The black pearl: from the pearl oyster to the black pearl

... colors, qualities, shapes ...

Formerly produced naturally by the presence of a grain of sand in the oyster, the pearl is now most often produced in pearl farms thanks to a technique of nucleus grafting. This is how Japanese grafters, like Mikimoto, came to French Polynesia to develop the cultivation of Tahitian pearls in the 1970s. The archipelagos of the Tuamotus-Gambiers are the most famous today for producing cultured pearls. 'remarkable quality and variety of colors.

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Origin of the Tahitian cultured pearl

Originally, the pearl regions were located in the Red Sea. After these were exhausted, it was the deposits of French Polynesia that were exploited. Extremely rare, the Tahitian pearl was found in one in every 15,000 oysters. In the 1960s, pearl oyster farming took on a considerable scale in Polynesia, under the influence of Japanese industry which made possible the production of pearl oysters. control of pearl production. The substitution of oyster fishing by pearl farming has made it possible to safeguard oysters threatened with extinction. The pearl farms producing Tahitian pearls are located in the Polynesian lagoons and mainly the Tuamotu archipelago.

Tahitian pearl formation process

To overcome its rarity and meet the growing demand from Tahitian pearl lovers, pearl divers have been converting into pearl cultivators since the 1970s.

Collecting

Collecting consists of passively capturing Pinctada margaritifera spat by attaching it to a collector. The technique consists of placing a submerged rope at –3m held at the bottom on karena (pinnacles), or by dead bodies, stretched by buoys. Over the length of the rope, which averages 100 to 200 meters, collectors are installed which are kept submerged by the work of buoys on the surface. The collector has followed a clear evolution, sometimes favoring plant fibers (such as those of the coconut palm) or synthetic (nylon net, greenhouse shade, etc.).

The transplant

It is thanks to the grafting of a mother-of-pearl nucleus, of a Mississippi mussel, into the reproductive pocket of the pearl oyster, Pinctada Margaritifera, that the process begins.

In fact, a trained master grafter inserts a pearl core as well as a piece of mantle from a donor oyster chosen in the gonad of the mother oyster.

Over time, the mantle will become a bag of pearls which will encapsulate the core and deposit layers of crystals which will become the pearl. To protect itself from this intrusion, the mollusk produces mother-of-pearl and thus protects its delicate flesh. It is the thickness and quality of this mother-of-pearl that will make the production of cultured pearls successful.

Post-Operation

After this delicate operation which only takes a few seconds for an expert grafter, the oysters are placed in retention baskets and returned to the water for the pearl's gestation.

Cultivation period

Cultivation takes place on submerged production lines. The pearl oyster deposits layers of mother-of-pearl around the inserted nucleus. Forty-five days later, a little more than half of them will have started to secrete pearl material.

The total process lasts between eighteen months and twenty-four months. During this period, the oysters are placed. in baskets that are regularly turned and cleaned to ensure the good health of the oysters.

Out of 100 pearl oysters, on average only 50 Tahitian pearls will be obtained and then classified according to their quality. Nothing, or almost nothing, is left to chance.

The harvest

The harvest is the magical moment during which the master sculptor who performed the initial operation collects a pearl after 4 to 5 years of patient care. A lustrous pearl is extracted from the oyster and a living gem is born. The master grafter then decides whether the oyster is suitable for a second operation before the start of the graft.

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