The Delicately Intricate "Art And Science" of Tahitian Pearl Farming.

Tahitian Pearl Farm in Takaroa

When it comes to planning a pearl jewelry purchase, most people are already well aware of the fact that most pearl experts agree that the ultimate combination of both pristine quality and pure, natural beauty … is found in the preciously rare and radiantly lustrous “Tahitian Pearl.” 

However, most people actually have no idea at all, precisely how and where these glistening treasures are cultured. With that fact in mind, let’s take a little “imaginary tour” and “introductory course” in how these glistening, gleaming wonders come to be.

The Culturing Of Tahitian Pearls: Tahitian pearls are meticulously cultured in shallow, well protected lagoons that are either partially or completely enveloped by naturally formed coral “Atolls” within and around the exotic waters of French Polynesia.

The Collecting Of The Baby Oysters: Tahitian pearls come from a very large, beautiful and quite rare “black-lipped’ oyster known as the “Pinctada Margaritifera Mollusk.” Oysters actually begin their life-cycle as free swimming plankton that eventual begin to develop shells and seek out the safety of a strong, foundational surface on which they can attach themselves and develop into full grown oysters.

Therefore, Tahitian Pearl farmers calculate by their understanding of the changes, precisely when and where to collect and protect the valuable, yet quite vulnerably young, defenseless baby oysters, providing them with an optimal environment in which to mature.

The Production Process Involved In The Making Of Tahitian Pearls: On average, once the oysters have matured to the age of two and a half years old, they are deemed to be large, strong and healthy enough to begin their pearl production cycle and the oyster is graduated on to the “grafting stage.”

The grafting stage is actually an amazingly complex and elaborate procedure that necessitates much of the same advanced skill, precision, knowledge and  thoroughly sterile and controlled environment as a surgeon performing a life saving operation in a “state of the art” hospital setting.  

Tahitian Pearl Grafting

The Grafting Of The Shell: This is basically a surgical procedure where a small portion of “mantle” is transplanted from one oyster to another. The expertise of the grafter, combined with the overall quality of the grafted “tissue,” along with several other factors including the health and age of the oyster and the serene consistency of the oyster’s bed and general environment will have much to do in determining the eventual value and character of the pearl to be.

Therefore, much like breeding thoroughbred racing champions, a whole lot of serious effort goes into finding and most strategically utilizing only the finest tissue grafts, painstakingly collected from those “donor” oysters with the most brilliantly beautiful colors.

It is from this “living,” grafted mantle material that the consequent color and quality of the pearl, that splendid iridescence commonly referred to as the “nacre,” for which pearls are graded and valued,  will eventually draw it’s radiant luster and chromatic essence.

The Insertion Of The Nucleus: After the mantle material has successfully been grafted, the nucleus, which is a six to eight millimeter sphere around which the pearl will progressively grow, is inserted.

To give you an insight into the vast amount of science involved, as well as the very global nature invested into the perfection of Tahitian Pearl production world-wide, it was researchers from Japan who pioneered this grafting process and discovered that the shell of particular mussel found only in the Mississippi River basin, had the precise size and density needed for a perfect match when it comes to pearl nucleus insertion.

Since then, most nuclei that are used in the farming of Tahitian Peals come from this unlikely mollusk originating thousands of miles away, discovered by pearl researchers hailing from halfway across the planet.

Recuperation Station

The Nurturing Process:  Just as soon as the grafting procedure is successfully implemented, the oysters are immediately nurtured and protected, being carefully “suspended” on long lines within the safe and secure confines of the shallow and clear water of the lagoons for about a year and a half.

During this nurturing process, the Tahitian Pearls continue to grow in size and beauty until they are fully formed to perfection and ready to be harvested. At that precise, optimum time, the oysters are carefully removed and their pearls are gently extracted.

This tender, loving care is exceptionally important, as these amazing oysters can be relied upon to provide a consecutive string (pun well intended) of premium quality pearls over the years. So after the first pearl is successfully harvested, a second graft is performed, this time with a much larger nucleus that is basically the exact size of the pearl that was extracted.

Nuclei up to 18 millimeters in diameter have occasionally been inserted, but age eventually leads to decline in pearl quality, explaining why extremely large pearls of exceptional quality are so extremely rare.

Tahitian Pearl Harvest