Punaauia, French Polynesia

  • Date
  • 23 June 2001

23 June 2001 – Black pearls are marketed as Tahitian pearls, but the pearl farms on Tuamotu and Gambier Islands are some 625 miles away from Tahiti. Since Tahiti is world-renowned as an exotic destination admired by tourists, Tahitian pearls they are.

The process of making a black pearl is fairly simple. According to the Tahitian Cultured Pearl booklet by Tahiti Perles Company, “With man’s help, a ‘nucleus’ is introduced into the gonad inside the oyster by micro surgery.” Then, a layer forms around this nucleus (the ones I saw were white) creating a black pearl ranging in color from shades of gray to asphalt black to pink, eggplant and green tinted.

Consequently, one of the most important qualities of any black pearl is the thickness around the implanted nucleus. If the pearl is not cultivated long enough – and years may be needed, then the layer around the nucleus will wear away with time. The pearl owner will be left with an ugly, worthless nucleus and no black pearl.

Since there is no international grading system for black pearls, buying them can be tricky business. (The GIA will verify traits of a pearl in the States, but they have no representation here.) The large, Tahitian pearl farmers stock the island’s shops and hotels with brochures advertising their own ‘certification’. Inevitably too, talking with one pearl shop worker leads him to badmouth a competitor. Like everywhere in the world, there are scams and fakes do exist on the island. Although, what happens more often is non-reputable pearl shops offer what look to be great quality pearls (large size with superb luster, perfect surface and in-demand peacock color) for a low price. But these pearls, no doubt, have a super thin surface around the nucleus, meaning there’ll be no black pearl in a short while.