Commonly known around the world as black
pearls, the pearls of Tahiti are indigenous to the
remote lagoons of French Polynesia in the South Pacific.
Legend has it that the pearl oyster, Te Ufi was
offered to man by Oro, the
god of peace and fertility, who came down to earth on a
rainbow. Some say that Oro offered the pearl front
this oyster to the beautiful princess of Bora Bora as a
sign of his eternal love.
The scientific term for Te
Ufi left is Pinctada margaritifera, most
commonly known as the black lipped oyster. In the 19th
its shell, like that of many oysters, was in great
demand by the European button industry. As a result,
commercial shell harvesting operations by local and
foreign entities took place annually in the lagoons of
Tuamotu and Gambier, two of the five archipelagoes
that make up French Polynesia.
days of such lucrative shell harvesting,
one would have to open more than 15,000 oysters
before finding a natural pearl.
So even before the
secret of pearl cultivation was discovered, the Tahitian
pearl had earned a reputation for value and rarity. This
reputation was further enhanced by its use in the jewelry
of the world's royalty and nobility. Soon the Tahitian
pearl became known as the "pearl of queens
and queen of pearls".
most famous of
these natural black pearls was called "Azra".
It was the centerpiece of a necklace that was part of
the Russian crown jewels.
has become an exotic gem sought after by celebrities
and pearl aficionados alike.
Pearl Culturing Industry
1961 the first
culturing experiments took place in the lagoon of Bora
Bora. The harvest of 1963 proved conclusively, that a pearl culturing
industry in the region was possible. As
a result of the success on Bora Bora, several pearl
farms were set up on the islands of Manihi, Marutea and
Mangareva to increase French Polynesia's pearl production.
The process of raising a
pearl oyster is a long one and requires considerable
care and attention due to the fragility of the oyster species.
At certain times
of the year the black-lipped
pearl oyster, which lives attached to coral found in
Polynesia lagoons, produces spawn that is then
fertilized in the water. After floating freely for a
month, the baby oysters, known as "spat",
either fix themselves to the coral or perish buried in
farmers collects the spat by submerging artificial collectors in the lagoon. They
are then reared on underwater lines for more than
three years. During this time, the oysters are
meticulously cared for to ensure their health and
oyster reaches maturity it is ready for grafting or nucleation,
whereby a small,
round piece of mother-of-pearl (called a nucleus) is
surgically inserted into the body of the oyster. The
introduction of this nucleus stimulates the secretion of
a pearly substance called "nacre", which is
applied in layers by the oyster to the nucleus.
several years of nacre secretion over the nucleus a
pearl is formed. The pearl is then carefully removed and
the oyster put back in the lagoon to recuperate.
Although the process sounds simple, the delicate nature
of this species of oyster means that of every hundred
oysters nucleated, only thirty will produce pearls.
Out of these thirty pearls, only one or two will be
Quality of Tahitian Pearls
A Tahitian cultured pearl consists of thick
pearly layers containing organic substances and calcium
carbonate in the form of aragonite. Most commonly, these
layers are referred to as nacre.
Tahitian cultured pearls are best known for their
diversity of size, shape, quality and many shades of
natural colors, ranging front pale gray to anthracite
trade designation "Tahitian cultured
pearl" is reserved exclusively for cultured
pearls obtained front the Pinctada margaritifera pearl
oyster, found in French Polynesia. According to
government accord, such pearls must exhibit a continuous
pearly layer over at least 80% of the pearl
surface and cannot reveal the underlying nucleus.
pearls that do not satisfy these criteria may not be called a "Tahitian cultured pearl" and
be deemed a reject. Reject pearls are best described
as calcite pearls, organic pearls and pearls whose
nucleus is visible to the naked eye.
Tahitian Pearls Classification
pearls, the farmer performs an initial sort
of-this crop, discarding all the rejects. He then
performs a more detailed separation of his crop sorting
out pearls by size, shape and quality.
Pearls are most commonly expressed in millimeters.
Tahitian cultured pearls generally range in size from 8
mm to 16 mm.
There are four basic shapes that
pearls come in:
and Semi Round
Round pearls are almost-perfect spheres whose
diameter variation rate is less than 2 %. Semi round
pearls are slightly imperfect spheres whose diameter
variation rate is greater than 2 % but less than 5 %.
Semi-baroque exhibits at least one axis of
rotation and are subdivided into drop, button, and oval shapes.
Baroque pearls do not have any axis of rotation and
are asymmetrical in shape.
Circled or ringed pearls are characterized by
regular streaks or concave rings, perpendicular to an
axis of rotation over more than one third of the
Q U A L I T Y
This is determined
by observing the special features
of the pearl's surface and luster. Special surface
features are considered to be any flaw in the nacre that
is visible to the naked eye such as pits, bumps, scratches, deposits, ridges and cracks.
Luster is evaluated according to reflection of light
on the pearl's surface. The brighter the reflection, the
higher the luster.
Tahitian cultured pearls are defined
by four basic qualities: A, B, C,
"A Quality" pearl is one that has no
surface flaws or very slight flaws that are visible
to the naked eye and confined to less than 10% of its
surface. All "A Quality" pearls
exhibit a very high luster.
Quality" pearl is one that exhibits
high or medium luster with some flaws visible to
the naked eye and distributed over less than one third
of the surface.
Quality" pearl is one that exhibits
several visible flaws, distributed over more than
one third of the surface and exhibits a medium quality luster.
Quality," pearl is one that exhibits a
large amount of visible flaws over more than two
thirds of the surface, regardless of luster.
Quality of Tahitian Pearls
At the producers' stage, quality evaluation is based
solely on size, shape and quality. However, when
Tahitian cultured pearls enter the wholesale trade
pipeline further evaluation and pricing will be based on
the demand of the consumer, the rarity of the size,
shape and color of the pearl and the final destination of the
large, rounder pearls which exhibit
a high luster with few flaws will still command the most
premium prices. In addition, special pearl
colors such as peacock, aubergine and pistachio will
carry a premium price because of their rarity.
Due to the wide range of iridescent colors and
unusual shapes of Tahitian cultured pearls, one can find
a vast array jewelry styles employing these fine
gems. From trendy, "cutting edge" designs to
classic "haute joaillerie", the unique nature
of Tahitian pearls makes them adaptable to a myriad of
jewelry design concepts.
gem's fairly large
size provides a visibility and presence that most other
precious stones or other types of pearls cannot provide
within the same price range.