Native Tahitians collected natural pearls from the black-lipped pearl mollusk, Pinctada margaritifera, for many generations prior to Spanish and English involvement. Some of these natural saltwater pearls reached the size of grapes. However, many decades passed before the rest of the world could enjoy their beauty.
In 1912, Kokichi Mikimoto, who had successfully cultured Akoya pearls, attempted to cultivate pearls in the black-lipped mollusk in the seas south of Japan. However, efforts to utilize this oyster failed until Jean-Marie Domard’s 1961 attempt in French Polynesia. Using the subspecies Pinctada margaritifera cumingii, his farm gathered the first harvest of cultured Tahitian pearls four years later.
During the 1970s, Salvador Assael visited Tahiti. Recognizing the potential in these gems, he invested in the country’s pearl farms and production boomed. He introduced cultured Tahitian pearls to the United States. After the GIA certified their authenticity, these pearls became quite popular. Famous jewelers began to offer Tahitian pearls. Near the end of the decade, a strand of Tahitian pearls sold for $500,000. By 1985, fine strands could sell for a million dollars.
Responding to this new market, more and more pearl farms began operations. However, some of these farms produced low-quality pearls with extremely thin nacre. In certain cases, the nacre grew for only three months before harvesting.
In response, the government of French Polynesia enforced strict quality standards and taxes for any exported pearls. Those with too many surface imperfections or thin nacre would be destroyed, while others were sorted by quality and shape. These regulations ensured the quality and reputation of Tahitian pearls.
Tahitian pearls can show a wide range of body colors and overtones. Intense, dark colors make these pearls more valuable.
Body colors are generally gray or green and can be dark enough that the eye perceives black. Some have different body colors, like brown, copper, or dark blue.
These pearls also exhibit orient, a shimmering iridescence which seems to stay in place even as the pearl moves. This effect can be green, pink, blue, gold, or a combination of colors. Peacock orient, with both green and pink hues, is one common example.
Since they grow so large, they’re also rarely truly round. In fact, top-quality strands generally combine round and off-round pearls. Circle pearls account for about 35% of each Tahitian pearl harvest. These ringed pearls have their own beauty but don’t hold the same value as rounds.
Dark body colors and a mesmerizing orient make Tahitian pearls a unique jewelry option. While most other black pearls have undergone dye or irradiation treatments, these pearls achieve remarkable beauty without enhancements. With their large sizes, these luxury items can also make great statement pieces.
From Gem Society