Flat handle pearl inserter

Production date
Pre 1980s
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Object detail

Pearl culture tool. Flat metal handle, circular head. Used to remove the pearl from the oyster.
CH classification MARITIME TECHNOLOGY Pearling implanting tools
Production date
Pre 1980s
Production place
O/A length 225mm
Media/Materials description
Metal rod and tip
History and use
Pearl cultivation involves surgically implanting a small shell bead with a small piece of mantle tissue into a live oyster. This bead becomes the nucleus, and the oyster then secretes layers of nacre (‘mother of pearl’) around it, eventually forming the cultivated pearl.

The implantation process required high attention to detail and expert knowledge of the procedure. Each pearl culture tool had a specific purpose:
1. The shell would begin to open when ready, and the shell opener/speculum would be used to pry the shell open
2. The spatula would then be used to hold back the mantle and gills of the oyster during the implantation process
3. The lancet needle is used to make a sharp incision at the base of the foot of the oyster, and to cut a channel through the tissues up to the spot where the nucleus will be planted. The graft lifting needle then picks up the small graft tissue and inserts it to the implantation site
4. The retractor is used to hold the foot of the oyster in a stretched position during the operation
5. The nucleus inserter is moistened by dipping in sea water and touched on the dry surface of the nucleus, which immediately adheres to it. The cup end of the inserter is inserted into the channel through the incision, and the nucleus is placed in contact with the tissue graft.

Bill Shibasaki donated this collection of pearl culture tools to the Museum of Tropical Queensland, after their long term display from the 1990s-2007. Shibasaki used the pearl cultivation tools from the 1980s to the mid-1990s in the Torres Strait. While managing Ocean Gems, Shibasaki learned the cultivation process from local pearl technicians.
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