All pearls are special, but none compare to the exotic appearance of Tahitian Pearls. Grown primarily in the clear, warm waters of Tahiti / French Polynesia in the South-Central Pacific Ocean (1), Tahitian Pearls receive their unique colors from the Pinctada Margaritifera or black-lipped oyster. In this Tahitian Pearl education guide, you will discover how the Tahitian Pearl is produced as well as how its color, shape, size and luster come to be.
How does Pinctada Margaritifera produce a Tahitian Pearl?
It all starts with a bead. The bead is comprised of a polished sphere made from a freshwater mussel shell. Placed inside the oyster along with a mantle tissue from another oyster, it allows a nacre to form around the bead. Multiple layers of nacre or Mother-of-Pearl will continue to form over the bead (2) until harvesting.
How does the Pinctada Margaritifera produce the color of the Tahitian Pearl?
As the layers of the nacre form around the bead, the nacre produces the color based on the overall color of the black-lipped oyster’s shell. When you examine the Tahitian Pearl, you will notice a variety of hues. Since every Tahitian Pearl will receive its color from the black-lipped oyster, every pearl will be unique just like the shell from which its color originates. Colors are generally blackish in color while overtones range from pink, green, purple or any combinations of these colors. Studies have found that the darkness of Tahitian pearls also seem to be correlated with pearl nacre thickness and weight, with the palest pearls also being the smallest (3). As studies continue, there may be even more factors affecting color that are yet to be discovered.
Peacock is the most valued and exhibit dark green gray to blue gray, with rose to purple overtones. Aubergine, which is French for eggplant, describe dark grayish purple colors. Nowhere else in the pearl world is there a pearl with this type of color. Lastly, Pistachio is the term for yellowish green to greenish yellow Tahitian cultured pearls.
What determines a Tahitian Pearl’s shape?
There are several factors that determine the pearls overall shape. The shape of the bead, the length of time that the bead grows inside the oyster, water quality and water temperature all affect the overall health of the oyster and the pearl it produces. Less than half of Tahitian cultured pearls are spherical (4), making round pearls the most valuable due to rarity. Did you know? 25-30% of Tahitian cultured pearls have circles, or what some call grooves or rings.
What factors determine the size of the Tahitian Pearl?
What directly affects the size of the Tahitian Pearl is the amount of time the bead spends within the black-lipped oyster and water agitation. As the nacre around the bead continues to grow inside the black-lipped oyster, these layers will allow the nacre to increase in size. The more time spent growing, the more layers will develop over the initial bead therefore increasing its overall size.
What creates the luster of the Tahitian Pearl?
The luster is the sheen of the surface of the pearl. When examining a pearl, notice how light bounces off a pearl. The greater the light reflection, the greater the luster. When it comes to luster, the thicker the nacre, the higher the luster. Tahitian cultured pearls range in luster from fair to excellent.
How to Care for Tahitian Pearls
Cleaning your Tahitian pearls is a relatively simple. To protect the luster of your pearls, caress them with a damp soft cloth. This will remove skin cream, perfume and skin acidity that could dull their shine. It is important to wear pearls after any skin care or perfume application in order to reduce any transference from these products. After cleaning, separate pearls from other jewelry by placing them in a small pouch to avoid scratching. Additionally, never soak pearls in water. Continuous exposure to water eventually compromises the bonding agent used to secure the pearls to settings.
- Nilpetploy, Nanthaporn. “Non-Bead-Cultured Pearls from Pinctada Margaritifera.” Research & News, 27 Apr. 2018, www.gia.edu/gia-news-research/non-bead-cultured-pearls-from-pinctada-margaritifera.
- Goebel, Marisa, and Dona Mary Dirlam. “POLYNESIAN BLACK PEARLS.” www.gia.edu/doc/Polynesian-Black-Pearls.pdf.
- Chin-Long, Ky, et al. 2019, Aquaculture Reports, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352513418301388.
- Gemological Institute of America. “Tahitian Cultured Pearl Prices and Value Factors.” Pearls: The Tahitian Cultured Pearl, Gemological Institute of America, 1999, pp. 21–23.