Where Do Tahitian Pearls Come From?
Tahitian pearls are the naturally black or charcoal grey saltwater pearls from the tropical islands of French Polynesia. They are named Tahitian pearls because they are exported from the island of Tahiti, and the Tahitian Ministry of Pearliculture sets the quality standards for all pearls leaving the islands. Tahitian pearls are not actually cultivated on the island of Tahiti- they are farmed throughout the island chain's various atolls and lagoons.
The French Polynesian Island of Moorea. Ridiculously Beautiful- imagine running a pearl farm out here!
Tahitian Pearl Size Ranges
The Pinctada margaritifera (I love, love, love this oyster's name - it means "Bearer of Pearls" in Latin!) saltwater pearl oyster is one of the larger pearl-producing oyster types, attaining sizes of 8, 9 or even 12-inches in diameter at maturity. This means that farmers can nucleate their oysters with larger than average bead nuclei, regularly two or three to a shell (as opposed to the small akoya pearl oyster, which is only 6-inches at maturity and can only handle one bead at a time, two if the oyster is very large).
The Kamoka Tahitian Pearl Farm that my friend, Josh Humbert co-owns and operates with his family. That is one lucky group, right there!
Resulting pearls range from 8.0-9.0mm up through 15.0-16.0mm, with 9.0-10.0mm through 12.0-13.0mm being the average. I have even seen pearls as large as 18.0mm pearls roll across my desk, but these are VERY rare and VERY expensive!
All of the Tahitian pearl necklaces featured on the PurePearls.com site are one-of-a-kind creations, chosen specifically for their beautiful or unique colors - when you purchase a necklace from Pure, you are guaranteed that the necklace featured in the picture is the one you will receive! For more on how we create our special Tahitian pearl necklaces, read my blog entry on the Silver-Blue Tahitian Necklace here and here.
What Shapes are Tahitian Pearls Available In?
Some Funky Shaped Tahitian Baroque Pearls
Tahitian pearls come in a variety of shapes- from smooth, symmetrical tear-drops, to perfect rounds to heavily circled baroques, and highly asymmetrical free-form shapes.
Cherry Tahitian Round Pearl Necklace Layout
While many prefer the traditional elegance of perfectly round pearls, the baroque pearls offer a fun, artistic alternative to many Tahitian pearl hunters out there.
Why Are Tahitian Pearls So Expensive?!?!
Round Tahitian pearls (all other factors such as luster, color and surface quality being equal) are the more valued than baroque pearls. And smooth, drop-shaped Tahitians are more valuable than heavily circled baroques ... why? It is because the actual amount of round pearls versus baroque pearls that are harvested every year tend to favor baroque pearls by a wide margin.
My Kingdom for a Round Pearl!
The actual percentages of fine, AAA Quality perfectly round pearls from each yearly harvest are only about 5% as compared to 60% for similar quality baroque shapes (this figure includes semi-round, semi-baroque as in drops, and heavily baroque shapes)! And of the baroque pearls, free-form, circled or asymmetrical shapes are much more common than smooth, symmetrical drops.
Now add in matching for size, color, surface quality and luster, and the time and labor it takes to create a beautifully matched necklace shoots through the roof! Some pearl necklaces takes years to create- painstakingly setting aside sometimes just one or two gorgeous, perfectly colored pearls every year or two to create a masterpiece ... imagine what such a labor of love would cost.
The Kamoka Farm's Floating Pearl Lines- Oysters Quietly Making Their Pearls
Culturing Tahitian pearls takes tons of time, effort, money and Risk. The average time a pearl is left inside its host oyster to layer the bead nucleus with nacre is around 2 years(!). That is a really long time to wait to realize any kind of profit from all that labor! Additionally, the Ministere de la Perliculture of Tahiti enforces strict quality guidelines on ALL pearls leaving the islands. A minimum nacre thickness of 0.8mm around the bead nucleus must be met, or the pearls will be destroyed and the nuclei recycled.
Tahitian Pearl Grading
Tahitian pearls are graded on the A-D Grading Scale by the farmers and auctions, however we use the A-AAA scale here in the US to describe the differences between the various grades. To learn more about the Tahitian Pearl Grading System, visit our Pearl Education section here. I've put together a very visual guide with pearl examples that correspond with the A-AAA and A-D systems that is very easy to read.
Our AAA Quality Tahitian pearls have less than 10% blemishing on each pearl as well as the necklace or bracelet overall, and the luster will be bright, but slightly softer and more satiny than an Akoya pearl. You will be able to see most of your face reflected in the pearl's surface, and reflected light sources will show some fuzzing or blurring on the edges.
AA+ Quality pearls are off-round to slightly oval or drop-shaped, and feature less than 15% blemishing on the pearls. The luster will be visibly softer, with visible blurring of reflected light sources. You will still be able to see your face in the pearl's surfaces, but not all details.
For customer satisfaction issues, we only offer Tahitian pearl pendants, earrings and rings in AAA Quality only, unless specifically stated otherwise. Our necklaces can span the range of grades from A-AAA, but each one has been selected because it has a certain appeal in terms of color, luster or interesting shapes or layout.
So, There are Still Inclusions on AA+ and AAA Quality Tahitian Pearls?
Yes, there are. Cultured pearls are still a product of an organic, natural process and as such will retain "fingerprints", or unique markers of that creation process. Only plastic or shell-pearl beads are perfect, and they aren't real! You may run into some of the following inclusions on your pearls: Dents, pin pricks, dimples, scoring, mottling or bulleting of the pearls' surfaces and sometimes odd little "nubbins" (I love this word too, it just rolls right off the tongue! Try getting any other fine jewelry vendor to call this little guy a nubbin lol! Smiles all around if you pull it off haha!); we also politely call them "protrusions" topping the ends of some pearls.
Loose Baroque Pearls with Interesting Features in Various Quality Grades. Check out the "Nubbin" on the Center Right and Far Right Pearls.
The trick is to find pearls that balance beauty with quality; for instance some AA Quality strands will feature up to 30% blemishing on each pearl, but if the colors are very intense and the luster is bright enough, you probably won't be focusing on the inclusions very much, but instead are busy being dazzled by the colors!
This is TRN-1443-PURE a Cherry and Peacock Round Tahitian Pearl Necklace, AA+ /AAA Quality
Close up of Scoring Mark on the Peacock Green Pearl- I wouldn't dream of removing it! The taped pearl in the the center is on the outs though! You can't see it, but it has a major inclusion on the other side. This pearl will be swapped out for something else that will match the overall tone of the necklace.
For myself, I try to stay away from necklaces that feature large inclusions in the center section- and, I am always amenable to swapping out a pearl that's not to your taste - just email me! Ashley@purepearls.com
So What are Your Best Options?
If you've never purchased Tahitian pearls before, I highly recommend starting out small - a pair of simple dangle or stud earrings or a black pearl pendant is a great introduce yourself (or a special someone) to these beautiful pearls without breaking the bank.
Our Best Sellers include:
Tahitian Baroque Dangle Earrings, in a Very Simple, Classic Design. For more options, view our whole Collection Here
Our May Monthly Special, This 48-Inch Tin Cup Necklace Features Gorgeous Baroque Pearls Mixed with Blue Topaz Briolettes in Sterling - Fun, Casual and a Wear-Anywhere Item!
For the more experienced buyer or collector, we offer a highly curated collection of one of a kind pearl necklaces, bracelets and jewelry sets that are all hand-matched for color, luster, size and of course, quality! Visit our Tahitian Pearl Necklace Collection Here
Tahitian Pearl and Diamond Rondelle Necklace, just one example of our Custom Design Work
Lastly, we specialize in Custom Design- so if you don't see what you want, just contact me anytime and we'll begin working on a quote for you. I hope this guide has been helpful, and if you ever have any questions please don't hesitate to contact me directly- I love talking pearls! Good luck with your pearl hunting!