Tahitian pearls: What do you need to know?

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Tahitian pearls or black pearls are a specialty of French Polynesia. They are so precious that they are known as the Pearl of Queens and the Queen of Pearls.

The purity, strength, simplicity and brilliance of the South Pacific are reflected in the variety of colors, qualities, shapes and shades of Tahitian pearls, which radiate the brightness of the Polynesian atolls.

What are Tahitian pearls? Properties, luster, shapes, sizes

Black pearls originate mostly from Tahiti and are also known as Tahitian pearls, famous for their mysterious black color. The stately and mysterious aura that Tahitian pearls exude can be both elegant, handsome and unisex.

Tahitian pearl colors are roughly divided into: black, green, gray, yellow and brown, of which peacock green is the most popular and the most expensive. Size ranges from 9 to 14 mm.

Luster

The intense metallic luster of black pearls changes as the pearl turns. Other color changing pearls can not compare.

Shape

Tahitian pearls come in many different shapes and can generally be divided into five categories: round/semi-round, oval/button, teardrop, circle, and semi-baroque/baroque (generally known as metamorphic pearls).

Round pearls have always been popular with buyers, but in recent years, more and more designers have become interested in other shapes, as they can draw inspiration from these natural shapes to create unique jewelry.

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Size

The size of  Tahiti pearls is generally between 9 and 14 mm, the most common being between 9 and 10 mm.

About 60% of black pearls do not exceed 11mm in size, so 11mm is generally considered to be the limit for a rare black pearl; round black pearls over 15mm are so rare that there is no readily available market price for them, which shows how expensive they are.

Colors: unique and almost luminous color

The beauty of black pearls lies in the variety of colors on its natural black tone, the most appreciated being “peacock” (dark green combined with blue), “eggplant” (dark purple), “pistachio” (yellowish green) and other iridescent colors.

Where and how are Tahitian pearls produced?

Tahiti

Tahitian pearls are produced by black lip shells that secrete gray and black nacre. The pearls produced are generally round or teardrop-shaped and extremely large.

Black lip mussels live in a wide range of subtropical to temperate seas, such as New Zealand and French Polynesia, and the most representative and productive is Tahiti.

Located in the South Pacific, Tahiti is the largest and most famous island in French Polynesia, eight hours from Los Angeles and in the same time zone as Hawaii, and is a world-renowned pearl farming destination.

In the 27 lagoons and islands of French Polynesia, the sun and the sand beds nurture beautiful and attractive Tahitian pearls at depths where light can reach them.

A long formation process

The formation of Tahitian pearls is a long process, usually taking up to 24 months or more. During this time, hundreds of thin layers of pearls and aragonite crystals are secreted daily from the shell to encase the nucleus in the pearl’s capsule.

The final luster and brilliance of the pearl depends on this formation process. When the layers have accumulated to the proper thickness, the farmer opens the shell to extract pearls.

Why are they so rare and expensive?

1. Cultivation of black lip oysters is difficult

Tahitian pearls, unlike Japanese pearls and South Sea pearls, are extremely valuable. The pearls themselves are cultured from a precious black mussel called black lip oysters, a rare mussel that grows only in natural, unpolluted Polynesian waters. Tahitian pearls have different shades of gray with different illusionary colors, thus making them even more different from others.

The cultivation of Tahitian black pearls is very difficult because of the long culture process of pearl shells and their susceptibility to death. In addition, such factors as the weather and the water quality also lead to the fact that the quantity of Tahitian pearls is very small.

Tahitian pearls or black pearls: What do you need to know?

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2. High standards for quality

The Tahitian pearl harvesting process is very demanding. Only fifty of every one hundred black disc mussels can successfully produce pearls, and only five of them are almost flawless, making each pearl extremely valuable.

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3. Natural Tahitian black pearls are even rarer

In the meanwhile, natural Tahitian black pearls are even rarer, with only about one natural black pearl found for every 10,000 mother-of-pearl opened. This is why they are so precious and expensive.

Values and pricing 

Tahitian pearls, unlike Japanese pearls and South Sea pearls, are extremely valuable. The pearls themselves are cultured from a precious black mussel called black lip oysters, a rare mussel that grows only in natural, unpolluted Polynesian waters. Tahitian pearls have different shades of gray with different illusionary colors, thus making them even more different from others.

A 9-10mm black pearl of top quality is between $300- $500, 10-11mm is between $500- $800, 11-12mm is between $800- $1300, and 12-13mm is between $1200- $2000.

Meanings of Tahitian pearls

Black pearl means “perfection”, “sweetness and happiness”, “wisdom and good luck”.

History of Tahitian pearls

An ancient Greek legend

Tahiti has a long history of pearl harvesting, dating back to ancient Greek times. There is a legend that when the manna of the moon fell to earth and dripped into the black lip oysters, they were nurtured by the ocean, gathering the essence of the sun and moon, and finally transformed into the seductive Tahitian black pearls.

This is why most natural black pearls are drip-shaped, which is confirmed by the pearls in the collections of European royalty.

Black lip oysters were on the verge of extinction

In the middle of the 19th century, fishing boats from Sydney, San Francisco and Chile fished here in large numbers for black lip oysters. They wanted to obtain not only the pearls but also the inner layers of the shells to meet the needs of the European button industry of the time.

After more than a century of indiscriminate fishing, by the middle of the 20th century, Tahiti’s black lip oysters were on the verge of extinction.

Tahitian pearl farming

Tahitian cultured pearl experiments began in 1961 with the adoption of Japanese pearl farming techniques. However, it was not until 1966 that some pearl farms began to exist, and they were not very successful commercially. 1972 was the year when French Polynesia began to export Tahitian black pearls abroad, and only 1,563 kilograms were exported that year.

How to select high quality Tahitian pearls?

How to judge the quality of Tahitian pearls? In fact, they are graded on five criteria: size, shape, color, luster and purity. Generally speaking the larger the size, the better the luster and the fewer the imperfections the higher the price of Tahitian pearls.

Conclusion

Thank you for reading this article on Tahitian pearls or black pearls. If it is helpful to you, comment below to let me know or check other articles on pearls that we have published: Pearl colors: A complete guide with categories, meanings and images.

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