NEW DELHI, JULY 4:
A self-taught Indian scientist who has produced the world's largest black pearl is looking to commercialise his pearl culture technique that has the potential to change the profile of the country's gem and jewellery exports in a single stroke.
Ajai Kumar Sonkar, who is often mistaken for a jeweller, feels that commercialisation of the technique could make India a net exporter of the magnificent gem -- tales of which abound in Indian history.
Although India's gem and jewellery exports stood at over USD 17 billion in 2006-07, the country last year imported USD 7.24 million worth of raw pearls.
Even the famed Hyderabadi pearls are simply finished products of freshwater pearls imported from China. Roughly 80 per cent of the world pearl market is dominated by Japan, followed by Australia and China.
Japan's monopoly was created owing to the fact it held the technique to create nucleus -- the raw material for pearl culture -- that is implanted in the oyster through a surgery.
Sonkar, who has mastered production of nucleus and had presented his work before President A P J Abdul Kalam in August 2004, said he had received offers from corporates for enabling mass production. But, Sonkar turned them down as they insisted on exclusivity over technology that he could conceive in future.
The scientist had earlier announced that he has developed a 22mm nucleus, besting Japan's record of 18mm. In other words, the bigger the nucleus, the greater the size of pearls.
"My aim is to create jobs for hundreds of thousands of people by making this technology commercial, but cannot allow my research to become a casualty to this process," said Sonkar, 35, who founded the Pearl Aquaculture Research Foundation in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
His interest to mass-produce pearls is significant given the failure of government labs to perfect pearl culture despite over three decades of research.
"Being a valuable product, a project could earn huge foreign exchange... (besides) offer hundreds of jobs to the youth," he said.
Sonkar, who started working independently, perfected the technique to produce nucleated spherical pearls in freshwater and later transited activity to marine pearl culture.
According to him, the best pearls are those produced in marine water, as the freshwater mussels are irregular in shape and chiefly contain calcite calcium carbonate that lacks the pearly component.
Sonkar said the world's most prominent species of pearl oysters 'Pinctada Margaritifera', 'Pinctada Maxima' and 'Pinctada fucata' are available off the Indian archipelago and the climatic conditions were favourable for producing pearls.
His lab also hatches oysters, which are later selected and prepared for the nucleus implantation. The oysters are then transferred to the sea and brought back to the lab after six months to two years for harvest.