Early in the eighteenth century, traders sailed into Tahitian waters, searching specifically for mother-of-pearl. Together, England and France were importing over 8,000 tons of nacre a year to feed an insatiable European appetite for buttons, combs, pistol grips, knife handles and a litany of other objects made of the beautiful shells.
In the process, they occasionally found a natural black pearl.
It went on for 150 years. Eventually the natural pearl oyster beds of the Tuamotu and Gambier island chains were harvested to virtual extinction.
Today, all that really exists is a cultured pearl market. This is true of all pearls, not just the Tahitian Black. The cultured pearl is a natural product, produced by a mollusc in the same manner as a natural pearl, but with science briefly intervening to better the odds.
Black Tahitian cultured pearls don't begin with a grain of sand. They begin with a perfectly round nucleus, harvested from the shell of a mussel which lives in, of all places, the Mississippi River. The nucleus is implanted inside a black-lipped oyster called a Pinctada margaritifera. This procedure is handled by highly trained and skilled grafters, not along the Mississippi Delta, but in the lagoons of Tahiti and the archipelagos of French Polynesia.
Water density and temperature, the character and makeup of the ocean bottom, and the currents of the coral reef lagoons make this the only place on Earth where Pinctada margaritifera can thrive, grow and produce magnificent gems.
At Savage Pearls, we monitor the process with our own eyes. We know it isn't easy.
The development of a cultured pearl takes over two years. 50 months is typical. Here's how it goes.
Of the 2,000 Pinctada margaritifera raised from spats (the spawn of oysters), 55% will die before they are large enough to implant. After the grafting process, 25% of the remaining shells will not produce a pearl because of nucleus rejection or post operative mortality. Some will die of natural causes.
This leaves 400 pearls, 40 of which will have no commercial value.
Shape is just one of six major considerations in determining a
pearl's value. In descending order of desirability, here's what the
harvest will actually realize in numbers of gems:
Only 10 out of 2,000 will score high on all of the Six Tests of Quality and Value , Only ten will be large, perfectly round, possess high degrees of lustre and "orient," have thick nacre, virtually perfect surfaces and rare color. You can imagine their value will be exceptional.