Tahitian pearls: history of popularity, features, assessment rules

A pearl necklace from Boodles with different shades of Tahitian pearls.
A pearl necklace from Boodles with different shades of Tahitian pearls.

Tahitian pearls are one of the most exotic types of sea pearls: black with gray, greenish, metallic sheen. It originates in the Pinktad Margarithefer oysters found in French Polynesia. Also, these molluscs are found in the Sea of ​​Cortez near the Cook Islands. Despite the name, Tahitian pearls are not necessarily native to Tahiti.

The largest island in French Polynesia has long been the main center for the sale of pearls, which is why it was called “Tahitian”. Most of the pearls cultivated by Thais are grown in the lagoons of the Tuamotu archipelago and the Gambiera Island.


The history of pearls in French Polynesia dates back to the 1800s. At this time, he was highly valued: some pearls were rated higher than diamonds. This is because pearl fishing was a risky and dangerous business: divers died from decompression sickness, sharks and other marine predators. Nobody knew that in a hundred years everything would change.

In 1900, Simon Grand, an oyster grower in Arachon, tried to grow oysters in the pristine Polynesian lagoons near Gambiera Island. Three decades later, scientists began to explore the possibility of establishing oyster farms in the region. The experience of Kokichi Mikimoto, a Japanese entrepreneur, the “king of pearls”, was taken as a basis.

Tahitian Pearl 925 Sterling Silver Pendant
Tahitian Pearl 925 Sterling Silver Pendant

In 1961, cultured pearls were grown for the first time in French Polynesia. Four years later, transplantation and culture methods were extended to the lagoons near Bora Bora Island. This made it possible to obtain pearls of excellent quality, reaching 14 mm in diameter.

In 1976, the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) officially recognized the “natural color” of Tahitian pearls. Recognition contributed to the development of the industry: more and more oyster farms began to appear, not only in Tahiti, but also on the nearby islands. Today Tahitian pearls are called “pearls of queens”.

How Tahitian pearls are grown

The cultivation process begins with the collection and cultivation of oysters. In the wild, they grow directly in water, and upon reaching 3 months they lose the ability to swim and attach to a hard surface. Likewise, oysters grow on farms.

When the shell reaches 1 to 2 inches in diameter, the oysters are collected in mesh baskets or sacks. They are installed in the water column so that the mollusk continues to grow. Farmers regularly clean the surface of the shell from the inhabitants of the seabed. When the oyster is 2-3 years old and 3.5-4 inches in diameter, it is ready to nucleate. But not all molluscs are used for this purpose only healthy ones with fully developed sex glands. The nucleation process requires precision.

Ring with an amethyst bowl and a Tahitian pearl from Flora Bhachattari.
Ring with an amethyst bowl and a Tahitian pearl from Flora Bhachattari.

A round ball is inserted into the oyster’s reproductive gland with a fragment of the mantle from a healthy donor. It takes about a month for healing, and then a pearl begins to form. Tahitian pearls are grown for 16-24 months. Throughout this period, farmers control salinity, water temperature and other parameters. Then the “harvest” is collected: only 40% of the oysters produce good quality pearls.


Tahitian pearls are no less famous than akoya or South Sea pearls. Its main highlight is color: no other precious stone has such a palette of shades.

Color and shine

Tahitian pearls are often referred to as black pearls. This is not entirely true: specimens of a deep dark gray are much more common. The palette of shades includes:

  • pistachio;
  • eggplant;
  • grey;
  • brown;
  • purple;
  • blue;
  • pink.
Chanel Perles de Nuit necklace with Tahitian pearls in diameters from 15 to 18.2 mm.
Chanel Perles de Nuit necklace with Tahitian pearls in diameters from 15 to 18.2 mm.

Exotic shades are less common and valued higher. Tahitian pearls are the only “naturally black” pearls. Another black pearl that can be found on the market is obtained by treating with special chemicals.

The brilliance of Tahitian pearls is breathtaking. It is so bright that it almost matches the luster of metal. But in fact, not all Tahitian pearls shine like that, but only a small part of it. Pearls grown in confined spaces, polluted water and harsh environments tend to have a lower sheen.

Shape and size

Tahitian pearls are considered large. Its diameter varies from 8-9 to 15-16 mm. Individual specimens may be even larger. The layer of mother-of-pearl on the pearl is not less than 0.8 mm. For comparison, for akoya pearls this figure is half that 0.35 mm on average.

Pearls come in a variety of shapes:

  • round;
  • semicircular;
  • drop-shaped;
  • oval;
  • baroque.

Perfectly round specimens are rare they make up only 1-2% of the total harvest. They are also considered the most popular.

Earrings with pearls and diamonds in white gold from Boodles.
Earrings with pearls and diamonds in white gold from Boodles.

Tahitian pearls are somewhat more expensive than other types of pearls. Jewelry prices vary in the following range:

  • a ring with pearls 550-2500;
  • pearl pendant 300-3000;
  • medium length necklace 650-25000.

The cost of a pearl is influenced by its color, luster, surface quality, thickness of the nacre and the presence of inclusions. The best specimens have a deep color and bright shine, no discernible defects and a mother-of-pearl layer of at least 0.8 mm.

The rating is based on the A AAA scale, where “A” is the lowest quality, “AAA” is the best. This scale was developed in French Polynesia, but can be applied to other types of pearls as well. Also, when grading, a different system is used, with a gradation from A to D. Wearing and care rules

Wear pearl jewelry regularly. Pearls love the moisture and oils contained in the skin, so you should not leave it in the box for a long time. Pearls are the last to wear.

Make sure to finish dressing, put on makeup and perfume, and only then add jewelry. This will help prevent the pearls from coming into contact with chemicals and reduce the risk of discoloration.

Follow the rules:
  1. Back home, remove jewelry and wipe it with a soft, slightly damp cloth. Regular cleaning will remove any sweat and cosmetic residue that has gotten on the jewelry surface during the day.
  2. Avoid prolonged contact with moisture: remove products before showering or swimming in the pool. Despite the fact that pearls are born in water, chlorinated water is harmful to them.
  3. Remove your pearl ring before washing dishes or cooking. In jewelry, pearls are usually set on glue: with prolonged exposure to hot water, the fastening can weaken.
  4. Store pearl necklaces in a jewelry box, not in weight, otherwise they will stretch. Avoid plastic or other airtight bags. Store pearls separately from other jewelry as they are easily scratched.