Tracking the “Origin Story” of Cultured Pearls

by Reema Farooqui
Provenance Proof

Pearls of Australia Partners with Everledger to Launch the First Ever Provenance Proof Blockchain Digital Platform for Cultured Pearls

Blockchain technology is now an accepted part of the jewellery and gems industry, especially with regards to diamonds and coloured gemstones. However, given the nature of pearls, especially cultured pearls, introducing it within the international pearl industry seemed a pipe dream. That was until December 2021, when Pearls of Australia partnered with Everledger on the first ever blockchain platform for cultured pearls.

Pearls of Australia is a joint venture between Cygnet Bay Pearl farm, Broome Pearl farm and Broken Bay Pearl farm. Established in 2018, Pearls of Australia aims to educate consumers about the Australian pearling industry. Taking this one step further, Pearls of Australia also wants to draw attention to the importance of the source origin and provenance of cultured Australian pearls and their positive impact on ecological sustainability.

Partnering with Everledger, an Australian digital technology company which shares their commitment to transparency in the gem and jewellery industry, Pearls of Australian debuted Provenance Proof, a digital platform that guarantees the origin source and provenance of cultured Australian South Sea pearls and pearl jewellery through blockchain technologies. (The Provenance Proof platform is a joint initiative established by Provenance Proof AG and Everledger.)

“We decided to embark on this provenance journey about a year ago after witnessing years of pearl value eroding in the eyes of consumers when the reality is that producing good quality pearls is getting increasingly difficult,” observed James Brown, Managing Director of Pearls of Australia at the launch of Provenance Proof in December 2021 . “We needed a way to make the value of pearls more visible and enduring beyond the dialogue we have with customers at a single point of time,”

James is also a third generation pearl farmer at his family’s Cygnet Bay Pearl farm and winner of the much coveted Australian Farmer of the Year award for 2021. James has always believed in the importance of provenance, education and transparency in the culturing of Australian pearls. It was this belief led Cygnet Bay Pearl farm to open its doors to the public in 2009, making it the first pearl farm to set up the tourism, retail and pearling model in Australia. Therefore, it is no surprise that James spearheaded the Provenance Proof project at Pearls of Australia in order to faithfully guarantee the origin and provenance of Cygnet Bay’s pearls through blockchain technology.

In my conversation with James and we discussed the Provenance Proof platform and how it aims to change the perception of cultured pearls in the jewellery world.

At Pearls of Australia, you believe that provenance is more than just the place of origin of the pearls – it is sustainability and authenticity, and that this definition will fundamentally change the way pearls are perceived. How do you envision the perception of pearls changing because of the transparency that the Provenance Proof blockchain platform brings with it?

Pearls are different from any other gems because they are born of a living organism. A large part of the emotional bond between pearls and the wearer comes from the fact that the creative process starts underwater. We believe each oyster has a story and that its journey is captured within the multiple layers forming a pearl and is reflected by the unique combination of its visible attributes, or virtues (shape, size, colour, surface and lustre). Interestingly, the blockchain architecture is very similar to that of a pearl and allows to capture both visible and invisible attributes related to the growth and birth of a pearl. Some of the pearl invisible attributes include whether the pearl oyster was wild-caught or born in hatchery, when it was seeded, where it grew a pearl and when it was harvested. Those attributes are extended to details about the creative and manufacturing process as the pearl is incorporated in a piece of jewellery.  The successive transformations and transfers of ownership are also captured and recorded on a statement of provenance describing the journey of each item.

Both pearls and the blockchain are immutable ledgers in their own rights, one is analog, the other one digital. Sustainability and authenticity are two important components to the story we tell, blockchain allows to amplify this story and provide an immersive experience even when we have not (yet) been to a pearl farm.

Beyond the novelty and convenience of a digital statement of provenance, what blockchain brings is a secured tracking of transfers from one owner to the next. Early customer feedback indicates that this feature adds value to both gift-giving and reinforce jewellery heirloom status.

What was the most important issue or challenge that made you consider adopting blockchain technology for the pearls produced at the Pearls of Australia farms?

Blockchain is a recent concept/ technology, primarily known for providing a robust base to cryptocurrencies but which is also applied to diamonds and rare minerals. Those ecosystems operate under strict, consistent, and rational parameters. The world of pearls is more diverse and sometimes more complex and unlike for the 4 C’s of diamonds, gemologists and industry players are still in discussion about how best to capture the uniqueness of each pearl. 

The first step we had to undergo was to define and align the key elements that describe a particular pearl (in this case saltwater cultured pearls) yet simple enough for an end consumer to understand and appreciate.

So, how does the Provenance Proof blockchain platform work for cultured pearls?

Pearls of Australia is a vertically integrated pearling company which has access to wild pearl oyster stock under the strict Australian pearl shell fishing quota system. PoA has also developed hatchery oyster breeding capabilities, seeds its own pearl oysters, looking after them for months until they are harvested, graded, set into finely crafted jewellery and sold through the company’s own urban and on-farm boutiques. The company understood early on the benefits of opening farms to the public and providing full transparency of the pearling process in both its operations for Pinctada maxima and South Sea pearls on the west coast and Pinctada fucata Akoya pearls on the east coast of Australia. Each key element of the production and design process becomes a “data point” captured on the platform and accessible to the buyers, providing extended details about the gem(s) they purchase. 

Provenance Proof
Provenance Proof , Statement of Provenance
What drew Pearls of Australia to collaborate with Everledger on the Provenance Proof project?

The experience and expertise of Everledger -our blockchain partner- in diamonds and coloured stones proved invaluable and made it a perfect fit at a time when more and more consumers are calling for increased transparency about their jewellery, sustainability and authenticity substantiated claims. Both organisations being based in Australia and strongly invested in innovation in their respective fields of expertise made the partnership a great match. 

Can the positive ecological impact of pearl farming be reflected on the blockchain? If so, how?

We know oysters are by essence low input filter-feeders and their impact on ecosystems is positive on multiple levels: they are not required to be feed as they thrive on micro-organisms born of photosynthesis and they retain other potentially harmful nutrients and pollutants which would otherwise lead to long term damage to ocean bottom and surrounding ecosystems. Pearls are often called the only sustainable gems thanks to these oysters driven benefits.

In addition, pearl farms are essentially suspended oyster reefs, from which farmer-driven benefits can deliver community uplift (employment, education, empowerment and inspiration), as well as mitigating pollution, (filtration of course, but also proactive reduce – reuse – recycle action), biodiversity support (habitat creation, protection, conservation and restoration) which extends to climate change mitigation (oyster low net impact combined with carbon footprint assessment and opportunities for insetting and offsetting). Both positive impacts induced by the oyster and/or the farmer’s best practices can be captured and reported as part of each pearl farmer’s commitment to transparency. Specific certifications and accreditation can also be reflected in the blockchain and supported by data captured on-site and in real time.

What type of pearls can we find on the Provenance Proof platform?

We decided to focus our attention on special pearls to validate our approach and gather feedback from customers, initially uploading only premium and unique pearls. The idea was to reach out to a wide selection of customers and engage with them, both on pearl quality and provenance (through visible and invisible virtues) to better understand what and why they were buying. We now have the ability to upload selected pearls and jewellery upon customer request, in addition to the preselected premium and unique pearls uploaded after each harvest. We are exploring solutions to automate and speed-up the process.

What steps are you taking to educate your consumers, both retailers and the end consumers, about the value blockchain adds to the journey of a pearl from farm to final consumer?

The 12 months of development, deployment and feedback gathering have been a unique opportunity to align some of Pearls of Australia data collection, grading and classification protocol but also and maybe more importantly, listen to and further engage with customers. Providing access to extended details about pearl cultivation allowed us to significantly leverage on Pearls of Australia heritage, values, commitment to sustainability and other element of our value proposition, amplifying its resonance to pearl fans and first timers. The company eco-tourism and pearling narrative has been overhauled to incorporate these new elements and features in order to deliver an immersive experience even for clients who can’t visit the farm sites.

Although this is a pilot project, what can we next expect from Pearls of Australia and Everledger as far as this collaboration is concerned?

Now that the platform is up and running and storytelling has been augmented, we need more pearls and pearl jewellery to be uploaded as well as sound and demonstrated authenticity and sustainability claims to be captured and shared. This is only the beginning, access to the platform is opened to other industry players along the value chain. Partnerships are being formed with experts in authenticity and sustainability to provide further confidence about the origin of purchased pearls and their virtues that extend beyond the visible spectrum. The biggest challenge for pearls to stand-out from other gems has been the lack of education about their uniqueness and diversity and relative opacity about their origin and specificities. We are convinced that lifting the veil on provenance through our partnership with Everledger will bring a renewed interest in pearls and provide access to a new generation of customers. As far as sustainable gems, nothing comes anywhere close to a pearl…

The Provenance Proof platform continues to add more unique and top quality cultured South Sea pearls to its database and making this technology available to other players in the pearl market including retailers, jewellery designers and final consumers.

You can follow Pearls of Australia, Everledger and Provenance Proof on Instagram at @pearlsofaustralia , @everledger and @provenanceproof_official

Featured Image: South Sea Pearl Bracelet, Cygnet Bay Pearls, Pearls of Australia

A big thank you to Pierre Fallourd at The Sustainable Value Generator for making this interview possible.

All images used in this article are the property of Pearls of Australia and/or Everledger . Any person or organization not affiliated with Pearls of Australia and/or Everledger may not use, copy, alter or modify any of the images used in this post, without the advance written permission of Pearls of Australia and/or Everledger.

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