, we decided to take a look at what makes these particular pearls so incredibly popular, valuable and desirable. What was it about these pearls that Salvador fell in love with? What are the converging factors that produce the highly prized, rare treasure that is the South Sea pearl? To illustrate, we are sharing some vintage photos from the Assael archives – Oscar De La Renta for Balmain runway images circa 1993 – 2002 featuring Assael South Sea pearls. They were a striking statement then, now and for the future.

Size Matters – South Seas Pearls are Larger

Oscar De La Renta for Balmain, two Assael South Sea cultured pearl necklaces worn together, Assael Classic South Sea pearl necklace
Left and Right – Oscar De La Renta for Balmain featuring Assael pearls, Center – two Assael South Sea pearl necklaces worn together, Bottom – Assael Classic South Sea pearl necklace

South Sea pearls grow in the southern Pacific ocean in the white-lipped oyster known as pinctada maxima. This oyster is considerably larger than the mollusks (muscles, oysters) that live in the lakes of China and Japan where fresh water pearls are produced. Because the oyster is much larger, it grows a much larger pearl. According to the American Gem Society, South Sea pearls are “the largest of all the pearls.” Their size makes quite an impact with any fashion ensemble. Naturally, larger pearls tend to be more expensive, but for South Sea pearls, their higher quality also creates higher value. Given the rarity and sensitivity of the pinctada maxima oyster, cultivation of South Sea pearls is more challenging and time consuming, making them much more exclusive, much more of a luxury.

Luminous Luxury –South Sea Pearls have More Luster

Assael Classic South Sea Pearl Pave Hook Earrings, Assael 4 Pearl South Sea Pearl Earrings, Assael South Sea Pearl Earrings with Diamond Florets
Left top to bottom – Assael Classic South Sea Pearl Pave Hook Earrings, Assael 4 Pearl South Sea Pearl Earrings, Assael South Sea Pearl Earrings with Diamond Florets

Not only is the South Sea variety much larger than the average pearl, the growing conditions in the ocean depths also produce exceptional smoothness in the pearls. In fact, pearl farmers have been called “sea stewards” by Departures magazine because they must keep the oceans healthy to protect the investment in their cultured pearl farms. The oyster producing the South Sea pearl also remains in the water much longer than the mussel that creates fresh water pearls. Typically, South Sea pearls grow for at least 2-4 years (on upwards to a dozen or more years), unlike fresh water pearls, which develop in less than half that time. That longer incubation period creates a deeper, more three-dimensional luster because the oyster has more time to secrete more nacre over the years. Nacre is the beautiful, organic substance that gets secreted by the oyster as the pearl develops in its soft mantle tissue. More nacre equals greater luster, making South Sea pearls the perfect gem to enhance a woman’s skin tone.

The larger size, the higher quality luster and the unique growing conditions all combine to make South Sea pearls the rarest of all pearl types. The limited supply of South Sea pearls also increases their distinctiveness and their value.

“South Sea pearls are the most perfect organic gem. Nothing is added or taken away to enhance their beauty.” – Christina Lang Assael, President of Assael

Longevity – South Sea Pearls Last Longer

Clockwise L to R – vintage Oscar De La Renta for Balmain, La Fuille South Sea Pearl and Diamond Earrings, Assael Classic South Sea pearl necklace
Clockwise L to R – vintage Oscar De La Renta for Balmain for featuring Assael pearls, La Fuille South Sea Pearl and Diamond Earrings, Assael Classic South Sea pearl necklace

South Sea pearls have the highest value of all cultured pearls and command some of the highest prices in the pearl category. These pearls also have the thickest average nacre of all cultured pearls, so they have the additional benefit of being longer lasting. South Sea pearls can be enjoyed for many decades, unlike fresh water pearls with thinner layers of nacre, which equates to a shorter lifespan. The abiding and steadfast beauty of South Sea pearls is unmistakable. It is also the reason that estate pearls achieve incredibly high prices at luxury auction houses like Sotheby’s, Christie’s, etc. (See our recent Power Pearls post for examples of pearls exceeding all expectations at auction.) High quality South Sea pearl strands can boast exceptional prices, ranging from roughly tens of thousands of dollars to well over a million. The good news is we can all enjoy them and shine in the glow of their splendid luster for many years to come.

Discover a magnificent array of Assael South Sea pearls here.