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In just the 30 years they've been in the jewelry marketplace, the Tahitian cultured pearl has made its mark. These big, colorful gems are prized for their large size and exotic naturally dark colors.
Not Only Black Pearls
You'll often hear these gems referred to as "Tahitian Black Pearls." The name has caused a couple of misconceptions about the pearls.
First, Tahitian cultured pearls aren't only black. They appear in shades of brown, gray, blue, green and purple as well. They also have gorgeous overtones that give Tahitian cultured pearls an incredible beauty all their own.
Secondly, the gems aren't found in Tahiti. Tahiti is the largest island in French Polynesia, but the pearl culturing farms are found on other islands in the territory, which is located in the South Pacific.
The pearls are found in a bivalve mollusk called the black-lipped oyster that is native to French Polynesia. The inside edges and edges of the mantle are rainbow colored. It is found from the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of California.
In nature, the black-lipped oyster can live up to 30 years, grows up to a foot in diameter and weighs up to 1 pound. During the years it produces pearls, ages 3 to 7, the black-lipped oyster is usually between 6 and 8 inches in diameter.
The five archipelagos that make up French Polynesia lie East of Australia. They are the Marquesas Islands, Gambier Islands, Austral Islands, the Tuamotu Archipelago and the Society Islands, which contain Tahiti. The islands are spread out over an area the size of Europe, but their land surface is only 1,500 square miles.
The lagoons of the Tuamotu Archipelago and Gambier Islands are home to most of the pearl farms that cultivate Tahitian pearls. Many of the islands are very remote and only accessible by seaplane or boat. Each farm is self-sufficient, with solar energy, vegetable gardens and poultry. The water around these islands is very clean, which helps in the culturing process.
The shallow lagoons of these islands are surrounded by rings of land and coral reefs. The waters are nutrient rich and relatively calm.
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