Nicholas Paspaley Snr, with sister Mary circa 1937
As a refugee, the late Nicholas Paspaley Snr, crossed the world’s oceans from a tiny island in Greece to realise his destiny on the remote northern coast of Australia, where rich pearl beds teemed with life and hidden treasures.
In the 1930s, with the bold vision of a young entrepreneur, 19-year-old Nicholas bought his very first pearling lugger. At the time, Broome, Cossack and Darwin were the world’s most significant pearling ports. At its peak, the 80 Mile Beach and Broome area accounted for 75% of the world’s mother-of-pearl production, with over 400 vessels collecting up to 2,000 tonnes per annum.
In the 1950s, demand for mother-of-pearl shell dropped dramatically and the pearling industry was all but decimated. Navigating the perils of hardhat diving, frequent cyclones and other adversities, Paspaley embarked on a journey that would revolutionise pearling forever.
Paspaley lugger, The Pam
A hardhat diver, circa 1940
Our divers have scoured the seabeds off Australia’s northwest in search of the rare Pinctada maxima oyster for over 80 years.
Our Chairman, Nick Paspaley AC, has fond memories of a familiar scene from his childhood. Returning from days at sea to the famed pearling port of Darwin, his father (Nicholas Paspaley, MBE) and fellow pearlers would spend many an evening inspecting the prize of their latest adventure. Entranced by the beauty of a natural pearl, they would discuss its beauty, lustre and virtues.
In the 1950’s, Nick watched as his father’s domain of the natural pearl was destroyed by man’s love of the treasure. Overfishing and the invention of the plastic button eventually destroyed the industry, pushing the world’s natural pearl beds to virtual extinction.
It was within this landscape that innovation and dramatic change emerged – cultivating pearls would become the primary focus of a new Australian pearling industry, inspired by the success of this approach in Japan.
The Paspaley fleet on the water’s off Australia’s northwest
Nicholas Paspaley AC, sorting and grading the annual pearl harvest
Nicholas Paspaley AC with the Paspaley Pearl, circa 2003
This quest for a partnership between man and nature was riddled with challenges. The intricacies of the solitary Pinctada maxima pearl oyster, found only in the Kimberley – one of Mother Nature’s most remote and challenging environments – demanded years of devotion and patience to unravel.
Partnering with Japanese experts in the 1950s, we continued to develop unique pearl cultivation techniques, with a focus on quality.
Today, Paspaley is the world’s most important producer of cultured pearls. Although the gems remain in the South Sea pearl category, Paspaley’s pearls have become a category of their own, due to the superior and widely recognised quality. As a result, these gems are most commonly recognised simply as Paspaley Pearls.