I have a beautiful Tahitian pearl that I got on my first trip to France. The owner of the small chateau where we stayed had a friend whose hobby was pearl diving in Tahiti, and he was selling a small selection of his finds on the property. I was fascinated to learn about the process behind this treasure from the sea, and wanted to learn more, as well as dream about one day visiting where these beauties are formed!
Tahitian pearls have a 5-year-long harvesting process containing no fewer than 377 steps.
2-3 out of every 100 pearls will be A-grade specimen.
Tahitian pearls get their signature forest green and black color because they form inside the black-lipped mantel within the mollusk shell.
Trained technicians place pea-size balls of donor tissue (sourced from Mississipian clam muscle) inside the shell which imitates the mussel and catalyzes it to form a mucus called nacre as an attempt to rid itself of the foreign object. Over the course of two years, the ball is coated with nacre which eventually forms the pearl.
Pearl mollusks are gendered and breed between October and February. They float on the ocean for five weeks as they develop tails, which are then caught on pearl-fishing nets and taken to pearl farms. They then sit in a state of stasis for three years before beginning to form pearls.
Mollusks are fragile and don’t like to be disturbed. The more undisturbed during incubation, the better the changes to form a good pearl.
Pearls are graded according to a distinct value which looks at luster, color, surface, shape and size. In order to receive an A-grade, less than 10% of its surface can be marked with flaws.
They can be round, semi-round, drop-shaped, have ridges, or be baroque which are irregular and non-spherical.
Tahitian pearls come in many colors from a silvery steel gray, blue, eggplant, dark green, black green, green and gold. The most highly sought-after color is called ‘peacock’, or rosey peacock which contains tones of green and pinks and purples combined.
At the end of the process, the pearls are very carefully extracted so as not to damage the oyster which can continue to produce pearls for around seven years.