A Brief History of Tahitian Pearls

Native Tahitians collected natural pearls from the black-lipped pearl mollusk, Pinctada margaritifera, for many generations prior to Spanish and English involvement. Some of these natural saltwater pearls reached the size of grapes. However, many decades passed before the rest of the world could enjoy their beauty.

The First Attempts at Tahitian Pearl Cultivation

In 1912, Kokichi Mikimoto, who had successfully cultured Akoya pearls, attempted to cultivate pearls in the black-lipped mollusk in the seas south of Japan. However, efforts to utilize this oyster failed until Jean-Marie Domard’s 1961 attempt in French Polynesia. Using the subspecies Pinctada margaritifera cumingii, his farm gathered the first harvest of cultured Tahitian pearls four years later.

The Growth of Tahitian Pearl Production

During the 1970s, Salvador Assael visited Tahiti. Recognizing the potential in these gems, he invested in the country’s pearl farms and production boomed. He introduced cultured Tahitian pearls to the United States. After the GIA verified their authenticity, these pearls became quite popular. Famous jewelers began to offer Tahitian pearls. Near the end of the decade, a strand of Tahitian pearls sold for $500,000. By 1985, fine strands could sell for a million dollars.