The photo archive of 'Life' magazine has just become available on Google Images... among the stash, there are quite a few vintage photos of pearling and pearls.
Try THESE, for a sample.
To search the Life archive on Google, go to Google Images and add the words 'source:life' (no quotation marks) after your search words. The list above was obtained on a search for 'pearl industry source:life'.
All in all, a good doze of typical Google fun... just in case you ever wondered how they used to match those graduate Akoya strands in the mid 40's and such. Sorting and stringhing is no longer done together for the non-graduated, is it? Strange where style comes from...
Didn't dare start a search for pearl jewelry; endless pit! [maybe just a little - found Ms. Rubinstein's Mughal spinels labeled 'Amber' ...]