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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.
By Claire Swedberg

Fukui Shell mimicked the conditions under which RFID-tagged nuclei would be inserted into the oysters. For example, the firm tested whether alcohol would leak into the tag through the laminate, and also conducted drop, pressure and heating tests. The alcohol selected for the test was brandy, Wong says, so that if any fluid leaked through the laminate, he would be able to detect it due to resulting color changes to the nuclei. The company then tried using a handheld reader to capture the tag's unique ID number. The technology worked well, Wong says.

The RFID tag cannot be read when a nucleus is embedded in a shellfish. However, Wong says, Fukui Shell is presently carrying out further research and development, in order to make such a read event possible. Currently, he adds, pearl cultivators employ X-ray technology to detect whether a nucleus is still in the shell during the cultivation process (or has been expelled by the shellfish), but the use of X-rays can be expensive and hazardous to a mollusk's health.

In June of this year Wong presented the testing results to the public. In the meantime, he says, the system is still being piloted at the same unnamed pearl farm.

The company is now in the early stages of developing a database that would contain information about the tagged pearls and share it with participating supply chain members. For example, a nucleus could be tagged and its unique ID number linked to data regarding that nucleus, such as when and where it was created. The pearl farmer could also input data about the pearl made from that nucleus, including dates and the specific oyster used, as well as the location. Once the pearl was harvested, descriptive information could be input into its digital history, which could later be accessible to retailers or customers.

In this way, Wong says, individuals could ensure that a particular pearl was authentic, as well as learn its history.

"Ultimately, we want the pearl to be able to tell its own story," Wong states. After all, he says, every pearl has its own unique identity and has undergone a period of cultivation lasting a year or more. In order to accommodate all parameters used to describe a pearl, a database must be built.

Pearl farms and other businesses can buy the RFID-enabled nuclei now, however, and could initially use their own software and database to provide an individual authenticating identifier. A company's customers could then read the tags if they used the same software to access that database.

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