Tahitian pearls are named so because they thrive in the rich, warm, tropical waters of Tahiti and the Polynesian Islands. Tahitian pearls are also known as black pearls, though in truth they can be cultivated in an astonishing variety of subtle colors on the spectrum between black and white as well as velvety greens and iridescent peacock.
Tahitian pearls now often exceed classic pearls in value since their rarer beauty is all the more sought after. Although they are known as black pearls, each individual pearl has remarkable iridescence and can show off undertones in yellows, greens, blues, reds, mauves and silvers. An accomplished jeweler might require thousands of pearls in order to create a strand of matching pearls of similar size and luster. Sometimes the process can take up to 10 years to acquire enough Pearls to make one matching strand.
Tahitian pearls have become the second-most expensive pearls to be farmed at a commercial scale. Although you may find ‘black akoya’ or ‘black freshwater’ pearls sold, those two varieties are in fact died versions of the true cream colored pearls. Tahitian pearls are also graded to higher standards – the slimmest nacre at which a Tahitian pearl may be sold for export is equivalent to a very thick nacre according to akoya standards.
Only twenty years ago, a full strand of Tahitian pearls could be sold for up to $100,000: they were then the rarest pearl as well as the most beautiful. Today, they remain the most beautiful, but are thriving in the seas and gaining favor in the market, which is bringing prices down. Discerning buyers can now find a string of true Tahitian pearls for as little as $5000.
Tahitian pearls are created by the exotic Pinctada margaritifera: the black-lipped pearl oyster. These oysters grow to over a foot across and naturally produce large, perfect, and naturally dark-to-deep black pearls. Tahitian pearls are relatively new on the scene of gems and fine jewelry, as they weren’t discovered to the western market until the middle of the twentieth century. Tahitian pearls vary in size between 8 mm and 18 mm. They number among the largest in the world. Only South Sea pearls exceed them.
The rainbow mantle of the Tahitian pearl naturally shimmers with an oil-slick spectrum of color. Individual pearls may strongly show off certain hues and thus match better with certain jewelry settings or other individual pearls. This aspect means that while they are expensive to work with as designers strive to select the perfect pearl for a setting, the limits of beauty that can be achieved are high indeed.
Tahiatan Pearlscome in a variety of shapes, listed here in order of desirability: Round, semi-round, semi-baroque, baroque, and circle. Pearls classified as round have less than a 2% variation in diameter, and are the rarest of Tahitian Pearls, accounting for about 5% of total pearl production. Semi-round pearls have less than a 5% variation in diameter. Semi-baroque pearls have at least one axis of rotation, and can be further classified into drop, button, pear, and oval shapes. Baroque pearls have no axis of rotation.
The quality of a pearl is graded as an “A”, “B”, “C”, or “D”, depending on the luster and surface purity of the pearl. An “A” pearl should have superior luster and either no small blemishes or a few blemishes on less than 10% of its surface. A “B” pearl should have above-average luster and a few blemishes on less 1/3 of its surface. A “C” pearl should have average luster and blemishes over less than 2/3 of its surface. A “D” pearl should have below-average luster and blemishes over its entire surface.
Tahitian pearls are like fine French champagne – any winemaker may put together a vintage of pinot noir chardonnay but only a producer from the original region of Champagne is allowed to call their product that. So it is with Tahitian pearls – the species is harvested across French Polynesia, Japan, the Micronesian Islands, the Cook Islands, the Philippines and Thailand, but only pearls grown in Polynesia can honestly be called Tahitian.
Tahitian Pearl production and export are strictly regulated by the government of French Polynesia. Every pearl intended for export is x-rayed by the Tahitian Pearl Ministry to ensure that the nacre thickness meets the minimum requirements for export, 0.6mm before July 2002, 0.8mm after. In addition, the blemishes often present on the pearl surface must be fairly shallow, or the pearl will fail inspection. Pearls that do not meet the export criteria are destroyed at the inspection facility.
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