A CENTRAL Coast company producing some of the best cultured Akoya pearls in the world is having its moment in the sun thanks to investment from the west coast.
Cygnet Bay Pearls, based on the Kimberley coast and headed by third generation pearl farmer and marine biologist James Brown, recently became a major shareholder in Woy Woy-based Broken Bay Pearls.
Founded in 2003 by oyster farmers Ian and Rose Crisp with two others, Broken Bay Pearls is the only NSW company to produce Akoya cultured pearls, first produced in the early 1900s by Kokichi Mikimoto in Japan.
With Cygnet Bay Pearls now in partnership alone with the Crisps, the company will unleash a “raft of tools” to promote its pearls, which Mr Brown says are superior to those being produced in China and Japan.
“Most of that [Asian] product is heavily treated ... then they bleach and dye them to make them look good and even in that market, any Akoya product that is not treated is worth more,” says Mr Brown.
“The Australian version is a premium product on an international scale because it doesn’t require any post farm treatment; it has wonderful natural virtues of lustre, colour, skin, surface and shape.”
The Department of Primary Industries is supporting the NSW aquaculture industry and Broken Bay pearls, which are spawned in a DPI hatchery.
In what is a complex seeding process, a pearl technician places a graft tissue and a shell nuclei into an oyster which allows a pearl sac to form. The seeding process generally occurs in February and they are harvested in July the next year.
The Brisbane Estuary is an ideal breeding area due to factors including salinity, but the risk is high.
“It’s organic farming at its best and then when floods come a change in salinity will knock [pearls] them over really, really quickly. From temperature changes to predators, there are a range of things that can pop up and wipe you out,” Mr Brown says. “And that’s before you even start thinking of the subtleties of grafting tissue into the oyster and the delicate touch you have to have for a year or two while you are growing a pearl.”
As to why the pearls are grown only in Broken Bay in NSW, he remains tight-lipped: “It’s for a range of reasons and some of them we don’t want to disclose because we lead the industry.”
Mr Brown, 40, brings his family’s “heritage of innovation” to the table. He says the NSW industry is at a “starting point” compared to the west coast.
“There’s an enormous amount of innovation to do to … figure out whether it will be a big success.”