Tahitian Black Pearls: One Woman’s Voyage to the Pearl Farms in Tahiti

Toni & Jim in TahitiHi, my name is Toni and I am very fortunate to be a sales professional at J. R. Dunn Jewelers, one of the finest independent jewelry stores in the nation. I have always had a love for fine jewelery and especially pearls.


Recently I had the opportunity to combine my passion for pearls and my love for traveling and embark on a dream vacation with my husband to the Tahitian Islands. We visited many interesting places and saw things we only read about in books, for instance, actual guns and bunkers from our American soldiers in WWII, a vanilla bean grower (the purest vanilla in the world, only watered with rain water) and in Bora Bora“ the famous Bloody Marys, for good food or your favorite beverage. For the more adventurous, there’s snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, rafting, hiking, helicopter rides and so many more incredible attractions. Tahiti has the most beautiful blue crystal clear water I’ve ever seen. The people are very friendly and proud to show you their county“ the exotic mystic of Tahiti did not disappoint me.


I was particularly excited when we had the opportunity to visit a pearl farm. In my business, I am exposed to all types of pearls and I have sold exquisite Tahitian pearl necklaces, bracelets and earrings and have always loved them. I never really appreciated the rarity or even knew the process of growing pearls. I learned a lot on this dream vacation.


Tahitian pearls range in colors varying from pearly white to nearly black, purple, gray, champagne and greenish colors. Making pearls is a difficult and laborious process. Either oysters are collected from the water or the pearl farmer grows their own. The oysters are attached to rearing lines where they are watched closely. Every 3 months they must be removed from the water and washed with a spray hose to prevent algae from killing the oysters.


Oysters are ready for cultivation when they are 3 to 5 years old. The pearl is implanted with a perfectly spherical bead called a nucleus and a graft of mantle (which is actually meat from another oyster). The grafted oysters are placed in small bags linked together for form keep nets (to protect them from predators) and lowered back into the lagoon, where they are regularly cleaned and inspected. (The small bags will also enable the farmer to see and retain any nuclei that have been expelled by the oysters.) With the help of Mother Nature, the procedure is successful and the graft cells develop around the nucleus to form the pearl sack. The graft acts as an irritant, and the sack secretes the nacre (mother-of-pearl) material, which form the layers of the pearl. It normally takes approximately 2 years for a 1.5mm layer of mother of pearl to surround the nucleus. Larger pearls take a longer cultivating time. The longer the pearl remains in the oyster, the thicker the nacre becomes (nacre gives the pearl its luster) increasing the value. The downfall would be the longer the pearl remains in the oyster, the increased risk of loosing the pearl to disease or predators. A delicate balance must be determined; a wrong decision could be costly.


Of every 200 oysters implanted, approximately half do not survive or reject the nucleus. When the harvest time comes, only 4 or 5 of the remaining 100 oysters will have produced perfectly round pearls. Think about it, out of 200 implants, only 4 or 5 are perfectly round pearls-how special is that! The price of pearls is based on size, luster, sheen, color and lack of defects and of course, the better the pearl the more it will cost. Mother nature really knows what she is doing. Visiting the pearl farm was far more interesting than I ever anticipated. Now I know and appreciate the rarity and value of Tahitian pearls, add high luster, minimal blemishes and a little care and you have an heirloom.


If the occasion should ever arise, I would highly recommend a visit to the Tahitian Islands. I’m sure you will love it as much as I did. And for those of you who like to just talk about Tahitian pearls don’t hesitate to drop me an email at toni@jrdunn.com. I’d love to share what I have learned with you!


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