A Guide to Buying Tahitian Black Pearls
Black pearls represent over 50% of the exports from French Polynesia, and baby boomer travelers will find the black pearl tempting them on nearly every corner.
If you are planning a trip to Tahiti, Bora Bora, or any of the beautiful islands in French Polynesia, and you think you might be tempted to bring home your own beautiful bauble , here are a few tips to consider.
A Baby Boomers’ Guide to Buying Black Tahitian Pearls
- Unlike diamonds, there is no industry-wide grading system for pearls. Therefore, it’s buyer beware.
- There are two major pearl grading systems generally accepted by reputable pearl dealers. But even these systems become confusing and misleading if a seller uses terms from the grading systems in a lose way.
The AAA-A System:
This system grades pearls on a scale from AAA to A, with AAA being the highest grade. This grading scale is common to freshwater and akoya pearls only, but is accepted by many with South Sea and Tahitian pearls as well:
- AAA:The highest-quality pearl, virtually flawless. The surface will have a very high luster, and at least 95% of the surface will be free from any type of defect.
- AA: The surface will have a very high luster, and at least 75% of the surface will be free from any type of defect.
- A: This is the lowest jewelry-grade pearl, with a lower luster and/or more than 25% of the surface showing defects. In many cases, if the pearl is being mounted into a piece of jewelry, it can be mounted so that the defects are hidden — thus providing a lovely jewelry piece at a lower price.
The A-D System (or Tahitian System):
It is important to note that the following grading system can be interchanged with the AAA-A system.
This system grades pearls on a scale from A to D, with A being the highest grade. This is the system used in French Polynesia (based on a government standard there) to grade Tahitian pearls, and South Sea pearls only. It is therefore sometimes referred to as the “Tahitian system.” While this system is standard in producing countries, other markets will still utilize AAA-A.
- A: The highest-quality pearl, with very high luster and only minor imperfections over less than 10% of its surface.
- B: High or medium luster. Surface may have some visible imperfections, but over no more than 30% of its area.
- C: Medium luster with surface defects over not more than 60% of the surface area.
- D: May have many slight defects, but no deep ones, spread over 60% of its surface; or deep defects over no more than 60% of its surface; or a combination of minor and deep defects over no more than 60% of its surface. In this grade of pearl, the luster is irrelevant. Even the most lustrous pearls will be graded D if their surface is blemished to this extent. Pearls below D grade are considered not acceptable for use in jewelry.
- Nacre is the Final Factor in Grading Pearls: Both of the grading systems described above focus primarily on the luster and surface quality of the pearl to determine its grade. But keep in mind that other factors also contribute to the quality and final grade of any pearl. One of the most important is the thickness of the nacre, which often determines how durable the pearl will be over time. The thicker the nacre, the stronger and longer-lasting the pearl (provided it is treated well, of course!) For Tahitian pearls, the government of French Polynesia has set a minimum nacre thickness of 0.8 millimeters. Any pearls with nacre of less than that thickness are not allowed to be sold. Keeping in mind that Tahitian pearls tend to be larger than many other pearls (such as akoyas), you can use this rule as a guideline when evaluating your own potential pearl purchases.
Note: this information is from www.pearl-guide.com, the world’s largest pearl information source.