Famed French fashion icon, Coco Chanel, once said:  “A woman needs ropes and ropes of pearls.”

It is perhaps, for this very same reason, that pearl farming has helped to lift a seaside village out of poverty in South China’s Guangdong province.

Nanzhu, or south pearl in English, refers to the pearls produced in the Beibu Gulf off the coast of the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region and Leizhou peninsula of Zhanjiang in Guangdong, China Daily reported.

“We’re going for quality over quantity, for the high-end Nanzhu,” said He Debian who founded Zunding Pearl Co. Ltd. in Liusha village on the Leizhou peninsula in 2017.

In late July, workers were busy harvesting pearls at the pearl farm. The harvest took place earlier than usual, because of the scorching heat. “The temperature goes up quickly, killing the living creatures,” he said. “Oysters thrive in temperatures between 10 C and 30 C. When the temperature goes higher, oysters die.”

The task of cultivating the right conditions for cultured seawater pearls has always been a big challenge, requiring reformed mollusk-farming practices, close production process control, and specific natural conditions.

As early as 2014, He cooperated with marine institutes to develop seawater pearl oysters, which are less vulnerable to the environment and more sustainable, the report said.

“We have improved 70 percent of the oysters at the pearl farm of 40 hectares, increasing the survival rate from 20 percent to more than 40 percent over the years,” he said.

He gives oysters to villagers, who grow them for about a year and a half before inserting the nuclei. The company then organizes the artificial “seeding,” harvest and pearl sales.

The improved cultured pearls sell at 18,000 yuan (US$2,510) per kilogram on average compared to 5,800 yuan previously.

In 2018, the company made a profit of 15%, with 35 million yuan of annual turnover. Participating villagers can become company shareholders and benefit from the profits.

“I have increased my income. Now, I have some extra money to build savings,” said Wang Qinying, who works in pearl quality control.

In the past decade, Nanzhu production has decreased dramatically.

“The prevalence of interbreeding across generations caused the mollusks to decrease in size. Prematurely inserted irritant beads and abbreviated farming practices led to smaller, low-quality pearls that paled in comparison to their larger freshwater counterparts,” He said.

The company employs 300 people, including those from 50 impoverished families in the village. After getting reliable work, all the families have been lifted out of poverty.

A pearl industry park is expected to be built in the village in September, to create a pearl industry cluster, and develop pearl-themed tourism by attracting more investors.

According to Bourdage Pearls, a seawater pearl is a pearl produced by a saltwater mollusk in a saline environment. The three most common types of saltwater pearls are Akoya pearls, Tahitian pearls and South Sea pearls. The shape of the saltwater pearl is naturally more round than freshwater cultured pearls.

Seawater pearls are more expensive than freshwater cultured pearls because the saltwater oyster only produces one pearl at a time. Freshwater mussels can produce up to 30 pearls at a time.