Pinctada Maculata (Pipi) Pearls

SteveM

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A non-gem-oriented guy, I seem to be following in the footsteps of other gentlemen in making an extreme exception for pearls. This follows a long-anticipated holiday in the Cooks last summer.

Specifically, we fell in love with natural pipi pearls, perhaps due to their contrast with the plethora of black pearl offerings in the local boutiques. But mainly, this follows a lifelong appreciation for natural authenticity in all things.

We applaud what appears to be an increasing appreciation for natural pearls on this forum, although there is precious little on pipis. Certainly in the cultured world of size-is-everything, I can understand that these rare, albeit smallish pearls may suffer a certain sort of underappreciation.

Attached image is a trophy we came back with, 1700 pipis 3-3.5mm collected in the 1970s, on 12 strands and 18k handmade clasp, with interdispersed peridot, garnet, amethyst and amber. Took one month to drill. One of kind, produced in relation to the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Cook Islands cultured trade by a prominent local pearling family.

I hope this thread might elicit some insightful observations, including whether there is any reasonable or effective alternative to GIA natural certification for proper appraisal.

Steve Metzler
Seattle, WA

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Hi Steve,

What a gorgeous strand. I've always wanted some poe pipi. I'll content myself with just looking at yours while the experts here give us some insight into these little wonders.

Slraep
 
Thanks, hopefully they didn't overly deplete remaining supplies making the strand (collection has been reduced to a bare minimum since the advent of cultureds)! It has an official Maori title: 'Te Poe Pipi O Te Kuki Airani' (The Pipi Pearls of the Cook Islands).

Slraep said:
Hi Steve,

What a gorgeous strand. I've always wanted some poe pipi. I'll content myself with just looking at yours while the experts here give us some insight into these little wonders.

Slraep
 
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Hi Steve,

With a collier like that, you not just overly depleted pipi supplies, you wiped them out.
 
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'Te Poe' (as the strand is affectionately called by its creator) was produced just 3 months prior to our visit to Rarotonga, which itself followed 15 years of dreams. Those pearls waited 30 years in a drawer just for us…

We are told that in those 30 years two other similarly elaborate pieces were made, one sold through a London jeweler to the Queen, the other to the King of Tonga! Tragically, the first two pieces were not photographed.

[For the record, Te Poe is my wife's necklace!]

I also prefer more open/transparent color but in what limited references I've seen on pipis deeper gold is cited as more valuable.

Steve Metzler
Seattle, WA
 
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Okay, screaming yellow gets crossed off the list! (Also, have learned more than I ever needed to know about Pippi Longstocking while googling the past few months). In this photo, also pipis, we probably have the full range of colors and the large drop (9,6mm x 13mm, 8mm front to back) may be approaching record levels for the species. We thought this 18k piece to be a perfect complement to Te Poe, created in Rarotonga in the mid-90s as a replica for a piece already in the Queen's collection at the time. Different source, craftsmanship less sophisticated than Te Poe?but it's about the pearls.

Steve Metzler
Seattle, WA

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We appreciate the great comments from North of the Border! Bringing things full circle, Te Poe Pipi O Te Kuki Airani was purchased to be worn, and as such we have been advised locally that a lengthener would provide more versatility by showing more of the pearls in front. Would this be sacrilege, or personal taste?

Steve Metzler
Seattle, WA
 
WOW, I have never heard of pipi's before, those are gorgeous! Wish we could get a little closer photo. I know it is hard to, though. I like the idea of something so exquisite and rare with a few gems mixed in. I don't think it takes away from the pearls at all.
The enhancer is stunning too. Thanks for sharing!

Pattye
 
Better image: Given the 620x400 limitations not sure what we can achieve here, but I have started from scratch with a hi-res photo and hope this may be better than the previous post. Remember to save the photo onto your disc by dragging it onto your screen, then you can use the normal zoom function in your software.

Re gems: Another bit of serendipity is that one of the gems used, Peridot, is my wife's birth stone!

Steve Metzler
Seattle, WA

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The last image doesn't show ... I think you can post way larger images using Imageshack (upload free at www.imageshack.us and paste a link here).

I am amazed by your pearls! The few pipi I've ever found were highly priced enough as singles to make your torsade a matter of national policy :cool:

How long is it that an extender came to be considered? I am not a fan... but would not think twice about a larger (and longer) clasp that may add length to the torsade without appearing as an intruder to the design (thinking Robert Lee Morris or Barry Kieselstein-Cord).
 
Value: The creator of Te Poe raided his family's remaining pipi inventory to promote their 30th anniversary in the Cook Islands pearl industry. The timing of our arrival and discovery of pipis was pure serendipity. The necklace is priceless, for sure. But he wasn't expecting to sell it so soon, and it was a month of communications following our return until the sale took place. Key considerations: Our heart was in the right place, we were clearly not speculators, and we agreed to allow his continuing use of Te Poe (including physical return for special display and promotion—hand delivered, of course!). In short, a warm and meaningful relationship engendered by 1700 little pearls. What greater argument in favor of the gem of the sea can there be?

Extender: We also have doubts, thus my post. In any case, Te Poe's creator has agreed to send us something in the near future. We'll have to wait and see how it looks.

Steve
 
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A bit on the side... there are so few 'field trip' stories about pearls, that even an old-ish one about pipi might deserve mention.

A note about the 'Cook Island Pearl Fisheries' in the fall on 1998, by Terry Coldham, an Australian gemologist, on Ruby&Sapphire.com.

Citing:

"[...] we spent a day collecting these small [pipi] oysters off a few coral heads in the lagoon. They are in about two to four feet of water and occur in large numbers. We then proceeded to open them, looking for natural pearls. We did very well, found about twelve in some 600 oysters. They ranged from white to golden and have a beautiful luster. Most were well shaped and ranged in size from 2mm to 5mm. One large one of about 8mm was attached to the shell, the amazing thing being that the shell is only about 20mm across and it's hard to believe the oyster could live with such a relatively large object inside it."

The bit ends with the promise to write a full blown article about the pipi pearls. That, I have not found anywhere, so it may have not happened. I was surprised by the description of the environment and pearl output of the pipi shells...
 
Not "on the side" at all! I have run across the quote as well, while dodging the Pippi Longstocking stuff. Pipis and their island source (Penryhn, or Tongareva in Maori) are legendary and this thread would not be complete without an attempt at background. Penrhyn, the Cook Islands' most isolated and equatorial atoll, has been important as a source of pearls and shells for centuries, and is given a position of prominence by Kunz in his South Seas Islands section (at that time, it was Penryhn/Tongareva for golden south seas pearls, Tuamoto for the natural blacks). Local divers were known for their expertise, and a NZ government ethnic study I found on-line even mentions that Penryhn islanders/Tongarevans have a particularly dark complexion associated with their incessant diving.

P. Maculata is one of (if not the) smallest pearl-producing oysters, and as such pearls of any size and and frequency have always been rare, relegating them primarily to collection for their brilliant shells (Maori traditional costumes feature pipis prominently). Penrhyn lagoon seems to have exceptionally offered ideal temperature and alimentation, together with the appropriate parasitic population, to have delicately tipped the scales towards pearls.

Comments gleaned from prominent forum contributors of indisputable authority, and the creator of Te Poe, confirm that brief attempts at culturing (via parasitic induction) were made in the 1970s as the cultured industry was gaining a foothold. My conjecture is that this was a noble attempt to retain Penryhn's unique personality (in the wine business we use the French term terroir). Tragically, warmer temperatures and lowering tides in addition to overcollection have exposed and drastically reduced P. Maculata populations, making ongoing pipi pearl collection a sporadic and unpredictable business, culturing being totally out of the question.

To dive for P. Maculata, a license must be obtained and only Cook Islanders (Tongarevans, one would assume) are allowed to apply.

I have not read Strack and am told that there is considerable reference to pipis there. Since joining this forum I have begun the process of acquiring a copy and look forward very much to reading it.

Steve
 
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A Sister for Te Poe?

A Sister for Te Poe?

Wanted to share an exciting development: the creator of Te Poe, at our request, has scoured his 1970s inventories for the 10 large poe pipi in the image attached, ranging from 6.5mm to 8mm in a full range of shades. A necklace to complement Te Poe Pipi O Te Kuki Airani in a more formal, elegant style is the objective. Final results will be posted upon completion, late Spring / early Summer!

Steve
Seattle

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Wow!

smetzler said:
A necklace to complement Te Poe Pipi O Te Kuki Airani in a more formal, elegant style is the objective.


How formal ?

It would be great fun (you think?) to talk over the design here...:cool:
 
Great idea. I would enjoy nothing more than expanding this thread beyond 'show and tell.' It would be more educational for me, and for many others I assume.

Formal: The 'More is More' approach of Te Poe would in this case be converted to 'less is more.'

While we are the customer and our design input is appreciated by the jeweler, neither do we want to influence too much. He's been saving these pearls for too long not to have a little fun himself, and it should be a Cook Islands piece through and through. Even to the point of official naming?while I have suggested some Maori titles this must still pass muster with cultural authorities on Rarotonga!

I have no doubt that some suggestions on this thread may yet influence the eventual design, and we can compare concepts with the finished product in the end!

Steve
Seattle
 
smetzler said:
Formal: The 'More is More' approach of Te Poe would in this case be converted to 'less is more.'

... it should be a Cook Islands piece through and through.


Funny.. the necklace in cause struck me as simplicity itself.... by design if not materials.

I hope that something traditional Cook could be adapted for the necklace rather than going for the 'tradition' of touristy.... 'ya know. I wouldn't know what might come of it - probably a more florid shape than the (almost' line necklace ...

Besides, shell and natural fibers go along with Tahiti pearls these days.... and the Maori forms have seen some translation into modern jewelry too, with rather intricate, eye catching and not 'less is more' results (counting the straight lines of the design, not the budget, that is). That aside, shell-based jewelry is a long time favorite, although I do not have any piece combining pearls and shell - a most unthinkable gap, 'must say... Hopefully not a lasting one.

What would be Cook Island traditional by definition?
 
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Okay, let's quickly forget the Cook Islands part?there will be no shells?
The idea at this point is mounting directly on a gold chain (all pearls in front) with a Cook Islands cultured drop/diamond front and center. White or gold drop, white or gold chain? OR?

Steve

Valeria101 said:
Funny.. the necklace in cause struck me as simplicity itself.... by design if not materials.

I hope that something traditional Cook could be adapted for the necklace rather than going for the 'tradition' of touristy.... 'ya know. I wouldn't know what might come of it - probably a more florid shape than the (almost' line necklace ...

Besides, shell and natural fibers go along with Tahiti pearls these days.... and the Maori forms have seen some translation into modern jewelry too, with rather intricate, eye catching and not 'less is more' results (counting the straight lines of the design, not the budget, that is). That aside, shell-based jewelry is a long time favorite, although I do not have any piece combining pearls and shell - a most unthinkable gap, 'must say... Hopefully not a lasting one.

What would be Cook Island traditional by definition?
 
smetzler said:
The idea at this point is mounting directly on a gold chain (all pearls in front) with a Cook Islands cultured drop/diamond front and center. White or gold drop, white or gold chain? OR?


Cultured diamond? ... synthetic diamond ?

'Directly on chain' means 'buttercup' or drops? (no threading through, right)

White metal (palladium... platinum - no big deal for a chain but sounds good) seems the right fit given the subtle colors of the pearls.
 
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