Following the successful research projects carried out by the Swiss Gemological Institute (SSEF) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich ETHZ on DNA fingerprinting and identifying the mother oyster species from which pearls originated and another research project on age determination of pearls carried out by Dr. Michael S. Krzemnicki, Director of SSEF and Dr. Irka Hajdas from the Ion Beam Physics Lab of ETH Zurich, The Swiss Gemological Institute has announced the addition of a new client service catering to its worldwide clientale, viz. Age dating of pearls using Carbon-14. SSEF is offering this important service in partnership with Ion Beam Physics Lab of ETH Zurich which participated in the reseaarch and development of this technique. The Swiss Gemological Institute becomes the first gem testing laboratory in the world to introduce the age dating of pearls.

Dr. Michael S. Krzemnicki - Director of SSEF
Dr. Michael S. Krzemnicki – Director of SSEF

The age dating of pearls can provide valuable information to the pearl industry in respect of the age of not only loose pearls but also pearls mounted in jewelry. It can provide supporting evidence for the historic provenance of pearls mounted in antique jewelry and also iconic natural pearls. Age dating can also be used to detect any fraudulent activities in the pearl jewelry industry,such as mounting cultured younger pearls in antique historical jewelry items or the treatment of younger pearls to appear older than cultured pearls farmed in the 20th-century. Age dating can also provide supporting evidence to decide whether a given pearl is of natural or cultured origin, given the fact that commercial cultivation of pearls using certain bivalve mollusc species began only during the 20th-century. Hence, a pearl that is found to have originated in the 20th-century is most probably a cultured pearl, and highly unlikely to be a natural pearl.

Among the oldest natural pearls detected by SSEF using the Carbon-14 technique are pearls recovered from the Cirebon shipwreck off the island of Java in Indonesia, which were determined to be of 11th-century origin, almost one thousand years ago.

Director of SSEF, Dr. Michael S. Krzemnicki commenting on the new client service, said, “We are honored to be able to offer this new service to the international pearl trade. It is an opportunity to document the provenance of unique and iconic natural pearls, as well as further protecting the natural pearl trade.”

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