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Dark and exotic, cultured Tahitian pearls are the coveted black pearls from the tropical lagoons and atolls of French Polynesia. Introduced to the world during the early 1970s, these darkly shimmering gems rocketed to popularity and have maintained their place amongst the most treasured of pearls ever since. 

Famous for their natural shades of black and their wide array of colorful overtones, Tahitian pearls are a staple for any pearl lover’s jewelry box. Their large sizes and eclectic mix of shapes make them extremely versatile; from classic round pearls to artistic, funky baroque shapes, these pearls have earned a place in the hearts of men and women around the world. 



* Tahitian pearls get their name from the island of Tahiti, but are actually cultured in the French Polynesian islands, not the main island of Tahiti. 

* The pearls are grown in the Pinctada margaritifera, or black-lipped pearl oyster which can grow up to 12-inches in diameter at maturity. 

* The Tahitian pearl oyster can be used as a pearl host up to three times during its lifetime. If it survives the third harvest, it is returned to the ocean to live the rest of its life in the wild, providing genetic diversity for other wild stock. If not, then the shells are harvested for their mother-of-pearl, which is sold to create buttons, inlays and other beautiful items.



* Tahitian pearls are bead-nucleated, meaning that there is a small mother-of-pearl spherical bead inserted into the oyster’s gonad during the grafting process. This round bead gives the oyster a template to lay nacre over, which increases the chances of harvesting a perfectly round pearl. 

* Tahitian pearls take about two years to acquire their thick nacre layers. Nacre depth is always kept at a minimum of 0.8 mm. These strict standards are regulated and enforced by the Ministeré de Tahiti, which controls all pearl exports from the islands.



Tahitian pearls come in a variety of shapes, but the most popular by far are perfectly round pearls. The next most valued shape is a symmetrical drop, then circled pearls, then free-form baroques. Matched pairs have a higher value as they’re harder to come by.  


* Perfectly round, tissue-nucleated Tahitian pearls are rare and valuable as the vast majority of any harvest will consist of baroque shapes.

* Perfectly round pearls represent less than 5% of each yearly pearl harvest.

* Pearls that feature slight variations (about 2-5% deviance) from a true round shape account for about 15% of each yearly harvest.



* Semi-baroque shapes such as tear-drops, smooth ovals and button-shapes account for about 35% of each yearly harvest. Symmetrical shapes always have a higher value.

* Symmetrical drop-shapes have a romantic appeal for many pearl lovers. The graceful shape makes for desirable pendant and earring sets that will always have a receptive audience.

* Button-shapes are an excellent option to add into necklaces to maintain a lower retail cost. They appear round to the eye from a distance of 6-inches or more, but are priced as baroques. Luster and color concentration is often superb due to the irregular crystalline formation of the nacre.



* Circles are the concentric rings running around the pearl’s body. They can range from a single ring to multiple rings stacked on top of each other over the pearl’s entire surface.

* Darker colors like violet or midnight blue tend to concentrate in the rings, heightening the contrast of brighter hues like rose or green.

* Emphasize their unique shapes and features – no two are perfectly alike. Playful layouts that mix and match shapes like these offer a touch of whimsy unmatched by a traditional round strand of pearls. 





Tahitian pearl colors are described first using the primary body color, then the overtone. Tahitian pearl body color can range from near-white hues to jet black, although the majority of pearls are medium to dark charcoal gray colors. The overtone is the secondary, iridescent hue that appears to ‘float’ over the pearl’s surface. 

Overtones can be peacock, pistachio, silver, steel, bronze, green, aquamarine, rose and aubergine among many other colors and hybrids. The saturation or intensity of the Tahitian pearl’s overtones increases the pearl’s value. Some overtones such as peacock are prized above all others.

There is no internationally recognized grading system for Tahitian pearl colors, so you will need to rely on your own judgment when describing a pearl’s body color and overtone.



* Peacock is by far the most popular overtone for Tahitian pearls. Peacock can be described as an iridescent mix of blue-green, green, gold and rose hues. The more saturated and intense the color, the more valuable the pearl is.

* Tahitian pearls with peacock overtones can have body colors that range from pale silver to medium and dark charcoal gray. The peacock overtone will show up best on pearls that range from a medium to dark charcoal gray body color.

* The peacock overtone is traditionally paired with white gold clasps and findings, however yellow gold can often enhance the secondary rose and golden hues, giving the pearls a warm sparkle.



* The silver overtone can help Tahitian pearls appear larger and brighter than their actual measurements. This is because light reflects off their surfaces at a higher rate.

* Silver is an excellent selection for women that have pink or reddish undertones in their complexion, as the pastel hues won’t clash with their skin tone. Older women with silver or gray hair will appreciate Tahitian pearls with silver overtones as well.

* Silver is also excellent for showing off the pearl’s iridescence, which will often show up as a faint tinge of rose or aquamarine color shifting over the pearl’s surfaces. 



* Green and blue-green overtones are the most prevalent of all overtones.

* True blue colors are considered rare and ‘fancy’.  

* Blue overtones can occur on pearls with pale gray to nearly black body colors, but the darker pearls with more intense saturation of color will be more highly valued.



* Pistachio is a color combination of silver, green and yellow colors. It is most commonly observed in pearls with light to light-medium gray body colors.

* Aubergine (French for ‘eggplant’) is a mix of rose and midnight blue hues. Pearls with more rose than blue are termed ‘Cherry’.



* Natural chocolate-colored Tahitian pearls are a rarity, and come from a mixture of brown, red, golden and sometimes green overtones. A prevalence of rose and gold will create a “milk chocolate” appearance, and the presence of greenish overtones will give the pearl a “dark chocolate” cast.

* The majority of chocolate Tahitians available today are color-treated, usually with dye. Dyed Chocolate Tahitian pearls can have reddish, golden or subtle greenish tinges to their surface however they lack the iridescence of naturally-colored chocolate pearls.



One of the larger pearl types, Tahitian pearls range from 8.0 mm to 16.0 mm and sometimes larger.

* Tahitian pearls are measured in 1.0 mm increments for pendants, earrings and rings.

* Most Tahitian pearl necklaces are graduated within 2.0 to 3.0 mm, sometimes more. This gives the sorters a wider range of pearls to work with when matching color, luster and overall tone for a whole necklace.

* Pearl necklaces that are graduated within 1.0 mm, for example a 10.0-11.0 mm necklace, are called ‘non-graduated’ and are more expensive as the pearl sorter has a reduced pool of matching pearls to choose from when creating the strand. 


* The most popular and versatile sizes are 9.0-10.0 mm, 10.0-11.0 mm and 11.0-12.0 mm.

* Smaller-sized pearls will display more intense color and luster. This is because they are cultured in younger, healthier oysters.

* Large pearls are cultured in older oysters which can accommodate the larger bead nucleus required of these sizes. Older oysters are often unable to impart the compact crystalline structure needed to display intense colors and luster.

* Tahitian pearls measuring over 13.0 mm with very intense color and luster are rare, and command premium prices.



Tahitian pearls are known for their ‘satiny’, touchable luster, which is less intense than the saltwater akoya pearl. This is due to their thicker nacre layers, as light must travel through many layers of nacre before being reflected and refracted back at the observer.  


* Tahitian pearls with ‘Excellent’ luster will exhibit luster that is almost as sharp as that of the saltwater akoya pearl. You will notice little to no blurring of reflected light sources on the surface of the pearls.

*Typically it will be the smaller size pearls that display higher rates of luster. This is due to the tighter formation of nacre layers, which compress the crystalline aragonite platelets together, creating a denser, harder surface for light to strike and penetrate. 


*Tahitian pearls with ‘Very Good’ luster will display a high degree of reflectivity. You may not be able to distinguish specific facial features reflected in the surface of the pearls and reflected light sources will appear softly blurred around the edges. 


*Tahitian pearls with ‘Good’ or ‘Fair’ luster will reflect a good amount of light, but reflected light sources will have a blurriness around the edges. Reflected objects will not be recognizable when viewing their reflections in the surface of the pearls.  


*Often semi-baroque and baroque pearls will feature a higher, crisper luster and more pronounced orient than perfectly round pearls. This is due to the irregular placement of crystalline aragonite platelets, which cause light to reflect and refract at a higher intensity in some areas.



Tahitian pearls display easily recognizable blemishes and features that you can refer to determine whether the pearls are genuine cultured pearls. Inclusions are natural occurrence, markings imparted on the pearl’s surfaces by the host oyster during the pearl’s formation.

As an ‘organic gem’, all cultured pearls will display inclusions of some form or other, whether you can see them with the naked eye or not. Romancing this aspect of the pearl’s appearance lies in affirming the pearls’ connection with the natural processes of the living world, and establishing the markings as a built-in identification system from nature – no two pearls will ever be exactly alike due to their unique features.  

*Pin-pricks are the most common inclusion observed on Tahitian pearls. They are usually quite small, and will not affect the durability of the pearls. Often the intensity of the pearl’s colors and luster will overpower them and they’ll be easy to miss.


*Mottling is not technically considered an inclusion, and does not count into factoring the pearl’s quality grade where inclusions are concerned.


*Knobs and tips can take on many different aspects; they can be long and pointed, short and rounded, appear bubble-like and so on. Often features like these will not affect a pearl’s durability.

*As with unusual shapes or colors, these characteristics contribute to a pearl’s individual character. Extolled as playful, artistic aspects of a pearl or a necklace as a one-of-a-kind creation, they can come to be the defining attribute that sells one strand over another.



Tahitian pearls are graded in French Polynesia using the A-D grading scale, with ‘A’ representing the very best pearls and ‘D’ being the lowest grade. The A-D scale can easily be translated to correspond with the A- AAA grading scale to explain Tahitian pearl grades to customers.

Currently, there is no universally recognized grading system for any cultured pearl type, which can make it difficult for buyers to equate a pearl’s beauty with its value. For an easy to understand visual guide on Tahitian pearl grading, visit the Tahitian Pearl Grading Guide.



While classic round strands and traditional pearl studs should be the mainstay of any fine pearl jewelry collection, it is important to offer variety in both design and pearl types. The range of colors, shapes and sizes that Tahitian pearls have to offer are sure to dazzle even the pickiest of pearl lovers.

Since their introduction in the 1970s, Tahitian pearls have become the black pearl to own. Maintaining a selection of black pearls will encourage clientele to look beyond basic white and discover a rainbow of possibilities. Experimenting with baroque Tahitian pearls can open the door to new customers that are looking for something with a modern edge. 



Ashley McNamara, CEO of Ashley has been working in the jewellery industry for over 14 years and is a GIA graduate wh​o has extensive experience grading and appraising cultured pearls.

You can contact her at or through her blog.



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India’s Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi has been able to give Indian economy the booster dose which was badly required within first three months of his coalition government led by his Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).


His prime goal, as he had declared before the general elections, was to provide India a stable and work-efficient government at the centre which is must for a country for its growth. His second goal was to improve the shabby condition of the Indian economy by creating a congenial atmosphere for attracting foreign direct investments which is also must for enhancing gross domestic product and generating larger numbers of employment.


Mr. Modi has achieved both these targets within first three months of his government’s inception. As a part of his pre-conceived strategy in his mind, Mr. Modi has started improving India’s relations with the neighbor countries, first among them were Bhutan and Japan and the last and recent was Asian giant China.

The two Asian giants in global gem & jewellery industry


During Mr. Modi’s recent official tour of Japan, the Land of Rising Sun has pledged to invest about USD 35 billion in India’s various sectors like railways, infrastructure, energy etc. while China’s President Mr. Xi Jinping has promised to invest USD 20 billion in India over the next five years and also has agreed to provide greater market access to Indian products in farm, pharma including gems and jewellery sectors, with a view to reducing the large trade gap with India.


It may be noted here that an MoU was signed between India’s Gems and Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC) & China Gems Center (CGC) recently during a jewellery show in Jaipur which would facilitate smoother exchange of gemstone and jewellery between India and China. Accordingly, Indian manufacturers are now eager to set up their trade centres in China.


With exclusion of talk about other sectors, we will discuss about India and China as a major global force which drives and dictates the terms in gem & jewellery sector. While India and China together account for about 70% of the world's gold market, China has achieved the status of the fastest growing global market for diamond jewellery as the country has seen an increase of 30% in the number of diamond jewellery retail doors between 2010 and ’13. On the other hand, domestic diamond jewellery markets of both India and China rose by a compounded annual growth rate of 12% in local currency terms between 2008 and 2013, according to a report recently released by the De Beers.


The Managing Director of Rio Tinto Group Mr. Jean-Marc Lieberherr has also given positive indications about the new Indian government. He recently said during the September ’14 Hong Kong fair,

“We are sure to see strong growth in India as soon as the country gets its house in order with the new government. The middle class in China and India, supposed to be the world’s fastest growing jewellery market, can double by 2015 in comparison with 2010, boosting demand for diamonds.”


China and India, where about an estimated 21 million weddings take place every year, may account for half of the growth in diamond demand in the next five years from 2013, market experts say. India and China, the two major forces in global market are now striking closer ties in the fields of gem & jewellery to become decisive drivers in growth of the industry.


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The idea of diamonds trading as commodities has been around for decades. Martin Rapaport proposed a futures market for diamonds with New York Commodities Exchange as early as 1982. Many investment experts believe there is a place for diamonds in the commodities market and there will probably be diamond-backed funds traded on a variety of exchanges in the near future. Diamonds will need to be stored in a central vault. Investors buy shares of those diamonds but they never actually possess the diamonds, it’s only on paper.


Diamonds are often compared to gold as a commodity. Gold and other precious metals are traded on exchanges word wide. But metals have the one thing diamonds lack: consistency. For this reason the common belief is diamonds can never be a commodity.


Diamond as a commodity


We can more accurately compare diamonds with oil. Crude oil is not all the same. It is graded on viscosity, sulphur content and a few other variables. Diamonds have clarity, colour, cut and other variables. The difference is that every single diamond has its own grade while every barrel of oil from one source will be identical. But there is a precedent for commodities of varying grades so diamonds are a possibility.


In order for diamonds to be traded as commodities there needs to be strict, consistent and repeatable standards for diamond grading. Rappaport may be taking a step towards that on his own with his exclusion of EGL reports on his trading network, giving tacit consent to the standards of the remaining labs. EGL USA is planning to open a diamond trading platform to compete with Rap-net. They are not alone. IDEX and Polygon’s Cert-net are two other large diamond trading sites. On the consumer side there is Blue Nile and Pricescope. Any of these could become a diamond commodity exchange.


Higher grade stones will be snapped up by the exchanges to spend the rest of their existence in darkness. Diamond prices will soar and retail profits will disappear. They will be sold at market prices and not marked-up prices. Lower quality diamonds and melee will be easily available but the good stuff above a carat will be hard to find and even harder to buy.


Where does that leave the retail jeweller? The bridal market depends on good availability and affordability of centre stones. Jewellers will need to move toward coloured gemstones and lab-grown diamonds to regain profitability. The commoditization of diamonds may be the end of natural diamonds in the retail market.


Maybe that’s a good thing. If the financial guys want to play with all the details of grading, that’s fine. They like numbers so it should be easy for them. We can focus more on the beauty of jewellery and less on the detailed nit-picking of diamond grades. Let customer choose a stone that connects with their emotions rather than one that a piece of paper says is better. And jewellers can once again be artisans.


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The young and prospering new generation in India has come to an age and it is now becoming more precise and choosy as far as its jewellery is concerned. A notable change in its taste from tradition gold jewellery to latest diamond jewellery has been marked among the educated and employed youths, aspiring grooms and brides along with their growing sources of income.


A myth had been prevailing among Indian consumers that diamonds and diamond jewellery are unaffordable. Organized diamond jewellery chains in India, with their sustained campaigning have now become successful in eradicating this myth from consumers’ mind to a great extent. Moreover, introduction of certified diamonds has enhanced trust and made diamond valuations more authentic. Indian manufacturers are now reaching the mass, offering them affordable diamond jewellery to almost all economic levels. They have also introduced innovative and fashionable diamond jewellery which is cheaper by traditional world standards and targeted at the middle class.

Consumers now prefer diamond jewellery in India’s metro cities


Indian jewellery has an evolving history of about 5000 years and a taste of gold jewellery has been deep-rooted in the minds of Indian people. So it would be very difficult to change their preference overnight. Of course, the manufacturers here have been successful in recent times to turn the flow of the tastes of Indian consumers towards diamond jewellery but this is not enough as the growth of diamond jewellery demand here is still in nascent stage. This shift in taste has been noted in big cities of India where about 30% of population reside, rest (about 70% of population) resides in rural areas. Therefore, gold jewellery sales will still see volume growth thanks to this factor.


But this is a good beginning and what needs to be done to carry forward this shift is to become more focused on rural areas of India with a sustained campaigning to bring awareness about diamonds and diamond jewellery. The World Diamond Mark Foundation (WDM) which is about to launch its generic promotions for diamonds soon can be a great help for driving diamond jewellery demand growth in India.


It would be encouraging for India’s diamond jewellery manufacturers and retailers to see that consumers here are becoming more modern and less traditional. They have shown a willingness to shift from traditional gold jewellery and to try jewellery made from other precious commodities like diamonds and platinum. Besides sustained campaigns, the other reason behind this change in consumption patterns is that a large number of young people in India are using internet technology which keeps them informed about the trends prevailing in the world. Today, they care more about the latest design, style and seasonal trends.


Market analysts here observe that this change in consumption patterns can be credited to other factors also. The change is also being driven by price moves and currency devaluation. During last entire year, Indian consumers have seen volatile gold prices along with a steep downfall of the Indian rupee against the USD. On the other hand, polished diamonds have become cheaper. As the Rapaport Diamond Trade Index puts it, average asking price for 1-carat diamonds fell by about 18% by the end of the second quarter of this year, year-over-year.


During July 2014, diamond solitaires outpaced gold in the stock index by 10 percentage points which further dimmed India’s love for gold. Besides, the profit margins on pure gold have also gone down after the Indian government introduced various curbs on imports of the precious metal to take control over its Current Account Deficit (CAD), including higher import taxes and tougher import procedures, in an attempt to close the current account deficit. This has prompted them to popularize diamond studded jewellery among Indian consumers.


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Attendance for the first two days of the September Hong Kong Jewellery Fair improved by 11.2 percent year-over-year, according to UBM Asia, the company the owns and operates the world’s largest B2B fine jewellery trade fair. The numbers are from the portion of the show dedicated to jewellery making materials, equipment and supplies held at the AsiaWorld-Expo.


Wolfram Diener, UBM Asia senior vice president, shared these numbers with me during a brief interview Wednesday at the opening of the portion of the show dedicated to finished fine jewellery at the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre. Fair organizers predicted very modest growth this year, and judging from the first two days of the finished jewellery portion of the fair, this may still happen. But an attendance figure of 33,606 unique visitors had to be a welcome sign for the organizers. Particularly during a time of political turmoil and violence in the Middle East, sanctions against Russia, and still sluggish economies in the western portion of the world, particularly in Europe and the US. Not to mention a category 8 typhoon off the coast of Hong Kong.

The crowded registration area at the AsiaWorld-Expo during the second day of the fair.

The crowded registration area at the AsiaWorld-Expo during the second day of the fair.


One of the buyers I saw Tuesday was Steven Lagos, founder of the jewellery brand, Lagos, who says the annual fair has grown to become “best show in the world.”


“You used to be able to see all of these little companies in Basel, but it has gotten too exclusive and expensive,” he says. “I always find interesting ideas and suppliers in Hong Kong.  It really offers a global perspective into the business.”


Mayuri Vara, owner Vara of London, a new luxury jewellery brand, says she has been coming to the Hong Kong fair for three years to source her materials and to network. Next year, she plans to be an exhibitor. This year, her focus will be coloured gemstones, such as rhodolite garnet, pink sapphires, morganite, grey and champagne diamonds.


“The demand of colored gemstones at the fair is set to continue,” she says. “(The show) attracts a great number of influential international buyers and is a gateway to doors into luxury Asian markets. We will be looking forward to exhibiting next year.”


Leibish Polnauer, founder of Leibish & Co, a dealer of fancy colored diamonds to consumers and the trade primarily online, brought some of his more special gems with him to exhibit, including a 50-carat yellow diamond and a 3.37-carat pinkish-purple diamond, known as “The Purple Orchid,” that has an asking price of $4 million. His booth like many at the show was crowded with people milling about and with appointments. When I asked him about business, he shrugged saying “typhoons, whatever, we do most of our business online.”


It is the largest B2B fine jewellery show in the world in terms of the number of exhibitors and the amount of exhibition space. Baselworld – The World Watch and Jewellery Show (primarily a watch show open to the trade and general public) attracts more visitors.



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