About Tahitian pearls
In Tahiti, the story is told of the god Oro, who long ago used his rainbows to visit Earth, giving mother-of-pearl its iridescence and Tahitian pearls their entrancing colors. And so it's true, that Tahitian pearls are not simply "black" as they're commonly called, but themselves rainbows of color that make them such prized possessions today. Though it's true they take their name from French Polynesia's most well known island, Tahitian pearls are in fact not cultivated in Tahiti, but elsewhere throughout the waters of French Polynesia, a collection of islands and atolls in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean.
Tahitian pearl's rich history helps explain their allure and ever-increasing demand in today’s market. With the European discovery of the Pacific Islands in the late 1700's came a rush of traders and explorers who soon learned of the water’s riches, among them: mother-of-pearl, turtle-shell, sandalwood, and of course, natural pearls. In time, the pearl oysters of two islands -- Gambier and Tuamotu -- quickly became depleted, nearly to the point of extinction. Indeed, Europe’s growing demand for mother-of-pearl buttons caused the exploitation of the islands’ oysters to last another 150 years. Then, by 1880, France gained control of the island group we now refer to as French Polynesia, and some actions were taken. Strict regulations were applied to curtail the intense fishing among these islands, including zones designated as off-limits, to allow oyster beds to repopulate. This conservation plan has been in effect ever since, specifying the islands and atolls where fishing is permitted, causing divers and their families to quickly migrate to them for work.
In the mid-20th century, building on the successful pearl culturing techniques of Kokichi Mikimoto in Japan, experimentation began with the oyster that produces Tahitian pearls. In fact, it was through the skillful efforts of Japanese cultivation experts that the oysters were first nucleated, and that finally produced some of the earliest Tahitian cultured pearls. The first thousand Tahitian cultured pearls were harvested in the mid-1960. Today, the atolls of French Polynesia -- coral crowns in the middle of a great ocean -- continue to provide the perfect nutritious, pristine environment necessary for Tahitian pearl cultivation.
Tahitian Pearl Cultivation
Tahitian pearls form in the "Black Lipped" oyster Pinctada margaritifera, almost twice the size of the Japanese Akoya oyster. This warm water species naturally ranges across the central and south Pacific, but its main homes are in the great atolls of French Polynesia. Tahitian cultured pearl farmers generally raise their oysters from young, in specially designated areas, in the lagoons in which they'd normally live. As with all pearl oysters, only those that have reached maturity are nucleated. Tahitian pearls take 2 to 3 years to form.
Tahitian Pearl Harvesting
Compared to harvests at Akoya pearl farms, harvests at Tahitian pearl farms are much smaller, simply because the oysters used to grow them are far less plentiful. Tahitian pearls generally develop a nacre coating 2 to 3 millimeters thick.
Though the survival rate of nucleated Tahitian pearl oysters is low, some may be nucleated up to 4 times, the last time being to produce a "mabe" pearl -- a half-spherical cultured pearl grown on the inside shell of an oyster rather than within its body. Technicians take great care not to damage the oysters when removing pearls. If, after extracting a pearl, a technician determines the oyster is healthy, he or she will immediately insert another nucleus to produce another pearl.
Tahitian Pearl Processing
Tahitian pearls undergo no form of chemical processing or enhancement. When harvested, they are simply cleaned, dried and lightly polished.
Tahitian Pearl Quality Evaluation
These large, dark beauties, are treasured for their rarity and their intriguing, exotic color and luster. The most beautiful Tahitian pearls increase in value, and so, are great investments.
Luster of Tahitian Pearls
Luster, the way light plays on a pearl, is a combination of a pearl's brilliance and inner glow. Luster is one of the most important quality factors of Tahitian pearls. Their luster spans the entire range, from high, to medium levels, to low ... yet regardless of which, one should stress luster as one of Tahitian pearls' finest features.
Surface of Tahitian Pearls
Tahitian cultured pearls display a wide range of surface qualities, from "clean" to "heavily blemished." High-quality Tahitian pearls may occur virtually free of flaws such as spots, bumps, pits, wrinkles and rings. As with all pearls with long cultivation periods, Tahitian pearls possess surface imperfections that tend to add to their interest and allure.
Shape of Tahitian Pearls
Tahitian pearls come in all the shapes cultured pearls are found: "round," "drop," "button," "oval," "semi-round," "circle -- or "ringed," "baroque," and "semi-baroque." ALT: "round," "semi-round," "drop," "button" "oval," "circle -- or "ringed", "semi-baroque," and "baroque."
Color of Tahitian Pearls
Tahitian pearls are known for their iridescent, vibrant, almost metallic colors, unique among saltwater cultured pearls. Though commonly called "black" pearls, Tahitian pearls are actually gray, to lighter or darker degrees. But, in addition, Tahitian pearls have the unique ability to display a variety of colors at the same time, shimmering about their surfaces in varying shades -- colors such as Peacock, Eggplant -- or Aubergine, Green, Olive Green, Blue and Magenta. The most highly prized Tahitian pearls are those of the iridescent peacock and cobalt blue colors, followed by the rainbows, grays and golds. Other fancy Tahitian pearl colors may range from parchment, to lemon, to a golden-orange.
Size of Tahitian Pearls
Tahitian pearls range from 8 to 18 millimeters in size, the average being 13 millimeters. As with any cultured pearl, a fine quality Tahitian pearl may be judged by its quality factor.