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samedi 29 novembre 2014

Tahitian Black Pearl



Polynesian lagoons' Black gold

Polynesians have discovered the pearl oyster before the arrival of Europeans. They used the shell to make weapons and ornaments.

The Chinese are the ones who invented the cultured pearl by introducing in the mantle of the oyster a lead figurine with Buddha's effigy, around which the pearl had to settle.

But the real invention of the process amounts undoubtedly to three Japanese who discovered in 1904, and simultaneously, without knowing each other, the secret of the graft.

A pearl farm in the lagoon of Mangareva at the Gambier Islands
 In 1960, a certain Jean-Marie Domard matters to Polynesia, the techniques used in Japan. In 1962, he managed to make the "nucleate" of more than five thousand oysters. Three years later, he got more than a thousand high quality pearls.

Mythology
The Polynesian mythology talks about the black pearls as light caskets. They were given by the Creator to Tāne, a divinity of Harmony and Beauty. He made out of them the stars which he sent to Rua Hatu, God of the ocean for him to lighten his domain.

Then the god 'Oro, tutelary divinity of war and peace, offered them to the women whom he coveted. At the completion of his work, he gave the pearl oyster, "Te ufi", to the humans in memory of his passage. Since then, "Te ufi" thrives in Polynesian lagoons.

This treasure, a secret of coral islands, has long been considered a royal symbol.

Birth of a pearl
A natural pearl is born when a grain of sand comes into the shell of the oyster. Then the mother-of-pearl will cover with successive layers of nacre until the intruder is completely covered, what will take years.

Oysters awaiting the transplant
Today, all the "real" pearls, sold worldwide, are cultured pearls. Pearl farming requires the following three steps: collection of spat, transplant operations, harvesting.

Spat collection
     The oyster spat is the raw material of pearl-farming. The “collectors” (plastic bands) are suspended a few feet below the surface of the lagoon. They are between 12 and 24 months under water to produce juvenile 5 to 10 cm.

Precious pearls on a typical hanging net before being plunged back into the lagoon
To achieve the graft size between 9 and 11 cm, each shell is pierced at an "ear" and attached to a 2 m cord, which constitute a string suspended as a pocket-net during 3 to 12 months.

The graft
Grafting consists in inserting a nucleus into the "pearl pocket" of an oyster (it will play the role of a grain of sand) and a graft (piece of organic tissue cut from the mantle from a donor oyster).

The essential but very painstaking gesture of the graft
       The shell is slightly open to let the transplant tools through. Once inserted into the oyster, the graft fuses with living tissues and a pearl sac develops around the nucleus: this is the starting point for the future pearl.

The transplant operation is a traumatic process. The oysters that survive and retain the nucleus are bred on rosary chains. It takes approximately 18 months to form a layer of nacre thick 0.8mm.

    For every hundred oysters grafted, only twenty-five to thirty oysters give marketable pearls.

The harvest
      Eighteen months after the transplant, it is harvest without sacrificing the oyster. If the pearl is of exceptional quality, a second grafting is performed with a nucleus of the size of the harvested pearl. Oysters can be grafted two to three times.

The beauty of a pearl depends on a large number of criteria: its shape, the state of its surface, its color, its orient, its luster, its glow. Several faults can occur: hooping, pitting, comets, blisters, no luster and pigmentation.

The Tahitian cultured pearl is known in particular for the variety of its nuances of color 

A nucleus and a beautiful Tahitian black pearl
      To ensure a quality recognized to the black pearl of Tahiti, classification rules were defined:
• the diameter: it varies from 8 to 18 mm and the nacre layer deposited around the cores should not be less than 0.8 mm;
• the average weight: It must be close to 1.6 g;
• the form: the pearls are classified into round, semi-round, semi-baroque, baroque, and circled;
• quality: it depends on the surface finish and gloss.
According to figures published by the department of pearl farming, for twenty-five marketable pearls, only five will be considered perfect.

The pearl and the economy
Pearl farming was, until there is little, one of the main resources of French Polynesia. It employed about seven thousand people divided, essentially, between the islands of the Tuamotu, Society and Gambier Islands.

Having started with less than two pounds in 1978, in 2005, production of beads reached five tons. Most of this production is exported to Asia and the United States after the Polynesian auctions in Polynesia and Hong Kong.

The iridescent  magic of the Tahitian black pearls
While Polynesia remains one of the world's leading exporters of black pearls, she must now face competition from other countries in Oceania, particularly the Cook Islands, Fiji, Marshall and Solomon. But above all to the total and chronic lack of a coherent trade policy, the result of a very particular political situation
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See also:

An article of Julien Gué
Translated from French by Monak


Copyright Julien Gué. Ask for the author’s agreement before any reproduction of the text or the images on Internet or traditional press.


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