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HISTORY

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Today, all pearls found in the market are called ‘cultured pearls’. These differ from natural pearls due to a foreign body being introduced into the oyster to make up the nucleus of the future pearl during the grafting process. Only an X-ray can distinguish a natural pearl from a cultured pearl. Pearl farming to produce cultured pearls began in the early 1960s. Jean-Marie Domard was the first man to ever experiment with pearl farming. Following in the tradition of Mikimoto, the inventor of pearl farming, he started experimenting with Pinctada Margaritafera using Japanese culturing techniques. Pinctada Margaritafera is the oyster that produces the black pearl.

 

In 1965, after a couple years of failed attempts, he finally succeeded in producing roughly 1000 high quality black pearls. This was the product of nucleating 5000 oysters and waiting three years for the harvest. The harvest motivated both the Tahitian government and the private sector resulting in the first farm being established in Hikueru while the second one in Bora-Bora. The Pinctada Margaritafera is indigenous to Tahiti and the surrounding islands. The oyster is also commonly referred to as the black lipped oyster due to the edges of the inner valves being very dark or even black. Although the oyster is smaller than other oysters, such as the South Sea Oyster, it is still able to grow to a large size and thus produce large pearls. The average size of the oyster ranges from 12-15mm while the pearls that are produced range from 8-18mm and can be even larger in rare cases. Two to three years after grafting, the oysters that survived are ready to be harvested. Only 5% of the pearls produced are round and an even smaller percentage possess the traits to be certified as gem quality.

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Rarity

A single strand of 27 Tahitian cultured pearls ranging in size from 13.5 mm to 17.9 mm was sold at an auction by Sotheby’s New York in 1990 for $797,500. The necklace did have some diamonds in it. In 1988, Sotheby’s sold another single strand of 31 pearls in graduated sizes from 11.2 mm to 14.1mm in a rare green coloration of Tahitian  Pearls, for $159,500. And at Christie’s New York, a three-strand necklace of 37, 39 and 43 matched, round Tahitian, measuring 12.0 mm to 15.2 mm, went for $880,000.  “The highest price achieved at auction for a Tahitian cultured pearl necklace was US$880,000 for a three-strand necklace comprising 119 pearls measuring from 12 to 15.2 millimetres,” says Christie’s New York head of Jewelry, Rahul Kadakia, about the Christie’s sale in October 1989. In Geneva in 2005, a single strand of 49 natural black pearls measuring from 8.25 to 16.3 millimetres went for roughly €1.1 million. In truth, there is no internationally recognized grading system for pearls. The fact is that there is no standardized criteria. One dealer’s “Triple A” quality might be someone else’s grade “B.”

That means two things:

* You should have a genuine sense of trust in the people from whom you are buying.
* You should take steps to increase your knowledge so you can make informed decisions.