Blue Pearls - New Zealand's Unique Gem
At Jewel Beetle, we adore making blue pearl jewellery and as Nelson's stockist for Eyris Blue pearls, we're often asked lots of questions by customers intrigued by this unique and enchanting gem. So we've dedicated this informative blog for you to learn more.
Blue pearls are Mabé (or Blister) pearls that are cultivated in the New Zealand variety of the abalone shell, the Haliotis Iris, commonly known in New Zealand as the Paua Shell.
According to Māori Mythology, early Paua did not have a shell, and Tangaroa, the god of the sea, took pity on it and created a wonderful colourful coat that sparkled and dazzled with beauty. You can read more of this lovely story Tangaroa's Gift written for children by Dr.Mere Whaanga-Schollum.
What is Paua / Abalone?
The Abalone is a marine gastropod mollusc or in everyday language a sea snail famous for its incredible variety of iridescent colours.
The most colourful species of all single-shelled, univalve saltwater molluscs, the Abalone (Paua) is found in rocky cold coastal waters all around the world. It moves very slowly and rarely ventures further than 100m during its lifetime. From the Coast of California all the way up to Alaska, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, some cooler Asian regions and South Africa.
How do Blue Pearls form?
Naturally formed Abalone pearls are extremely rare. Studies found that only 1 in every 500,000 to 900,000 Abalone produces a pearl. This process can take between 8 to 10 years. A pearl is formed by an irritant entering the shell of the Oyster or Abalone activating a defence mechanism to protect itself from the irritant by creating multiple layers of nacre over the irritant. Natural Abalone pearls are often very brittle and cracked making them unsuitable for Jewellery. Pearl farms create cultured pearls, with ideal conditions, in approximately 24 to 36 months.
Kokichi Mikimoto started the now-famous cultured pearl industry in 1890 by using Oysters to cultivate round pearls. Since then various attempts have been made at cultivating spherical pearls in the Abalone but with limited success.
New Zealand with its magnificently multi-coloured iridescent Paua has also seen a few pearl cultivating ventures. Sadly no one succeeded in creating round pearls which would have been a truly epic achievement. They did however succeed in creating stunning half-round Mabé pearls.
How are Blue Pearls cultivated?
At Jewel Beetle, we source our blue pearls exclusively from Eyris Pearls because of their consistent quality and dedication to creating the highest quality pearls. The cultivation process we describe here is as described by Eyris Pearls.
In New Zealand, the Paua is in decline and a strict quote system has been put in place for sustainable fishing. Divers are only allowed to 'free' dive for Paua with no underwater breathing apparatus. Only free divers are permitted to collect them in limited numbers and sizes. The Paua is brought on board a specially developed pearling vessel to avoid the mollusc being out of the water for too long.
The nucleation process is very delicate as the Paua is haemophiliac, meaning the slightest cut can cause the Paua to bleed and since it doesn’t have the ability to clot the blood it will simply bleed to death.
To relax the Paua they are submerged in lukewarm water and while careful not to injure the Paua a small domed piece of shell created especially for this process gets placed in between the Paua and the shell. The Paua then gets returned to a barrel where it will regularly get checked and fed until harvesting time some 2 to 3 years later.
The Paua is then moved to the ‘Pearl farm’ where it remains in a barrel with lots of other Paua. They will receive regular fresh seaweed and cleaning to keep them in pristine condition for the next 3 years to achieve the right thickness of pearl nacre.
The first Eyris pearl farm was located in the Chatham Islands but more recently they have been concentrating on their farming operation in Akaroa harbour.
There is red, brown and green seaweed. But in fact, that is not the only thing that affects colour. The Paua needs the right temperature, good wastewater flow clean unpolluted water. Akaroa Harbour is the perfect location for this.
Did you know that the amazing spectrum of colours of the blue pearl depends not only on their genetics but on the seaweed and kelp it eats?
While all these factors vary from time to time the layer of nacre on the pearl changes as well creating their incredible spectrum of colours.
The Paua randomly secretes layers of Nacre and Conchiolin. The Nacre creates Lustre and hardness while the Conciolin acts as a mirror, reflecting light back, creating iridescence. This combination gives the pearl its unique and desirable appearance.
Can the Paua be re-used for cultivating more pearls like oysters?
Sadly, no. The pearl is attached to the shell and needs to be cut free from the shell. Nothing gets wasted though. The Paua gets used for consumption, the leftover shell is used for buttons and inlay, craft or commercial use. Even the guts are used again for fish bait - yuck!
Harvesting time is an exciting time as you won’t know what beauty each Paua is hiding in its shell. If there is only a 1 in 2000 chance of a Gem-grade pearl, you can imagine the excitement when you peel back the Paua to reveal such a magnificent perfect pearl. Probably like a child finding a big chocolate Easter egg in the backyard!
Paua also gets used as an inlay for eyes in traditional Māori wood carvings, representing stars, thought to be your ancestors’ eyes looking down at you from the sky.
What makes a perfect Blue Pearl?
Eyris pearls have a unique grading system on a scale from Select Gem with perfect colour, lustre and shape to Mystique and C Grade pearls. At Jewel Beetle, we often use A grade, B grade and Mystique grade pearls in our Blue Pearl Jewellery Collection
Mystique pearls are basically like an A grade pearl with high colour and lustre and a large spectrum of colours but with a slightly dark line of the conchiolin showing.
Finding matching pearl colours to create a pair of earrings can be tricky sometimes as the colour combinations are basically infinite.
We have fallen in love with the beauty of these pearls and are proud to be Nelson’s Stockist for Eyris Pearls. We often take our customers around the shop and outside to show how the colour spectrum changes in different light conditions.
How durable is a pearl?
Pearls are organic and quite soft with a hardness of 2.5 -3.5 on the Mohs scale. Its material is basically calcium Carbonate. They are also sensitive to heat, perfume, sunscreen, acids and humidity.
As jewellers, we have to be careful when working with pearls and will often cover them to protect them from damage.
We always advise our customers when getting dressed to put their jewellery on last to protect the pearls from creams, perfume and hair products.
When purchasing a Blue Pearl at Jewel Beetle you will also receive a special storage box for your special piece to protect it from direct sunlight. You are most welcome to return to our shop for a complimentary clean of your special piece to make sure it stays as beautiful as the day you took it home. Should you, however, wish to clean it yourself we urge you to be extremely careful and only use a very mild soapy wool wash but preferably if you are unable to return it to us take it to your nearest manufacturing jeweller for a professional clean.
Below is a slideshow gallery of some of the beautiful jewellery we've created with Eyris Blue pearls over the years. Browse our collection Blue Pearl Jewellery online or contact us if you would like to select a pearl and have a unique piece of Blue Pearl jewellery made especially for you.