Skip to main content

Tahitian Black Pearls

Tahitian Pearls Heritage

Tahitian cultured pearls or “Black Pearls” have been farmed or cultivated since the 1960’s in the black-lipped pearl oyster, Latin name – Pinctada Margaritifera. They are found amongst the atolls and islands in the archipelago that makes up French Polynesia.

French Polynesia comprises of around 118 islands in the South Pacific Ocean, stretching over more than 2000 kilometres (1200 miles). Divided into the Austral, Gambier, Marquesas, Society, and Tuamoto Archipelagos. Its total land area is just over 4000 square kilometres. There is also Tahitian Pearl production in the Cook Islands and Fiji that produces pearls from the same oyster.

Prior to cultured pearl farming being set up, there existed a huge natural pearl and pearl shell business centred around the Tuamoto Archipelago. Throughout the 1800’s and 1900’s trade in the shells was predominantly for mother of pearl which was made into buttons and pearl inlay for cutlery and other artifacts such as hand mirrors, pistol handles and bible covers.

island where tahitian pearls are found

Tahitian Pearl Jewellery

Through the years family groups have owned and operated the major pearl farms within French Polynesia. The descendants of the great Parisian natural pearl and gemstone trade leader, Leonard Rosenthal (whose books published in the 1920’s; The Kingdom of the Pearl/In the Garden of Gems illustrated by Edmund Dulac) Jacqui and Hubert Rosenthal and later his son Cyril, founded Le Societe Perliere de Manihi in 1967 and along with the Foucarde and the Wan families have dominated the pearl business in French Polynesia.

Notable names and giants of the business include Jean Tapu, Coco Chaze, Jacques Brannelec, Jean Claude Brouillard. David Norman’s father; Boris Norman transacted and traded in Tahitian pearls since 1967 with The Rosenthal family business and David has also a long association with Robert Wan; whose company, Perles De Tahiti remains the largest trading company in the Tahitian wholesale and retail business.

Though Tahitian Pearl Culturing started in the 1960’s, the first recorded official export of Tahitian cultured pearls was in 1972 with a value US $3,663. By 1996, US $150 million was exported per annum, principally to Japan and Hong Kong and The United States and Europe. By 2019 this figure had dropped due to diminished production to nearer $ 70 million. Today various trade organisations and pearl farming collectives band together and sell at auction to select pearl wholesalers worldwide.

Tahitian Pearl Production

The production of Tahitian pearls these days averages 8, 9 and 10 millimetres in size and the shapes of the pearls are predominantly round, off round, drop, semi drop, button, circled and semi baroque and baroque. Most cultivators are keeping the seeding to harvesting cycle at one year, hence the relatively smaller sizes, (The average size of the Australian south sea cultured pearl is 12.5-13). Hence the price of 11 millimetres and above sized pearls is sharply higher for Tahitian pearls.

The pearl culturing process works with nature to co create a Tahitian pearl. This process involves an expert technician, who inserts a round bead or nucleus made from a shell into the reproductive organ of a mature Pinctada Margaritifera oyster. The technician also places a small strip of mantle tissue from another similar oyster onto the nucleus and this process causes the oyster to isolate the nucleus and cover it with layers of the nacre which causes the pearl to be lustrous and colourful. Once the nucleus is inserted, nature takes over and pearl farmers need to keep cleaning the oysters every few weeks so they can open and feed on nutrients in the water and a year or tow later the pearl can be harvested.

When the host oyster rejects the nucleus made of mother of pearl and inserted near the gonad of the oyster to stimulate pearl nacre production, the oyster usually makes another pearl anyway and this non-nucleated pearl is all nacre and is called Keshi, a Japanese word for poppyseed  or small thing. Keshi pearls are the natural bi-product of the culturing process. Tahitian keshi pearls are particularly beautiful in a variety of colors and shapes.

There can be a rainbow iridescence in the colours of the Tahitian pearls from jet black or telephone ( Bakelite) black, to peacock, green, pink, aubergine, red, silver, platinum, pistachio, blue, cream, off white, brown and yellow, a genuine kaleidoscope of colours. The pearls have both undertones and overtones of colour making them so individual, so hard to match, and so exquisite to look at in detail. All these colours are naturally occurring, so nothing is needed to be done to the pearls after harvesting except drilling and turning into jewellery.  

Since the 1960’s

Tahitian pearls have been turned into exquisite jewellery by the likes of Harry Winston, Cartier, Tiffany, Van Cleef and Arpels and Mikimoto all making magnificent pearl rings, pearl earrings, collars, pearl necklaces, pearl pendants and enhancers. The brilliant colours and rainbow iridescence makes Tahitian pearls a perfect match with gemstones of all colours and the pearls perfectly compliment the gemstones and vice versa.

Tahitian cultured pearls have been worn by the rich and famous both men and women; Stephen Tyler and Johnny Depp have collections of Pearls Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Taylor, Pink, Sharon Stone, Christian Lagarde, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Keira Knightley and Angelina Jolie have all been photographed numerous times wearing Tahitian pearl jewellery.

knightly tahitian pearls

Our Tahitian Pearls

At Aquarian Pearls we especially love to pair tourmalines with green and red through them with Tahitian pearls and natural coloured sapphires in blues, greens, pinks and blues.

The United States market is a huge consumer of Tahitian pearls and in our business on Gem Shopping Network, 60 to 70 per cent of the turnover is with jewellery created with Tahitian pearls which we sell with the brand name Aquarian Pearls.

Domestically within Australia we sell as Matahina Pearls on the TV station TVSN and in this business we sell a lot of pearl jewellery especially with the gemstone and Tahitian pearls matched together.