The al­lure of pearls re­mains strong, with no gem more cov­eted than the ra­di­ant Aus­tralian South Sea pearl.

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As­trand of pearls is an es­sen­tial el­e­ment of a clas­si­cally el­e­gant wardrobe, an heir­loom and a mark of so­phis­ti­ca­tion. For thou­sands of years, they have rep­re­sented wis­dom, pu­rity and per­fec­tion. They are born of the ocean, com­plete, alluring and iri­des­cent with an in­ner glow.

But the story of the Aus­tralian South Sea pearl, the most cov­eted of th­ese liv­ing gems, is far from sim­ple. Broome was built on the white-lipped pinc­tada max­ima oys­ter, but it wasn’t the pearl the lug­gers were orig­i­nally seek­ing amid the huge trop­i­cal tides, but its shell.

Mother-of-pearl was par­tic­u­larly prized for but­tons in a pre-plas­tic world. In Ja­pan, Ko­kichi Miki­moto had suc­cess cul­tur­ing Akoya oys­ters (and closely guarded this se­cret), but this prac­tice was seen as a threat to the boom­ing shelling in­dus­try and was out­lawed in 1922 in Western Aus­tralia.

In 1949, the law was re­pealed; de­mand for the shell had all but van­ished. En­ter­pris­ing pearling mas­ters be­gan to ex­per­i­ment with the cul­tur­ing process, with Dean and Lyn­don Brown of Cygnet Bay hav­ing the first suc­cess. They helped na­ture along by em­bed­ding a nu­cleus of Mis­sis­sippi clam shell into wild oys­ters.

To pro­tect it­self from the ir­ri­tant, the oys­ter pro­duces nacre: crys­tals of cal­cium car­bon­ate that are laid down with per­fect con­sis­tency to cre­ate that dis­tinc­tive in­ner ra­di­ance. South Sea Keshi pearl Kim­ber­ley Lily 18ct white gold dou­ble pen­dant. RRP $1180 www.cygnet­bay­

Www.lin­ www.jew­el­soft­hekim­ber­

Ster­ling sil­ver and pearl ring. RRP $3700 Rhodium-plated ster­ling sil­ver and South Sea Keshi pearl Pipit ear­rings. RRP $550

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