The Short History of the Tahitian Pearl

The Short History of the Tahitian Pearl

You may not know that the Tahitian Pearl, which is so well known today and worn proudly by so many, has only been acknowledged as jewelry since the 1970s.

The French Polynesian Islands from which the Tahitian Pearls come, were "discovered" by explorers in the 16th and 17th centuries. The French colonized the islands in 1880 and eventually, French Polynesia became a country in 1957. Traders brought back the oyster shells of the Pinctada Margaritifera for their mother of pearl interior. This was the rage, used for inlay in furniture and buttons. The mesmerizing colors of the mother of pearl, pinks, greens, blues, purples were in much demand in Europe. There was so much demand for the shells that they were harvested to near extinction in the 50s.

There were attempts to farm the Pinctada Magaritifera beginning in the 60s, but the pearls were not very desirable. This was more of an attempt to preserve the genus of the oyster. It wasn't until the 70s that the attempts at farming began a more intense and desired industry.

The marketing of black Tahitian Pearls changed dramatically when Salvador Assael, who already was known for his jewelry with White South Sea Pearls met a Frenchman, Jean-Claude Brouillet in Saint Tropez. Brouillet had recently moved to the atoll of Mauritea in Tahiti. Brouillet showed Assael some, not fabulous, black Tahitian pearls. But there was a seed of inspiration that was created. Assael could smell the opportunity of a good new opportunity. Brouillet and Assael purchased the whole atoll and set up many new pearl farms. The key here was to find the talent to produce fine Tahitian pearls, so Assael brought in Japanese technicians to guide the development of the Tahitian pearl farming. In the late 70s, pearls of exceptional quality were being produced and by 1978, they had enough gem-quality pearls to produce a perfect necklace. Assael took this necklace to his friend, Harry Winston on Fifth Avenue in New York. Harry was gob-smacked. He put the necklace in the important front window and it sold within a week. Assael and Winston partnered to develop the rest of the harvest of Tahitians in magnificent pieces of jewelry and it wasn't long before major international jewelers were included. The marketing campaign was billed with "A New Gem Is Born", but it took a major campaign for the Tahitian Pearl to actually gain the official designation of Gem. In 1976, the Gemological Institute of America gave the official recognition of the Tahitian pearl as a natural and unique gem. Quite an accomplishment. 

Because pearls have had such a long history of recognition in jewelry, art, and lore, it is a surprise that Tahitian pearls are relatively new to the market. But, thank goodness for this marvelous new Gem.

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