The era of the cultured pearl, a far more sustainable and ecologically conscious method of sourcing the world’s most lustrous gems, began at the turn of the twentieth century. Through the pioneering work of early Japanese technicians and pearlers, the industry could now meet the global demand for genuine pearls without threatening vulnerable natural populations of oysters. But like any inventor, the Japanese zealously guarded their process to culture pearls and solidified their control through a decree that came to be known as the Diamond Policy.
The Diamond Policy had as its objective the national preservation and control of the cultured pearl industry – from technology to operations – in Japanese hands. Knowing that the demand for cultured pearls would inevitably expand worldwide, the Japanese allowed for the export of this know-how only when three criteria were met.
The Diamond Policy Principles
The following provisions guaranteed virtual monopoly control over the cultured pearl industry:
- Japan and Japan alone would market cultured pearls, regardless of their provenance or country of origin.
- Japan would administer and manage cultured pearling operations across the globe. No matter where the enterprises were located, only Japanese citizens stationed on those farms were allowed to possess the knowledge of how to culture pearls.
- The process and technology needed to culture pearls, particularly the implementation of the nucleus, could only be passed on to other Japanese citizens.
This injunction lasted for nearly 40 years, ensuring that everything from the seeding operation to the processing and marketing of pearls fell under the auspices of the Japanese government. Japanese citizens, who went so far as to curtain windows and operate behind closed doors to prevent any unpermitted espionage, completed all critical processes on pearl farms the world over.
The Fall of the Diamond Policy and the Rise of Modern Pearling
Eventually, Japan’s iron grip on the industry began to wane and pearl farms from French Polynesia to Australia began to take control of entire pearling operations. The financial crisis that rocked Asian markets in the 1990s diverted government will and resources away from enforcement of the Diamond Policy. But the legacy is still felt, with Japanese technicians peppered across the seas and still actively sought for their insight and ability. This newfound freedom is allowing pearlers to experiment with new methods and techniques to improve pearl size, shape, luster, and color. We can’t wait to see what the oyster reveals next!
Image credit: Chameleon’s Eye.