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Origin Determination for Pearls

October 21, 2013

The Swiss Gemmological Institute SSEF announced recently that they’ve mastered the extraction of oyster DNA, allowing them to trace pearls to their various origins.

The Basel-based laboratory said it worked with researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich ETHZ to recover minute amounts of DNA from a wide range of pearls: Pinctada maxima, Pinctada margaritifera and Akoya oysters, which are the most important species in the trade of natural and cultured marine pearls, as well as Pinctada radiata from the Arabian/Persian Gulf, Pinctada maxima from Australia and Indonesia and Pinctada margaritifera from Fiji and French Polynesia.

SSEF funded the two-year oyster DNA research project, which was led by Joana Meyer of ETHZ Zurich and Laurent Cartier of SSEF. The center point of the study was the development of a non-destructive method to extract DNA from the oysters while at the same time preserving the value of the tested pearls. In one sample, 10 mg of powder was enough to successfully identify the pearl-oyster species using its DNA.

SSEF Director Michael Krzemnicki said these new methods give the lab an advantage when it comes to distinguishing different types of pearls and for the future documentation of historic pearls. He said the lab hopes to add DNA typing as a client service in the near future.

The results of the DNA study were published in international open-access journal PLoS ONE and the technology currently is being patented.

This development builds upon another pearl research project conducted by SSEF to determine the age of pearls. That research recently was published in the international journal Radiocarbon, and further research is underway on a larger number of pearl samples of different ages.

The lab said both of these methods, the DNA fingerprinting and the age determination, will improve traceability in the pearl industry and offer new way to document the provenance of both natural and cultured pearls.

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