A day down on the farm (pearl farm that is!)

 

When Valentine asked us if we would like to see her pearl farm we jumped at the chance – having no idea how pearls are ‘cultivated'. We arrived on the motu to find Valentine setting up her ‘workshop'. This consisted of a wooden bench rather like a dressing table which she was washing down with fresh water and bleach. She then prepared her instruments – rather like a range of dental equipment – sterilizing them in fresh water and betadine.  Once these were set up and in place we waited for the oysters to arrive.

       Valentine sterilising equipment       Workbench all set up- just need the oysters!          Wedges being sterilised

Gaston had been out diving on the ‘farm' and brought back 2 square wire nets. Between the 2 nets and attached with cable ties were the oysters. Phillipe and Michel then started to work on the oysters – they scraped the shells of any barnacle growth and then pried them open with a flat blunt knife and inserted a wedge into the opening. Any shell which was damaged or diseased, they opened up fully and took out the pearl and threw the shell away.

     Removing oysters from the net                      Scraping off the barnacles                           Diseased oyster

Valentine then got to work on the good oysters. Clamping them with a special clamp she teased the pearl from the oyster with the precision of a surgeon (well I guess it is a medical procedure). Once she had persuaded the animal to give up it's pearl, she then replaced it with a shell ball (perfectly round ball of shell produced in Japan ) and closed the oyster. These were then re-attached to the nets and taken back out to the farm to grow for approximately 18 months.

               Clamping the oyster                    There's the pearl - it's a black one!                Lifting the pearl out

The pearls were cleaned in a bowl of salt and then fresh water.

                       Got it!                               The black pearl (well dark grey!)                     Washing in salt

 

Valentine explained that the colours come from the part of the mantle (the organ which produces the mother of pearl to create the shell which allows the oyster to grow) which is used on the first ‘seeding' of the oyster. In Polynesia they use a black lipped oyster which has mantle tissue with a range of colours from white to green, aubergine and black at the outer edge of the shell. On the first seeding, the shell ball is inserted through a slit into the gonad of the oyster together with a small piece of mantle from another oyster (the colour of the mantle produces the colour of the pearl).

                                         The shell balls for seeding                         The day's takings

The animal produces mother of pearl around the shell ball which eventually forms the pearl. The first seeding has a 40% chance of producing a pearl. The second seeding has a 70% chance of success and although this could be done numerous times, it is normally only seeded twice as the quality and colour of the pearl deteriorates with each seeding (the subsequent seedings do not have more mantle added). It took the whole morning for Valentine to work on around 40 oysters – out of which around 15 were diseased (but several had pearls in them) so she was able to re-seed and put back about 25. This gave her a total of around 30 pearls – many of which were mis-shaped or marked. She has a total of around 20,000 oysters to work on so you can imagine the time and hard work it takes – so it's understandable with today's poor market why she wants to give it up.

She told us to come back later that day and bring a bottle of rum. Not only did she ‘swop' the rum for half a dozen pearls but she made them into little necklaces for us! What a fabulous souvenir of our time at Anse Amiott.

 

 

         Back to flotsam.................