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Everything You EVER Wanted to Know About Buying Tahitian Pearls

Dark, colorful and exotic, Tahitian pearls are known as the first naturally colored black pearl in existence, and they've been wowing pearl lovers world-over for decades.

The Ultimate Buying Guide for Tahitian Pearls by PurePearls.com will provide you with everything you could want to know about these glamorous pearls. From their native origins and history to colors and overtones, sizes, shapes and how much you can expect to spend. As always, enjoy Pure's stunning real-life pearl pictures and visual aids so when you begin shopping for Tahitian pearl jewelry you'll know exactly what to look for.

Use the Table of Contents below to skip to the parts of the article that interest you the most, or read the entire article and learn how to buy Tahitian pearls like a professional.

Tahitian Pearl Basics

Tahitian Pearl Basics: What You Need to Know About Black Pearls

  • Tahitian pearls are first and foremost known for their  dazzling natural colors. Ranging from pale Dove Grey to Near Jet Black primary hues, these pearls shimmer with a rainbow of famous overtones (called secondary colors), most commonly Peacock, Green, Rose, Aquamarine, Silver/Steel and Copper.
  • Tahitian pearls will traditionally feature what is known as a  “satiny” luster. The pearl’s nacre layers are exceptionally thick, so light has a harder time reflecting and refracting out of the interior, imbuing the pearls with more of a glow than a hard ball-bearing shine like the Akoya.
  • Contrary to their name,  Tahitian pearls are not actually cultured in Tahiti.  These pearls are grown in the tropical lagoons and atolls located in the French Polynesian island chain by small family or community-owned farms. The harvests are sent to Tahiti for export.
  • Tahitian pearls are cultured in the pinctada margartifera saltwater pearl oyster  (isn’t that a beautiful name?) – one of the largest of all pearl-bearing oysters.
  • Tahitian pearl sizes range from 8.0-9.0mm through 15.0-16.0mm  – and sometimes larger. This makes them perfect for use in more glamorous jewelry styles, such as stunning strands or diamond-accented earrings.

Now that we’ve touched on the basics, let’s dig in deeper to understand all the various pearl attributes in more detail.

Tahitian Pearl History

Wild black pearls from French Polynesia are a truly rare gem; so rare, that the pearls themselves were pretty much unheard of until the practice of pearl cultivation came to the islands in the late 1960s and 70s.

Tahitian pearls were not the famous “black pearls” of antiquity – that distinction belongs to the pearls from the Gulf of Mexico.

Polynesian legends tell of Oro, the god of war (in other legends, he is of peace and fertility). In love with the beautiful princess of Bora Bora, he descended to the island on a rainbow of light to give her the most precious treasure the heavens had to offer: Poe Rava, the colorful black Tahitian pearl.

Pearl Legends: Tahitian Princess with Pearls

My absolute favorite legend speaks of the full Moon coming down from the starry sky to bathe in the Ocean. Attracted by the heavenly light, the Te Ufi – Tahitian pearl oysters – came to the sea’s surface and were coated with shimmering dew: bright and iridescent hues of rose, green, gold, blue and violet.

The Polynesian natives primarily prized the black mother-of-pearl lining the interior of the p. margaritifera oyster shell. The iridescent shells were used extensively in jewelry and other decorations, but whole, actual pearls were exceedingly rare until the practice of pearl cultivation arrived in the twentieth century.

The Tahitian Pearl Farms

Tahitian pearls are not farmed on the island of Tahiti.

They are farmed throughout the atolls and tropical lagoons of the island chain that comprise French Polynesia. The biggest farm is owned and operated by Robert Wan. Perles de Tahiti is located on Mangareva Island, located about 500 miles SW of Tahiti.

Map of Tahitian Pearling Areas

The tropical waters of the South Pacific Ocean are ideal for culturing large pearls. The warmer temperatures increase the metabolism of the p. margaritifera oyster, and encourages a faster rate of crystalline nacre deposition.

Combined with the longer-than-average growth times for each pearl, this results in pearls with very thick nacre and beautiful luster and color.

Here's a few Tahitian Pearl Farming facts for pearl masters to know:

  • The majority of farms are spread throughout the Tuamoto Archipelago. The farms usually consist of small family or community-owned operations, which send their harvested pearls to the big island of Tahiti for processing and export.
  • A small mother of pearl bead nucleus is inserted into the oyster’s gonad, along with a piece of donor mantle tissue from another oyster that has previously produced pearls of a very fine color. It is thought that these squares of genetic material help influence the pearl’s final colors, although biologists are still not perfectly clear on all the contributing factors behind pearl color formation.
  • Traditionally the farm-raised oysters are anchored in place on long lines or placed in baskets while they mature and grow their pearls.  Tahitian pearls are harvested after an 18 month to 2 year growth period. 
  • After harvest, the pearls are washed and scrubbed to remove any organic material, and are gently polished in a tumbler filled with waxed bamboo chips.
  • There is no additional processing to be done, as the pearls are naturally beautiful and colorful.*

The harvested pearls are shipped to the main island of Tahiti, where they are x-rayed by the Pearl Ministry to measure nacre thickness, which by law must be a minimum of 0.8mm thick in order to qualify for legal export.

Tahitian pearl nacre thickness usually exceeds that easily – the average crystal depth for Tahitian pearls is 2.0-4.0mm – however it is an extra layer of security that ensures only the finest pearls are allowed onto the world’s jewelry market.

Click here to learn more about Pearl Farming.

Tahitian Pearl Shapes

Cultured Tahitian pearls come in a wide and dazzling variety of shapes to suit every taste. From perfectly round and classic pearls, to funky and artistically circled baroque pearls, Tahitian pearls offer a striking array of "personalities" to enjoy.

Tahitian Pearl Shapes: Round to Baroque Pearls

Some of the most familiar shapes for Tahitian pearls include perfect rounds through unique baroque pearls.

Other pearl shapes are available, but they are considered “collector’s items”. As with all other pearl types, the quest to produce fine, perfectly round shapes is paramount. Other rare and unique shapes include free-form baroque Tahitian pearls and keshi pearls.

Tahitian Pearl Shapes: Free Form Baroque Pearls

Pictured here are Silver-White Free Form Baroque Tahitian pearls – a very rare strand.

Tahitian Pearl Colors

Tahitian pearls are known as a naturally-colored “Black” pearl, but the truth is these pearls much more often present themselves in shades of Pale Dove Grey to Medium and Dark Charcoal Greys.

These dark primary body colors are a perfect base for some of the more colorful Overtones (secondary colors) that Tahitian pearls are famous for.

Tahitian Pearls Come in a Rainbow of Natural Colors

A rainbow of color Tahitian pearls display some of the most varied Overtones of all pearl types.

Common Tahitian Pearl Body Colors (primary colors):

  • Silvery-White – Very Rare
  • Pale Dove Grey
  • Light Charcoal Grey
  • Medium Charcoal Grey
  • Medium-Dark Charcoal Grey
  • Dark Charcoal Grey
  • Very Dark Charcoal Grey
  • Very Near True Black to Jet Black – Rare

Light vs Dark Tahitian Pearl Colors

Popular Tahitian Pearl Overtones

There are hundreds of Body Color and Overtone combinations when it comes to Tahitian pearls – this is just a small list. The intensity and saturation of each Body Color and Overtone varies from pearl to pearl (which is where great matching and a good eye for color come into play!).

Pearls with pronounced iridescence and saturated colors are considered more valuable, all other factors like Luster, Shape, Surface Quality and Size being equal.

The Most Popular and Famous Tahitian Pearl Overtones are:

  • Classic Peacock – Extremely popular, and is an iridescent mix of Green, Gold and Rose
  • Green –Very common Overtone, this can display like an Emerald Green or an Olivine and every shade in between.
  • Blue-Green – A mix of Blue and Green colors (can be vice-versa depending on which color is dominant).
  • Aquamarine – A pale Blue-ish-Green hue, best viewed over a Pale Dove Grey body color.
  • Dark Blue – can range from a Cerulean to Midnight-Blue tone.
  • Rose – Varying degrees of pink to red colors. Rose shows up often as a beautiful accent color; very rarely you’ll come across an all-Rose pearl.
  • Cherry / Aubergine – Mix of Dark Blue and Rose, best viewed over a Very Dark to Near Black body color. Depending on the amount of Rose, this will either be Cherry or Aubergine (Eggplant Purple).
  • Silver/Steel – Another very commonly seen Overtone for Tahitians. This is a soft, shimmery whitish sheen over a Grey body color – almost “neutral”.
  • Pistachio – Considered a “Fancy” color, this is a Greenish-Gold mix.
  • Bronze – Another “Fancy” color. Can include Chocolate colors. Some Chocolate Tahitian pearls are dyed to achieve a uniform brown hue, but I personally prefer that natural Chocolate hues that retain their natural shimmer and depth.

The photo above features one of my favorite, most colorful lots of Tahitian Drops I’d ever seen at the time … these pearls sparked my love affair with Tahitians.

To learn more about the rainbow of pearl colors in available all pearl types today, visit: Pure Pearl’s Ultimate Guide to Pearl Colors


Common Tahitian Pearl Sizes

The Tahitian pearl oyster, p. margaritifera,  is one of the largest of the pearl-bearing oysters, and can grow up to 1-foot in diameter at maturity. This allows the oyster to be nucleated with larger mother of pearl beads, producing larger than average sized pearls.

The average size range for Tahitians is 8.0-9.0mm through 15.0-16.0mm, with 9.0-10.0mm through 12.0-13.0mm sizes being the most popular pearl sizes to buy.

Tahitian Pearl Sizes Compared to a US Dime

Notice that each pearl millimeter size increase leads to a 20-25% larger pearl.

So this means the 10.0-11.0mm Tahitian will be 50% larger than an 8.0-9.0mm pearl.

Tahitian Pearl Necklace Sizes

The vast majority of Tahitian pearl necklaces (round and baroque styles) are what we call  “Graduated”  strands.

These layouts will feature pearls graduating from smaller pearls near the clasp, gradually increasing to a nice larger center section.

On average, you’ll see ranges spanning 2.0-2.5mm or so. Measurements will be described as 9.0-11.5mm, or 10.0-12.0mm and so on.

What is a Graduated Pearl Necklace?

This colorful Tahitian Drop Necklace features a fairly common graduation rate from 8.7-11.0mm

A “Non-Graduated” Necklace  will feature pearls with no more than 1.0mm graduation rate from the smallest to largest pearls – so the layout would read 9.0-10.0mm, for example.

“Non-Graduated” Tahitian pearl necklaces are harder to create, as the farm will have more restrictions on the pearls it can work with when matching and building a layout, so these necklaces will be more expensive than traditionally “Graduated” strands.

To learn more about pearl sizes, and to see how they look when worn, I highly recommend you visit:  Pure Pearls Ultimate Guide to Pearl Sizes (you won’t regret it!)

Tahitian Pearl Grading

Pure Pearls uses the ‘A-AAA’ Grading Scale for all Tahitian pearl jewelry. On the A-AAA Scale, ‘A’ represents the lowest, commercial grades, and ‘AAA’ represents the best pearl quality available.

The A-AAA Grading Scale converts easily from the A-D Grading Scale used on the pearl farms in French Polynesia, and evaluates the 7 major pearl attributes. These are:

Luster

Surface Quality (blemishing)

Symmetry of Shape

Matching

Pearl Size

Color / Overtone Depth

Origin / Cultured or Natural


Tahitian Pearl Grading Scales A-AAA and A-D Conversion Chart

Pure Pearls has a long-standing “AAA Quality Only” policy when it comes to offering Tahitian pearl earrings, pendants and rings. That way, you’ll always be guaranteed to receive the finest pearls of each annual harvest.

To learn more about Tahitian pearl grading, including detailed breakdowns of each pearl grade, inclusion examples and more, visit: Pure Pearl's Ultimate Tahitian Pearl Grading Guide

Should I Buy AA+ or AAA Quality Tahitian Pearls?

The answer to this question lies within a balance of beauty and budget.

Both our AA+ Quality and AAA Quality Tahitian pearls will feature:

Very High to Excellent Luster

Perfectly Round and/or Symmetrical Baroque and Drop Shapes

Excellent Matching Throughout

Beautiful, Even Color Saturation and Overtones

Fine Presentation When Worn


AAA Quality Tahitian Pearl Necklace Example w Pricing Estimate
AA+ Quality Tahitian Pearl Round Necklace Example with Pricing Estimate

Every single Tahitian Pearl Necklace featured on Pure is a unique, one of a kind design. We have a continually curated collection selected by Ashley; Tahitian layouts are selected for their eye-catching colors, intense luster or playful pearl arrangements, so there is something for everyone, and at a variety of price points from $500 to $5,000.

Remember that each and every cultured Tahitian pearl is the result of a biological process. So these little gems will never be totally, completely, flawlessly perfect. The goal is not to find perfectly featureless beads, but gems with character and personality that will become yours and yours alone, so my standing recommendation is to always look to find pearl Luster and Colors that you can fall in love with first, then consider Surface Quality.

If you'd like help finding the perfect Tahitian Pearl Necklace, feel free to Contact Us anytime - our pearl experts are always happy to help.

Tahitian Pearl Jewelry Buying Guide: Essential Classic and Modern Designs

Multi-Color Tahitian Pearl Necklace - Modern Pearl Jewelry

Beautiful Tahitian pearl jewelry designs span styles from simple classics like a pair of studs, to more elaborate designs sparkling with diamonds and gemstones. Every design is made by hand, to order here in our Los Angeles, CA workshop.

Fine Tahitian pearl jewelry should all be matched to near-perfection with very little to slight variation in size, shape, body color and overtone (Multi-color layouts are excepted here), luster and surface quality.

Pure Pearls has assembled a stunning collection of Tahitian pearls to suit every taste and budget. Use the slide shows below to view our most popular Tahitian pearl jewelry styles.

Tahitian Pearl Necklace Styles

The “Classic” Tahitian Pearl Necklace. The 18-Inch Princess Length Tahitian Pearl Necklace features Round and colorful pearls in a well-matched tonal layout. The true Round necklaces range from $1,800-$10,000 or more depending on size, surface quality, color and luster. This necklace should come to rest about 1.5 to 2-inches below the hollow of the throat.

Drop-Shape Tahitian Pearl Necklaces are an enduring favorite for pearl lovers the world over! These pearls will feature a well-matched layout of smooth tear-drop and oval-ish shapes with minimal circling and small tips at the ends of the pearls. Prices range from $650 - $1,300.00.

Adding sparkling diamond rondelles to a Tahitian Pearl Necklace is an easy way to glam up any layout. Rondelles can be added to in between each pearl, every other pearl or even every third or fourth pearl as desired – contact us for price quotes, layout and design options.

Long, luxurious and beautiful, an Opera length Tahitian Pearl Necklace is a statement piece that can be worn on its own, or mixed and matched with other chains and necklaces. An utterly modern twist on the classic Opera Length Necklace, our Tahitian Ropes can be made in 35, 54 and 100-inch lengths.

Most Tahitian pearl necklaces will knot out to 18-inches including the clasp, but we can build custom layouts and alter existing designs easily (in fact, it’s one of our favorite parts of the job!).

Necklaces and bracelets are individually double-knotted between each pearl using fine matching silk thread, and we finish all of our strands with matching 14K Gold clasps and 14K french wire-wrapping to ensure the ends withstand daily handling.

To learn more about which pearl length is right for you visit: Pure Pearl’s Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Perfect Pearl Necklace. This helpful guide features photos of every classic pearl necklace length you can imagine, and a primer on how to properly measure pearl necklaces and bracelets.

Popular Tahitian Pearl Earring Designs

THE Classic pearl stud earring, but with a dramatic twist. The Tahitian pearl stud earring is both elegant and fanciful, perfect for daytime and special occasions. Our most popular sizes range 9.0-10.0mm (pictured here) to 11.0-12.0mm.

A PurePearls.com customer favorite, the Tahitian Pearl and Diamond Dangle Earrings are elegant and fashionable. Select larger sized pearls 10.0mm and up to ensure that the pearls maintain a distinct and noticeable “presence”.

The diamond accents in the chic and modern Tahitian Pearl and Diamond Glimmer Studs add a subtle yet sparkling touch of luxury. The 0.10cts each (0.20cttw approx.) VS1 diamond accents are dainty enough to be worn every day without being overwhelming.

The Classic Tahitian Pearl Dangle Earring is a timeless and enduring favorite for those looking for a modern pearl earring without too much glitz. These dangles are a modern and elegant choice for women of all ages. Sizes range from smaller 8.0-9.0mm up through 14.0-15.0mm pearls.


Most Popular Tahitian Pearl Pendant Designs

Introducing the graceful and modern Tahitian Pearl and Diamond Lily Pendant, a design exclusive to PurePearls.com. The diamonds add a subtle yet sparkling touch of luxury. The 0.04ct VS1-GH Quality diamond accents are dainty enough to be worn every day without being overwhelming.

Exclusively created by Pure Pearls, the Tahitian Pearl and Diamond Cross Pendant adds a sparkling touch of luxury to this dainty and beautiful pendant design. The 0.04cttw VS1-GH Quality diamond accents are small enough to be worn every day without being overwhelming, but still pack a visual punch.

The simple and chic Tahitian Pearl Solitaire Pendant will never go out of style! Bigger is better when it comes to this minimalist pendant; larger pearls balance well against the body.


Tahitian Pearl Ring Designs


Questions about selecting the right Tahitian pearl earring, pendant and even ring sizes? Click to read Pure Pearl's Ultimate Guide to Pearl Sizes.

Featured inside are TONS of photos, tips and charts to help you understand how these pearls “measure up”, and which Tahitian pearl size is perfect for you.

Custom Design Tahitian Pearl Jewelry

Pure Pearls specializes in Custom Design pearl jewelry; with hundreds of loose Tahitian pearls in the Vault to choose from at any given moment, plus our own goldsmith and years-long relationships with other findings suppliers, we can make almost anything you can dream up.

View some of our most recent work:

The “K-Suite” is a custom-built pendant and earring Tahitian Pearl Jewelry Set, mounted in 18K Yellow Gold and sparkling with VS1-GH Quality diamonds. The pearl at the top of the pendant is a naturally-colored Chocolate Tahitian.

A PurePearls.com favorite, this custom-design Tahitian Pearl Lariat featured hand-selected, super-colorful pearls mounted on 14K Yellow Gold Snake Chains.

Tahitian Pearl and Diamond Rondelle Necklace and Earring Set

Adding sparkling Diamond Rondelles to a Tahitian Pearl Necklace in various configurations is a stunning way to customize a strand of pearls (and a specialty of ours!).

Build a Tahitian Pearl Necklace from Scratch

We are happy to build custom Tahitian Pearl Necklaces from scratch, using loose pearls, too. Pictured here is a "Blue Pearl Necklace" made up of a mix of Light and Dark Blue-hued Tahitian pearls from our loose pearl inventory.

To get started creating the Tahitian pearls you’ve been dreaming of, simply Contact Us by email for pricing, photos and more.

Ready to Learn More About Pearls? Visit Our Pearl Grading Guides: