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Pearls of Wisdom – Bill Reed

Bill Reed grew up in Queensland, Australia and studied Fisheries Biology and took a job with Fisheries Dept in PNG. During this time he made a survey of pearl oysters and trochus shells in Trobriand Archipelago of SE Papua. However he acquired Malaria and was told to go to a dry climate. He then traveled to Sudan, and was working with FAO of UN in Red Sea coast, where it hadn’t rained for 3 years. Followed the work and research of Dr Cyril Crossland a pioneer of spat collection and pearl shell rearing and found a few natural pearls which I showed to David Normans father, Boris Norman, who was a great influence on my life. He was even witness or best man at my wedding. Boris introduced me to Jacques Rosenthal who arranged for me visit Tahiti where I surveyed black-lip pearl oyster stocks on one of the many atolls. Rosenthal, together with several other Tahitian businessmen, financed an experimental pearl farm at Manihi in the Tuamotu Archipelago. I explained to French/Tahitian authorities that the naturally-grown wild oysters were so varied in size and quality that it would be advisable to attempt to collect the post-larval stage of pearl oysters so that they were almost all the same size and hence were much simpler to inseminate with similar-sized nuclei. I had done this at Dongonab Bay in the Sudanese Red Sea. After five years working with the French/Tahitian authorities I finished my contract and, together with several French and Chinese businessmen I started a pearl farm in the far distant Gambier Archielago near to where the French were conducting atomic bombs tests and there was an airstrip servicing the French scientists. With a wife and young family I managed to sell the pearl farm to a wealthy and adventurous Tahitian/Chinese entrepreneur, Robert Wan who, after a few years, was the largest producer of cultured pearls in the world, producing as much as five tons of pearls annually. With my young family, I returned to my homeland in Australia and was offered a position to examine the reasons for the high mortality of pearl oysters in the largest pearl farm in Australia at Kuri Bay, a remote inlet several hundred miles north of Broome, the nearest town in Western Australia. After helping to solve this problem my contract was ended, but what to do next? The divers collecting the wild pearl oysters in sea off the 80mile Beach were a rough, tough band of former abalone divers. I chose the toughest and best of them, John Lowe, and talked to him about setting up our own pearl farm. A brave former cray fisherman/ entrepreneur, Michael Kailis, agreed to help finance the project and we were on our way. In those days the only market for Australian pearls was in Japan and the totality of our crops was exported. While searching for a new place to establish another pearl farm I fell and broke my leg. Feeling extremely depressed and knowing not what to do, John suggested that he wheel me down to our workshop in town and put up a sign PEARLS FOR SALE. The local Broome residents thought this was great and we sold a large part of our harvest at retail prices which was several times more that we would have received if we had exported them to Japan. When I recovered from the broken leg I was ready to go back to the pearl farm, but my partners suggested that we find an enterprising jeweller and start a pearl jewellery store. There are now at least ten jewellery stores in Broome selling local pearls. There also quite a few pearl wholesale dealers in the capital cities selling to jewellery manufacturers. The Australian South Sea pearls are still exported to many countries but at least half of the Australian pearl production is sold locally and Australian pearls are justly recognized as the finest pearls in the world. During the past decade we have developed techniques to spawn pearl oysters in hatcheries. We select particular oysters which have a white-pink nacre and are the fastest growers. We select female oysters that have these particular characters and induce them to spawn and be fertilized by male oysters with the same characteristics. A couple of years later, the mantle or graft tissue from these oysters is used to inseminate or inserted into the gonads of other ordinary pearl oysters and the pearls that they produce have the same characteristics as the graft tissue. In earlier times about 20% of local pearls were baroque or irregular shaped whereas nowadays more than 40% of our pearls are perfect in shape and of a white/pink colour which is the most desirable and the most expensive.