Pearls in Taha’a
|A breezy wet ride in the dinghy brought
us to a local pearl farm on the island of
Taha’a. Owner Claudette showed us
how the color of the oyster shell lip
determines the pearl color. Tahitian
pearls can be champagne, blue grey,
peacock, green, bronze, purple or black.
|Natural pearls are made by the oyster forming
a shell around a foreign object, such as a grain of
sand. The vast majority of pearls are cultured,
requiring human intervention – the insertion of a
“nucleus”, in this case a rounded piece of a
Mississippi mussel shell. About 50% of the time,
the oyster rejects it. If the oyster accepts the
nucleus, it takes about 3 years to make one pearl.
|Back in 1498, Columbus reported natives in the
Caribbean wearing pearls. Pearls were so
abundant that the natives did not attach much
value to them. The Chinese used pearls for
medicinal purposes. Doctors ground up pearls
for patients to swallow to treat madness,
epilepsy, or melancholia. Pearls were also thought
to have anti-aging and aphrodisiac properties!
Cleopatra once famously bet Marc Anthony that
she could spend a fortune on a single meal.
When he disagreed, she asked for a small glass
of vinegar to be placed in front of her. She then
dropped one of her huge pearl earrings (worth
fortune) in the glass, dissolving the pearl, and drank it, winning the bet!
|Pearls became a prized possession.
Julius Caesar was the first to legislate
that pearls should only be worn by wealthy
patricians. In the 18th century, decrees popped
up across Europe to limit, even forbid,
the wearing of pearls.
|Pearls are valued based on size, shape, color,
brilliance, purity of surface, and the thickness
of the layers of pearl around the nucleus. Pearls
are quite soft (on a scale of 1 to 10, diamonds are
10 and pearls are 3). These beauties are premium “A” grade.
|A rare view of a pearl showing the nucleus.
In order to truly determine the value of pearls,
they have to be X-rayed.
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