FOUR oyster farmers on the Central Coast are changing the face of the Australian pearl industry by successfully cultivating in the waters of Broken Bay.
The Australian cultured pearl industry is predominantly located in Western Australia (centred on Broome), and the Northern Territory, but the men behind Broken Bay Pearls have now put the Central Coast on the industry map.
Oyster farmers Ian Crisp, Roger Clarke, Peter Clift and Denis Paterson are harvesting their fourth crop in Brisbane Water this week and are expected to collect between 10,000 and 20,000 pearls over about seven days.
The pearls retail in jewellery stores for anywhere between $300 to $1500, for a pair of gold and pearl earrings, to $8000 for a quality strand.
While still a relatively small producer, Broken Bay Pearls is the only company cultivating pearls in NSW and Mr Crisp believes this is due to the pristine environment in Broken Bay.
“Site selection and a good environment is critical to pearl production. You need high water quality and a catchment not affected too much by fresh water to succeed,” he said.
The farmers, who began their pearl operation in 2005, are now producing world-class Akoya pearls with natural colours and superior lustre to that of many imported Akoya pearls from Asia, which have been bleached or artificially coloured.
Mr Crisp is finding his company’s niche is in the middle market of the pearl industry with large South Sea Pearls occupying the top end and the imported freshwater pearls the bottom end.
Broken Bay Pearls has secured leading Australian jewellers Percy Marks as its national wholesaler and sell in jewellery stores in most capital cities with the vision to eventually expand overseas.
However as a luxury item, pearls and the companies that produce them have suffered more in recent years due to the global financial crisis.
The Broken Bay Pearls take about four years to produce. The oyster spat is obtained from the Fisheries Research Station in Port Stephens. At two years seeding takes place and then it takes a further two years for the pearl to grow.