Marl­bor­ough

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Known as one of the rarest cul­tured pearls in the world, Br­ere­ton blue pearls are unique to the Marl­bor­ough re­gion at the top of New Zealand’s South Is­land.

Un­known to many peo­ple, nes­tled next to the nav­i­ga­tion bea­cons which guide many ves­sels en­ter­ing the Marl­bor­ough Sounds and the Port of Pic­ton, lays the only farm in the world to pro­duce Br­ere­ton blue pearls.

For­merly known as an Akaroa blue pearl, the Br­ere­ton blue pearl has ar­guably the high­est lustre of any pearl and is one of the rarest cul­tured pearls in the world. Grown in our en­demic abalone species, known lo­cally as paua, and unique to Marl­bor­ough New Zealand, these rare gems are a wor­thy ad­di­tion to any jew­ellery col­lec­tion.

The Br­ere­ton’s premium qual­ity pearls are cur­rently only avail­able through their Pic­ton re­tail out­let lo­cated at 2 Lon­don Quay, Pic­ton, or via in­quiry or on­line store www.pearls.kiwi

A pas­sion for per­fec­tion

Al­though trained in the Otago re­gion and orig­i­nally from the South is­land’s West Coast, Mur­ray Br­ere­ton chose to es­tab­lish his first store in 1986, just south of Ti­maru in the ru­ral farm­ing town­ship of Wai­mate.

Feel­ing the need for a change af­ter a visit to the small sea­side town of Akaroa in 1995, Mur­ray shifted the business to a shop on the main street, and then into cus­tom built premises on the main wharf where it re­mained for well over a decade.

It was here Mur­ray met his wife Carmel and saw the beauty and po­ten­tial in New Zealand’s rare blue pearl. Over the fol­low­ing years, Mur­ray would forge a suc­cess­ful jew­ellery business that fo­cused on hand-

set­ting the pearls into high-qual­ity orig­i­nal pieces made on site from pre­dom­i­nately 18ct gold, ster­ling sil­ver and, oc­ca­sion­ally, plat­inum.

With an in­crease in de­mand but ever di­min­ish­ing qual­ity and quan­tity avail­able from sup­pli­ers, it was clear a change was needed within the in­dus­try to en­sure that cus­tomer’s needs and ex­pec­ta­tions were met and sat­is­fied well into the fu­ture.

With help from like minded in­di­vid­u­als, Br­ere­ton’s has led New Zealand’s blue pearl sales and de­vel­op­ment through in­no­va­tion, de­sign and pas­sion.

With the de­ci­sion made to se­cure a source of top qual­ity pearls for the fu­ture and the Christchurch earth­quake leav­ing Akaroa staff on edge, the business was re­lo­cated to Pic­ton to be closer to the source and a fam­ily of ded­i­cated Paua pearl and meat pro­duc­ers.

Al­ready lo­cated in ar­guably the best lo­ca­tion in New Zealand to pro­duce pearls, the Tory chan­nel, and open to try­ing new tech­niques, ideas and pro­cesses to in­crease yields, it was a log­i­cal and pro­duc­tive move which made the Br­ere­ton’s business be­come the first jewellers in the world to have blue pearls pro­duced for them and de­liv­ered via raw ‘in shell’ form ready to be pro­cessed by their own cus­tom built equip­ment.

The pearl and jew­ellery process

The process of cul­tur­ing a Br­ere­ton pearl be­gins with wild paua (of min­i­mum le­gal size or larger) be­ing se­lected from the wild then im­planted with a shell, plas­tic or resin-based form. This acts as an ir­ri­tant in­side the paua, which it cov­ers with lay­ers of con­chi­olin and nacre, the nec­es­sary in­gre­di­ents to cre­ate a pearl.

Then the wait­ing game be­gins. The paua are fed raw nat­u­ral seaweed and checked twice a day to make sure their en­vi­ron­ment is up to stan­dard and that they are eat­ing enough. This stage is im­por­tant as paua can eat up to half their body weight each week and if they be­come stressed, eat­ing is the first thing they stop do­ing. How much food paua eat is used as an in­di­ca­tor of the har­vest’s con­di­tion.

Un­like other pearls, a Br­ere­ton blue pearl is grown for a min­i­mum of 3 years un­der the watch­ful and car­ing eyes of their grow­ers. This is to en­sure that each and ev­ery pearl is of a qual­ity thick­ness be­fore it is har­vested, metic­u­lously graded then hand­set by the Br­ere­ton fam­ily’s pro­fes­sional team in their Pic­ton work­shop.

Af­ter the meat is har­vested, the pearls are pro­cessed us­ing spe­cialised ma­chines de­vel­oped in house which cut the pearls with .01 of a mil­lime­ter ac­cu­racy in in­cre­ment­ing half mil­lime­ter sizes. The pearls are graded ac­cord­ing to a strict but easy to fol­low grad­ing struc­ture also de­vel­oped by Br­ere­ton’s. The pearls are then recorded via an im­planted RFID tag in­serted dur­ing pro­cess­ing to mark the pearl as a Br­ere­ton Blue Pearl for cus­tomer and val­uers iden­ti­fi­ca­tion use in the fu­ture.

The hard task of pro­duc­ing and pro­cess­ing the pearls is done, but the work is not fin­ished yet.

From here spe­cialised jewellers will se­lect pearls and choose de­signs to best com­pli­ment the size, colours, lustre and char­ac­ter of each pearl ei­ther for stock or as ‘made to or­der’ pieces for cus­tomers, all done on site in a work­shop that is open for you to view.

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