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By  , Monday, August 07, 2006

Before World War II, six millimeters was considered a giant pearl size. Today, and for the last decade, that’s a dwarfish pearl size.

Not only does Japan, the country most identified with pearl farming, routinely grow pearls up to 7-8 millimeters, but Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines routinely grow sized up to 12-14 millimeters, even larger.

Why are these Pacific Rim pearl producers growing such humongous sizes? For starters, they use a larger oyster, the Pinctada maxima which grows to 30 centimeters. That’s a lot of growing room - especially if you allow oysters two years to coat bead nuclei with nacre.

No wonder South Sea pearls have replaced Japanese pearls as the world’s most coveted cultured pearls. They’ve got everything going for them: size, nacre thickness, color, luster and, recently, price.

As South Sea pearls have become more plentiful, they’ve become more affordable. Yes, top strands still command six-figure sums. But consumers can find plenty of four-figure bargains if they don’t mind settling for smaller sizes, slight oval shapes and a few surface blemishes.

South Sea pearls come in both white and golden varieties. The golds are much rarer than fine whites but exceptionally beautiful.

When shopping for South Sea pearls, don’t expect the high-gloss luster of Japanese pearls. The best South Sea pearls have a softer luster, sometimes likened to the soft matte - as opposed to high-polish - finish of karat gold. To our eyes, they have the ultimate sensuous appearance.

If you’re looking for an unforgettable gift or self-indulgence, don’t forget these Cadillacs of the pearl world.


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