The Importance of Australian Pearl Farming

The Importance of Australian Pearl Farming

There is a rich history of pearl harvesting and farming in Australia. The great boom came with the discovery of rich oyster beds off the north-western coast of Australia and the use of compressed air diving suits in the mid-nineteenth century.

By 1910, Broome had become the center of the rarest and most beautiful natural pearl harvesting in the world. The Pinctada maxima oyster was the finest producer of natural pearls. Interestingly, in 1922 the Australian Government passed a law against the culturing of pearls to protect the natural pearl industry. This law stayed in effect until 1950.

There is a wonderful short black and white film of pearling in Australia in the 1940s that was made in 1949 from the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia on the website

Probably the most important person in Australia's pearling history is Nicolas Paspaley, Sr. In 1935 at the age of 18, he captained his own pearl lugger. The discovery of an important pearl in the Cossack region gave him the proceeds to recover after a cyclone destroyed his entire fleet.

WWII devastated the mother of pearl button industry in Australia. It was only with the establishment of the cultured pearl industry in the 50s that the pearl industry began to recover. 

It was Nicolas Paspaley, Alan Gerdau of America, and Saku Kuribayashi of Japan that started the pearling industry in Western and Northern Australia. Kuri Bay Pearl Farm opened in 1956 and Paspaley opened his farm with Junichi Hamaguchi in Knocker Bay in 1962. There was an agreement that they limit their quota, the pearling techniques would remain a secret and all pearls would be market in Japan.

Up until the early 70s, pearls were harvested by a person in a full suit dive helmet. It was very dangerous. Hookah diving was invented and it freed up the cumbersome full dive suit and helmet. Hookah is a tank less form of supplying air to divers.

In 1972, Paspaley opened his own pearl farm that operated out side the Diamond Policy Agreement that allowed him to market his own pearls. Working with another Japanese partner, Kyokko Industries. Paspaley began opening more pearl farms in Raffles Bay, Port Bremer and Darwin Harbour.

Paspaley revolutionized the Australian pearling industry by establishing pearling operations on pearling grounds rather than pearl farms. This reduced the mortality rate of oysters. The operations began aboard the ship the MV Paspaley II in the south of Broome.

The Pearl Producers Association and a Diving Code of Practice was established to preserve the wild stock of oysters and set guidelines for the safety of the pearl divers.

The Australian pearling industry has survived many weather devastations, including a number of cyclones that have destroyed pearling ships and farms. 

The Paspaley Pearl was found in 2003. At 20.4mm it was a very large, but the combination of size with luster, quality and beauty gave it the distinction of having a home in the Smithsonian Institute with other historically important pearls such as the La Peregrina and the Hope Pearl.

Australia is the definite market leader for South Sea cultures pearls with about 70% of the total Australian production coming from the Paspaley Company. 


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