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Myanmar gains traction in South Sea pearl sector

2 December 2019

Translated by Bernardette Sto. Domingo

JNA talks to two of Myanmar’s leading pearl farms to highlight the rising significance of the country’s golden South Sea pearls in the trade.

Pearl farmers

Pearl lots from Niino Pearl Culturing Company Ltd

A golden pearl from Orient Pearl Co Ltd

Golden South Sea pearls from Orient Pearl Co Ltd

Jarlann pearl farm owned by Orient Pearl Co Ltd


Myanmar's golden South Sea pearls are making headways in the global marketplace, thanks to their exceptional lustre and mesmerising colour. Over the years, these natural gems, farmed from the country’s Mergui Archipelago, have made their way into many designers' product portfolios as centrepieces of remarkable jewellery pieces.

According to Koichi Niino Ye Htun, marketing director at Myanmar-based Niino Pearl Culturing Company Ltd, there is room for further growth in the pearl sector, with Myanmar becoming a formidable player in the international arena.

Terence Lee, director of Orient Pearl Co Ltd, meanwhile cited the pearl's natural beauty as its most endearing trait. “Pearls are jewels from the ocean. They are simple yet elegant. Each pearl comes from the hard work, devotion and passion of pearl farmers,” he continued.

Pride of Myanmar

The pearl farming business is not without challenges. Niino Pearl, which began operations in 1993, said the main hurdle faced by pearl producers are natural occurrences, which affect the oysters and the quality of pearls that they produce.

Niino Ye Htun remarked, “We work in an environment where we have to be constantly cautious of natural disasters and extreme weather conditions as oysters can be severely affected by fluctuating water temperatures.”

Energy consumption and waste management are also major concerns, he added. In terms of trading, pearl farmers likewise have to contend with ongoing macroeconomic upheavals, which are denting worldwide sales.

Good-quality pearls however continue to fetch decent prices at auctions, which means buyers still put a premium on top-grade products.

“Our priority is to maintain the high quality of pearls that we harvest, more than the quantity,” revealed Niino Ye Htun. “We can always increase production, but we will make sure that every pearl is of exceptional quality because the market is on the lookout for such high-grade pearls.”

The company is also setting its sights on achieving sustainable growth and improving its social responsibility efforts.

Lee of Orient Pearl reiterated the environmental difficulties faced by pearl farmers today.

The company, established in 1998, has more than two decades of experience in South Sea pearl farming. Its founder, Myint Lwin, is a marine biologist, which played a big part in managing a successful pearl farm, according to Lee. Pearl farming requires an ideal location but other factors such as water quality, temperature, food source and current, must also be considered.

“Establishing a pearl farm in 1998 was a mammoth task due to limited technology and infrastructure, which are vital to developing a remote island into a well-established pearl farm,” noted Lee.

At the time, divers collected the wild oysters manually and some oysters were too old to create pearls. On top of this, there was oyster scarcity. After a few years, Orient Pearl managed to establish an oyster hatchery laboratory, which aided in producing oysters.

More recently, farmers face the challenge of a genetic variation of oysters that yields a wider range of colours. In 1998, pearls from wild oysters had more distinct colours, he noted. Modern pearlers also face tough competition from an increased output of South Sea pearl farms around the world since oyster hatchery techniques were introduced.

“Pearls are no longer as rare as before, with mass manufacturing affecting market prices. As such, our company produces only fine-quality pearls to stand out from the rest. We are also developing a research lab to support a more sustainable business,” stated Lee.

The proliferation of artificial and modified pearls in the market also poses a threat to the business.

For 2020, Orient Pearl is eyeing to participate in more auctions and trade shows to keep their finger on the pulse of trends in the pearl sector.

With declining pearl prices and an increase in production costs, it has become even more imperative for pearl farmers to deliver South Sea pearls of superior quality to maintain their resplendent spot in the global jewellery trade, remarked Lee.