Pearl Company Creates Authentication Solution
Fukui Shell Nucleus Factory has developed a method of bonding a tiny RFID tag to a cultured pearl's nucleus, which can then be implanted into an oyster to create a gem with its own built-in unique identifier.
Oct 02, 2013—
After a decade spent researching and developing technology for authenticating cultured pearls, Fukui Shell Nucleus Factory, a Hong Kong provider of equipment and services to the pearl industry, has released a solution consisting of a tiny radio frequency identification tag embedded in a pearl's nucleus that could transmit an ID number to an RFID reader. The tag would make it possible for pearl farmers, wholesalers, retailers and customers to identify and track a pearl 9 millimeters (0.4 inch) or more in diameter, from its origins as a nucleus until a customer's purchase of the harvested pearl. The tagged nuclei are commercially available now, but David Wong, the company's project director, says the advent of a pearl-tracking database would be what makes the technology most significant for the entire industry. The firm is currently in the process of developing that database, which it will host.
All cultured pearls are created using a nucleus—material from another shell that is inserted into an oyster or mussel. The mollusk secretes material known as nacre to cover that nucleus, eventually creating a pearl. Fukui Shell, which makes these nuclei for pearl farmers, saw an opportunity, as much as a decade ago, to help industry members prove the authenticity, origins and history of every pearl—each of which can be very high in value.
Fukui Shell looked into several options, most of which it quickly ruled out. Drilling a hole in a pearl to embed an RFID tag would be destructive, Wong says, while laser-printing an ID number on its surface also could result in damage. Therefore, the company sought to create a unique ID that could be accessed from the nucleus through the pearl.
During the past few years, Fukui Shell Nucleus Factory began working with a pearl farm to test a new type of nucleus that could be made larger by applying lamination over the nucleus itself. The lamination completely seals off the inside of the nucleus from the outside (the host mollusk's secretions), thereby making it possible to ensure that an RFID tag could remain protected after the nucleus' insertion into an oyster. After conducting research, the company discovered a passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) EPC Gen 2 RFID tag small enough to be embedded in the nucleus. It then began placing tagged nuclei inside oysters, and started working with RFID readers to interrogate those tags. Wong declines to reveal the tag's specific model or size, but reports that it is small enough to fit into a nucleus measuring 12 millimeters (0.5 inch) or less in diameter. Wong recommends the solution for pearls that will measure at least 9 millimeters (0.4 inch), such as South Sea pearls and Tahitian black pearls, but notes that an RFID-enabled nucleus "could be much smaller than that."
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