The Pearl & Golay
The pearl is a Golay product since the beginning of the company in 1887.
When the cultured pearl appeared in the early 20th century, Louis-Auguste Golay was instrumental in introducing this new generation of pearls to the European market.
Today, the Golay Group represents the world's largest global pearl network with trading centers worldwide dealing in a comprehensive range of cultured pearls and pearl jewellery.
Pearls we see nowadays in fine jewellery shops are mostly cultured pearls. Natural pearls are rare and mainly seen in antique jewellery.
Cultured pearls, like natural pearls, develop and grow within pearl oysters in a natural environment. While the formation of a natural pearl is the result of a small particle accidentally getting into an oyster provoking the growth of nacre around the particle, the growth of a cultured pearl is initiated by man through the implant of a piece of mantle tissue often together with a round shell bead. The oyster envelops the implant with layers of nacre and yields a cultured pearl.
The first cultured pearls came from Japan, where the techniques of growing pearls were developed about 100 years ago.
The pearl oyster species used in Japan to produce Akoya pearls is Pinctada fucata. These Akoya oysters, which are no bigger than the palm of a hand, yield mostly round lustrous Akoya pearls from 3 up to 9 mm in diameter.
Similar oyster species are found in China and Vietnam, where Akoya pearls are also cultivated nowadays.
South Sea Pearls
In the 20th century, some pioneers adapted and developed pearl growing techniques outside of Japan, in Australia, Myanmar (formerly Burma), Indonesia and the Philippines. After an interruption during the Second World War, the South Sea pearl industry experienced significant growth in the past 30 years.
Pearl producers found in these oceans bigger pearl oysters the size of a hand and some as big as a dinner plate. These big oysters named Pinctada maxima can grow large pearls from 9 to 15 mm for the majority, while exceptional pearls can reach beyond 20 mm in diameter.
Pearls originating from these oceans are called South Sea pearls. Pearl colors depend on the oyster species and the environment they live in. The white-lipped South Sea species yields mainly white pearls with a silver, pink, blue, gray or green tint. The yellow-lipped species yields cream, yellow or golden pearls.
The pearl cultivation techniques reached Tahiti in French Polynesia in the 1960s. At that time, pearl scientists found in the South Pacific Ocean a pearl oyster species with dark shells known as Pinctada margaritifera.
These black-lipped oysters give a range of dark-coloured pearls, from black to brown, gray or silver blue, some with an overtone of red, blue or green.
Those pearls of dark colours, mostly from 4 to 12 mm and some beyond 15 mm in diameter, are usually referred to as Tahitian pearls, although they are also cultivated in other lagoons in the South Pacific apart from French Polynesia.
While Akoya, South Sea and Tahitian pearls are grown in oceans, experiments to grow pearls in freshwater ponds, lakes and rivers started in Japan in the 1920s. The first freshwater pearls were harvested in Lake Biwa in Japan.
Because of industrial development and high production costs in Japan, freshwater pearls are now produced mainly in China.
The pearl mussels used for the cultivation of freshwater pearls, Hyriopsis cumingii, are white, pink, peach or purple and yield pearls in these colours. Pearl sizes range from 4 to 12 mm in diameter, with exceptional ones reaching up beyond 15 mm.
In contrast to seawater pearls, the growth of most freshwater pearls is triggered by implants of mantle tissue only, without shell nucleus. As a result, the majority of freshwater pearls are fully made of layers of nacre.