The story of Broome is inextricably tied to that of the Australian Pearling industry. A story that has seen the small town on Australia’s Northern coast go through boom and bust. Australian pearling began in the early 1850’s, populated by those who sought fortune in one of two precious resources: Gold and Pearls. Mother of pearl or pearl shell formed the largest part of early business. Used in everything from buttons to furniture, mother of pearl was in high global demand.
During 1861, the largest species of pearl oyster on earth was discovered in Broome’s warm, rich waters. The Pinctada Maxima oyster grows in excess of 20 centimetres, the size of a dinner plate, and its abundance saw Broome supplying almost three quarters of global pearl product. It brought a diverse group of people from Europe and Asia to the small town, including a large number of Japanese and Chinese migrants.
The job of a pearl diver was considerably dangerous. It is estimated that in the early days of diving, up to fifty percent of pearl divers lost their lives. Entire fleets of pearl luggers could be sunk by seasonal cyclones, and life in the isolated town could be hard. Despite these dangers, the draw of wealth that pearling promised saw the industry thrive.
After decades of prosperity, a series of natural disasters and the Second World War found Australian pearling on the brink of collapse. It wasn’t until after the war, when competition from japan was all but eliminated, that Broome experienced yet another boom. The invention of plastic buttons in the 1950’s, replacing mother of pearl, posed another serious challenge to the industry. But its final evolution has seen Australian pearling cemented in history. The rise of the cultured pearl.
Pearls had always been a bonus to the discovery of the oyster and the mother of pearl it contained. Natural pearls were found in only three percent of wild oysters; the product of sand, shell or some other irritant that induced the oyster to produce pearl nacre. The ability to culture pearls revolutionised the entire industry, and began a legacy to last for decades to come.
The culturing process was a highly guarded secret, and has been meticulously developed over the years. Wild oysters are collected from the ocean floor, cleaned and assessed for suitability. Only the healthiest oysters are selected to be ‘seeded’ by highly trained technicians. A seed, made of mollusc shell, is implanted with a piece of oyster tissue. The oyster is then returned to ocean in specialised nets, and given at least two years to grown its precious pearl.
As pearling in Australia is inextricably tied to Broome, as are Australian South sea pearls tied to Linneys. In 1972, Linneys was founded by Alan Linney. At the time most of Australia's pearl crop was being exported overseas, usually to Japan. The majority of Australian jewellers were working with foreign pearls, and Australia’s own pearl stocks were exported, then sold back to Australian jewellery wholesalers and retailers. It became Alan’s mission to bring Australia’s incredible pearls to the Australian people, and ultimately, to the world.
In 1983 the business started trading under the name ‘Linneys’. Alan’s eye-catching pearl jewellery was unlike anything Australia had ever seen. A sign was placed outside their storefront that read; ‘Broome Pearls come to Perth’, but the public response was not what Alan and his business partner Bill had anticipated, and Linneys new store went unnoticed.
In an attempts to drum up interest, Alan and Bill posted advertisements in Western Australia’s daily newspaper, but without much success. It wasn’t until the same Western Australian newspaper printed an editorial on pearls that people began to take note. The beauty and wonder of locally-sourced and designed pearl jewellery was finally recognized as desirable luxury, home grown right here in WA.
The editorial received a huge response, as locals and travellers alike flocked to see the now renowned Australian South Sea pearls grown in the Broome region. Alan and Bill had successfully launched Australian pearls in the Australian market, and Linneys' legacy as Western Australia's leading pearl and custom-made jewellery retailer was born.
Linneys affiliation to the Broome pearling region is strong, having had a Linneys showroom featuring stunning collections of pearl jewellery for over 27 years. In its heyday, Broome was a destination for travellers from across the globe who wanted to experience the pearling town firsthand. The legacy and legend of the Australian South Sea pearl –the finest pearl in the world- will continue, as Linneys nurture and expand their business across Australia.