Pearls have been a highly sought after gem for the jewels of royalty and the extremely wealthy for thousands of years. Mosaics from as early as 500 C.E. picture kings and queens with crowns and robes adorned with hundreds of white, natural pearls, establishing their place for centuries to come as a highly desirable treasure. The popularity of the pearl has remained strong as a staple in the jewelry boxes of women everywhere thanks to their wearability and classic appeal. However, a relatively new addition to the pearl family has caught the attention of those who seek the smooth, lustrous glow of a pearl with unique twist. When first cultured in the mid-1970s, the Tahitian pearl was relatively unknown outside of the inhabitants of French Polynesia. Initially only familiar with collectors and enthusiasts, the Tahitian pearl’s silvery charcoal hue and large size has skyrocketed the value of this previously unknown gem making it one of the rarest and most prized organic gemstones.
Hailing from the warm, crystal clear waters surrounding the French Polynesian Islands, the “pinctada margaritifera“ oyster, also referred to as a black-lipped oyster due to its dark, silvery hued mother-of-pearl coating, is the producer of the Tahitian pearl. This species of oyster is native to the waters surrounding volcanic islands of French Polynesia of which Tahiti is the largest island. The shallow waters of this region are home to an abundance of diverse marine flora and fauna making it the perfect habitat for these large oysters. Amazingly, they can grow up to ten pounds and produce natural pearls averaging from 9mm to 12mm. Their striking color is unlike that of the white Akoya or South Sea pearls that also come from the warm Pacific water. It was not until the 1970s that these Tahitian black pearls became available for a larger market, which was made possible due to the culturing process instigated by French veterinarian Jean Marie Domard. The first person to experiment with pearl farms, Domard began the first French Polynesian pearl farm in 1966 using Japanese culturing methods. Despite this success, the production of these cultured pearls is still confined by limited natural resources and the growth process of the oysters, therefore, Tahitian pearl jewelry maintains its rarity and at times becomes scarce due to natural factors such as hurricanes or food availability.
Like all pearls, Tahitian pearls are graded based on the same five factors to indicate their value: color, luster, shape, size and surface features. Along with their large size, the most striking of a Tahitian pearl’s characteristics is their deep, charcoal hue — rarely ever black as the name would suggest. Their color can be divided into two components - body color and overtone. The body color of these stones can range from a silver (like that of pencil lead) to a dark, saturated grey almost black hue. What sets these pearls apart is the wide spectrum of overtones or the mixture of natural colors that are visible over the surface of the pearl. These overtone colors can dramatically influence the value of the pearls. Overtones can range and combine to create an incredible rainbow effect across the body of the pearl, adding more depth to the smooth nacreous outside. In the pearl trade, the terms “peacock” (a mixture of pink, lavender and blue) and “aubergine” (a mixture of blue, gold, green or purple) are held in the highest regards and are highly sought after by those who seek the finest Tahitian pearls. Because of the varying body colors and overtones, it can take years to match enough cultured pearls to create a strand long enough for a pearl necklace.
Equally difficult to match is a Tahitian pearl’s luster. Luster refers to how the pearl’s surface reflects and refracts light and can significantly affect its value. The more light that bounces off the pearl’s surface, the better the luster and the higher the value. Black Tahitian pearls naturally reflect light differently than white pearls, thus, they provide a unique range of luster from a soft iridescence to a metallic shine.
The shape and size of real Tahitian pearls is another indicator of their value. Spherical, symmetric and baroque are the three main classifications of pearl shape depending on their formation within the oyster. Spherical Tahitian pearls are the most difficult to culture as every internal and external condition that affects the pearl must be just right, however, many collectors value baroque pearls just as highly for their unusual and organic shapes.
The beauty of Tahitian pearls along with their relative newness to the market makes them an ideal choice for those looking for a unique yet classic addition to their repertoire of jewelry. The variety of overtone colors in pearl jewelry makes them an ideal choice for those looking for a pearl that can best complement their skin tone whether worn in a necklace, earrings or ring — all of which we offer at our gallery. Real Tahitian pearls are and will continue to be one of the most coveted natural treasures, so make sure to consider them when searching for the perfect pearl. Whether you are looking for Tahitian pearl earrings or an exquisite pearl ring, we offer a stunning selection of fine jewelry both online or at our in-person showroom. Shop our collection today to find the newest addition to your jewelry collection.