The Tahitian Pearl Celebrates 60 years

June 9, 2021 in Experience

Many of us wouldn’t mind celebrating just about anything right now, which is why the 60th anniversary of the Tahitian black pearl is as good a reason as any! While the history of pearl harvesting in Polynesia goes back to the 1800s, it was only in 1961 the Tahitian Pearl was made available to the rest of the world. 

As Australians/New Zealanders eagerly wait for a travel bubble to open to The Islands of Tahiti, it might be a while before you can go visit a pearl farm in person and harvest your very own rare black pearl. In the meantime, here’s how you can celebrate the occasion with a pearl piece from a pioneer of the Tahitian pearl industry, Robert Wan. 

Fun facts about the Tahitian pearl

  • The production of a single Tahitian pearl takes at least 4 years.
  • They are formed from the black lip oyster (Pinctada Margaritifera).
  • The Tahitian pearls aren’t actually black. The wide range of hues includes blue, green, brown or silver, but never a true black. Traditionally the most sought-after Tahitian pearls will have a dark green body colour and peacock overtones.
  • There are up to 1000 pearl farms in French Polynesia. Despite its name, the Tahitian pearl is actually not produced on the island of Tahiti, but in the two archipelagos Tuamotu Islands and Gambier Islands.
  • Only 15 years ago a perfect strand of black pearls for $100,000 would have been considered a bargain, while today the price is considerably lower due to the expanded industry. 
  • One of the biggest pioneers in introducing the Tahitian pearl to the world was Robert Wan. Thanks to Wan, the Tahitian pearl has been ranked as the only French gem, the star of haute-Joaillerie (fine jewellery) and answers to more than half of the country’s export earnings. 

Once the borders are finally open and you’re ready to head over to The Islands of Tahiti, make sure to add these areas to the bucket list, where you can get your hands on your very own Tahitian pearl:

  • Gambier Archipelago: The Gambier Archipelago is a group of islands at the remotest part of French Polynesia, about 1,600 km southeast of Tahiti and it is about as close you can get to the end of the earth. Travellers visiting this area will feel a sense of privilege as they’re greeted warmly by locals in this secluded part of the world. 
    • On the island South Marutea is where the majority of Robert Wan’s pearl farming is being held and Wan himself states that his best pearls are produced on this atoll due to the unique conditions of the environment. 
    • While in the area you will be able to explore a more traditional Polynesian lifestyle on the largest island Mangareva where you can visit several markets and pearl farms. 
  • Tuamotu Archipelago: 
    • Tikehau, a small circular atoll next to Rangiroa less than an hour flight north of Tahiti. This small atoll is covered in pink and white sand with a lagoon teeming with marine life. While you’re here you can go on a snorkelling tour to an abandoned pearl farm, which is often visited by a large number of manta rays. 
    • Another well-kept secret is the island of Fakarava, the second largest of the Tuamotu atolls and is considered a nature sanctuary. Its reef is a designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and safeguards a variety of endemic wildlife, which the local population is passionate about protecting and is known in inner circles as a diving heaven. While you’re here you can visit The Fakarava Pearl Farm by Tahia Pearls, which has a team of six producing over 300,000 pearls yearly.
  • Society Archipelago:
    • Tahiti: In the capital city Papeete, you can visit the Robert Wan Pearl Museum, which provides a comprehensive guide to the history and legends of the Tahitian pearl. Here you can also view the largest round Tahitian cultured pearl in existence, a 22mm round silver pearl of the highest quality rating.