Pinctada margaritifera: the Tahitian pearl oyster
The French Polynesian islands are world renowned for their successful pearl farms. Several environmental factors are unique to these islands, providing a perfect habitat for Pinctada margaritifera pearl oysters. These oysters create the famous Poerava or Tahitian black pearl. This habitat paired with the pearl harvesting technician’s savoir-faire is what makes this island paradise such an outstanding location for pearl culturing.
Pinctada margaritifera: Tahitian pearl oysters
Pinctada Margaritifera & Poerava
The pearl oyster called Pinctada margaritifera is commonly found in the tropical coral reefs of the Indo-Pacific. The most famous and most productive region is, without a doubt, the Tahitian lagoon region.
This pearl oyster is part of the Pteriidae family. They have a lifespan of approximately twenty years and are the only oyster with mother-of-pearl that has a green, red, blue or grey iridescence present along the periphery of its inner shell. There are two other species of pearl oysters, the Pinctada maxima and the Pinctada fucata.
Poerava: objects of desire
Atolls are the preferred location for Tahitian pearl farms. Atolls are the leftover remnants of sunken volcanoes, which become coral islands encircling a lagoon either partially or completely. The local variety of Pinctada margaritifera found in some atolls is able to reproduce en masse at regular intervals, especially during the off-seasons.
Pinctada margaritifera is a species that can only be found in the Indo-Pacific region. They are mainly found in the South Pacific, from New Guinea to Hawaii and, of course, in French Polynesia. The Tahitian Pinctada margaritifera pearl oyster creates the famous black pearl (Poerava).
What makes Tahitian pearl farms so successful?
There are many factors that determine the growth of a successful harvest of Tahitian pearl oysters, including the following:
- The grafter’s experience and expert knowledge
- The oyster’s health before the grafting process begins
- The quality of the nucleus that will be implanted in the pearl oyster
- The environmental factors (sea temperature, sunlight, water quality, etc.)
The main principles of pearl farming
The first step in cultivating Tahitian pearl oysters is collecting the spat, which are larvae that have settled and will be allowed to mature further to form seed oysters with small shells. The larvae are collected by special devices that are often fitted with strips of synthetic material that are placed a few meters below the surface of the sea.
The second step is the grafting stage, which involves several different steps. Once an oyster is three years of age it can be used to graft. The size of the pearl sack must be large enough to allow the nucleus to be placed in the oyster.
Two essential steps
During the grafting operation, two things are inserted into the oyster’s pearl sack
- A graft: a one-millimeter piece of tissue cut from the mantle of a donor oyster. The mantle is the outer rim of the oyster.
- A nucleus: a small bead on which the layers of nacre will be deposited, forming a pearl.
If the grafting process is successful and the natural formation of the pearl goes unhindered, a Tahitian pearl oyster will create a pearl after approximately 18 to 24 months.
It should be noted that selecting the graft is important since it determines the color of the pearl produced.
The Tahitian black pearl is therefore harvested 18 to 24 months after the grafting process is complete. Tahitian pearl oysters are fragile. The following lists general statistics for a population of 100 specimens of Pinctada margaritifera:
- 15% die a month after grafting
- 15% reject the nucleus
- 5% die during the farming process
- Only 50% reach maturity
It should be noted that 25% of the pearls harvested are not commercially viable because they do not meet all of the criteria for quality.
The oysters that provide the most round high-quality pearls can be grafted two to three times. With each graft the size of the pearl becomes larger and larger.
Perleria de Tahiti has an extensive collection of Tahitian black pearls that were harvested using this process. It is important to have a large array of pearls with varying colors, shapes and sizes so that we can help you craft a bespoke piece. We are sure to select only the most stunning specimens in order to create magnificent jewelry that will continue your legacy.