Tahitian Pearls from the Marshall Islands



Hi gang,

Has anyone heard anything about the Tahitian Pearl farms going on in the Marshall Islands? I heard that they have been culturing them on Majuro (an island in the Marshall Islands) for the last 2 years or so. Anyone have any info? It seemed interesting that micronesia was starting to do cultured pearls too.

Alec Rupp-Smith
Last edited by a moderator:
I've been researching the expansion of this market and this article "Pearls Are Big Business" by Robert Keith-Reid goes into detail about the harvests in the Marshall Islands.

The 19th and 20th century pearl shell divers of Polynesia were fortunate if they found a fine natural pearl in one of every 15,000 oysters they plucked from the sea for the button and inlay trade. French Polynesia, in 1999, exported 8.2 tons of Pacific “black” pearls from the black-lipped pearl oyster, valued at around US$200 million. All came from scores of pearl oyster farms, which are not only diluting the French territory’s dependence on aid and military spending, but are reviving island communities depopulated by the lure of town life in the capital, Papeete.

Pearl farming research began in French Polynesia in 1963 and gem quality pearls were first produced in 1965. Exports, of only two kilos, began in 1972. In the Cook Islands, pearl farms were established at the atolls of Manihiki and Penrhyn in the 1980s. By 1998, Cook Islands exports were officially estimated at NZ$5 million — 84 percent of total exports. Since Manihiki’s production was estimated at 250,000 pearls worth NZ$12million, actual exports are much underreported — a figure expected to rise to NZ$18 million by 2003.

The first Marshall Islands harvest came in 1996, with the best of the crop sold to Harry Winston’s, a New York Fifth Avenue jeweler. The first Solomon Islands cultivated pearls were auctioned at Sydney last October. Tonga, Fiji, Kiribati, Vanuatu, the Federated States of Micronesia and Papua New Guinea are endeavoring to climb board the pearl farming business.

In Papeete, the specter of competition from other Pacific islands countries and the spectacular growth of its own industry is prompting French Polynesia’s pearl merchants to ask whether over-production and saturation of the market could become the cutting of their throats. Didier Sibani, of Maison Sibani Perles, one of the industry’s biggest dealers, doesn’t believe so. Traditional Asian markets are mature, but the markets of America and Europe are untouched, he says.

Neil Sims, whose Honolulu company, Black Pearls Inc., grew and took Marshall Islands pearls to the New York market, is also optimistic. “The production by other Pacific islands will not even begin to impact the Tahitian pearl market for at least 10 years, probably 20,” he says. “Any risk of over-production, for the foreseeable future, lies solely in the Tuamotu lagoons (of French Polynesia).”

“Black” pearls mean pearls grown in the black-lipped pearl oyster, Pinctada Margaritafera. They can be green, blue, silver, violet and other colors. Value depends on size, lustre, symmetry, lack of flaws and rarity of color. In a simple gold setting a single pearl necklace or a pair of earrings fetches typically US$1,000-US$2,000. Top prices for good necklaces are around US$50,000. Australia, French Polynesia, Indonesia and Japan are the main cultured pearl producers.

Apart from the overwhelming economic gain that the experience in French Polynesian and the Cook Islands shows, the industry can become an anchor for the survival of isolated outer island communities. In Oceania’s archipelagos the trend is for small islands to become severely depopulated by the shift of people to mainland towns in search of work, education and lifestyle improvement.

In French Polynesia, the former migration trend from the outer islands of the Gambier and Tuamotu groups to Tahiti has been reversed. Between 1988 and 1996 the population of the Gambiers rose by 75 percent. In the same period populations in individual islands grew by 23-31 percent (Takaroa and Takapoto) to as much as 133 and 191 percent (Ahe and Kauhei). Living standards also rose noticeably.

But in a Pacific Community Pearl Oyster bulletin, editor Neil Sims suggests that “we might need to re-evaluate our perceptions as to how pearl culture happens, and who benefits most.” The French Polynesian and Cook Islands models of numerous small family farms scattered across atolls have been praised as an ideal form of rural development. But, Sims asks: “Is this breathless admiration based on any reality?” In the Tuamotu islands, according to economics professor Bernard Poirine, the expansion of pearl production in the past 10 years was not accompanied by a corresponding increase of employment.

This was primarily because existing farms became larger, more mechanized and more efficient. The trend in French Polynesia, Sims says, is for bigger farms, with new ones established in previously unfarmed lagoons as mainly concessions bought by larger farmers with the capital and support to work in remoter areas. One operator, Robert Wan, now controls more than 50 percent of the industry and the largest five produce 75 percent of French Polynesia’s output.

Sims says an issue is whether governments should regulate the industry so that more people benefit from it or “just get out of the way and allow market forces to move at will?” Another is whether there should be limits on black pearl production? Could limits even be realistic?

“The small-scale, extended family cooperative model of pearl farming has always been the darling of development. It appears to offer a suitable profit-incentive, it is readily applied and seems to fit in well with the atolls’ socio-cultural milieu.” But in French Polynesia more than US$5 million in small pearl farm loans remain unpaid. Small farmers are becoming less competitive in the face of increasing production, falling pearl prices and the trend towards the vertical integration of production, auctions and retailing.

“A plethora of Polynesians with pockets full of pearls can lead to further market instability,” he says. However, as Japan shows, cooperatives through which small farms obtain spat, or tightly managed marketing, appear to have been successful and now have a crucial role in French Polynesia. Sims says that in the Marshall Islands his own company, Black Pearls of Micronesia, is applying the old plantation agriculture model, used more recently for shrimp farming, to expand pearl farming beyond one large nucleus farm.

“The nucleus farm provides those services and support which best befit a large, capitalized operation: the hatchery, training and extension, bulk purchase of material and supplies, provision of seeding technician services and greater marketing clout. The smaller satellite farms are independently operated and provide those attributes best befitting locally-owned operations: lagoon and land access, boats, labor, local knowledge. We’ll let you know how it goes,” he says.
The Micronesian Island had their first auction about 2 years ago. The crop was small, but absolutely everything sold in heavy bidding. A lot of the pieces went to the locals although there were a few International buyers at the event. The pearls were unusually green, and everything sold over market.
They (Micronesians) have been able to produce a nicely colored pistachio-green pearl, altough they produce several natural colors. The specimens we have examined (have a couple) are usually smaller than Tahitian blacks and have less luster...but all the ones we've examined have NATURAL luster...I'd rather have a natural medium luster pearl than a high-luster polished pearl. On the other hand, most of the tahitian blacks I've seen on many places (not all, of course) are highly polished...you can see horrible streaks on their surface, plainly visible under good indirect light and a triplet.

C. Denis George began working with local Micronesians way back into the 1970's...they were able to produce excellent black pearls, at least he said so. He also mentioned that the Japanese were responsible for closing a small village-owned farmed he helped to set up. He sure had some great stories...

May He Rest in Peace.


Interesting article! I like this forum. Lots of savvy dealers who actually talk to each other, what next?
Pearls from Namdrik atoll in the Marshall Islands

Pearls from Namdrik atoll in the Marshall Islands

These are from our most recent harvest which was a very small one.



  • DSC00984.jpg
    21 KB · Views: 22
  • kamoka1
    30.7 KB · Views: 21
Everyday I realize that the world is so little. In the article "Pearls Are Big Business" by Robert Keith-Reid which Amanda Raab posted it is mentioning the economics professor Bernard Poirine specialized in island economies. This man is my father. I remember he did a study about Tahitian pearl industry and he brought me on the atoll of Fakarava when I was twelve, I played chess there and explored lagoons & seas with a friend, I still have photos of this trip. I wouldn't have expected to see the name of my father coming up on this forum.

I am currently living in Warsaw, Poland and on june of this year I met a brilliant french economist Guy Sorman who know my father personally, they met ten years ago in Tahiti for a conference about Polynesian economy. I didn't know they knew each other when I talked to him at this polish/french conference. For the occasion I recorded a message full of optimism from this brilliant mind specially dedicated to my father.

I'm sorry, this personal note is off topic but it makes you wonder.

According to Bernard Poirine, The Marshall islands, Fijii's pearls farms compete against the French Polynesian pearls farms. The product is almost the same, a cultured pearl made from the pinctada margaritifera present in lagoons of islands and atolls of the pacific ocean. However the industry of these islands are different, French Polynesian Farms are in a more advanced state compared to the Fijii's. But the cost of labor on these islands are significantly low compared to the French Polynesian labor cost, therefore price competitiveness matters the most for Fijii when French Polynesian pearls choose non-price competitiveness. A form of competition in which two or more producers use such factors as packaging, delivery, or customer service rather than price to increase demand for their products. The invention of the now well-known brand name "Tahitian Pearls" is a proof of such strategy.
That is a fascinating story and it is great to know how your father was involved. I hope you will expand upon your comments!
On the other hand, most of the tahitian blacks I've seen on many places (not all, of course) are highly polished...you can see horrible streaks on their surface, plainly visible under good indirect light and a triplet.

I am afraid reading this and will pay more attention in the future on Tahiti pearls surface (though the ones I have are not polished).
I am surprised that local Tahiti pearls authorities that are so keen on nacre thickness have nothing to say about surface treatment...
Hello Pattye and Caitlin,

His new book "Tahiti, une ?conomie sous serre" published in 2011, met the concerns of Tahitian businesses people and elites in general. He is still actively following island economies, focusing on French Polynesia.

Hirofarepote a blogger writing many economics stories about Tahiti says in this article : "Mr Bernard POIRINE, liberal Economist before the eternal, know the Polynesian economy for having studied it on all angles and published many books. However, he preaches in the desert for a number of years, since its reform proposals face the Polynesian "establishment" of politics and economics."

This is true, the incompetence of the Polynesian Politics and a certain numbers of major actors are threatening the future of French Polynesia because of their insufficient structural reforms and their mismanagement. The saddest part of it is that politics maintain their places in the seats of the territorial assembly of French Polynesia through flaws of its autonomy constitution. Resulting in the Political instability since 2004: 13 changes of government for the past 8 years doesn't help making long-term reforms right?

French Polynesia economy relies strongly on the revenues from France, way too much. Therefore, this country is far from the independence if it doesn't have its own independence on economics aspects. At the time of Bernard Poirine study on the Tahitian Pearls in 2002 the French Polynesian pearls industry was flourishing, the Chinese and the Japanese societies bought a lot of these pearls, they still do.

The name of this topic "Tahitian Pearls from the marshall islands" reflects the success of the Tahitian Pearl industry, the reputations of the Tahitian Pearls obscure the Marshall Island Pearls or the Fijian Pearls, that's how we should call pearls from these islands.

One last note coming from the recent political events. USA strategic reorientation have regards on the pacific since the Chinese and Japanese interests have been there for long, the presence of Hilary clinton at the Asia-Pacific forum is a proof of it, as she says: "The pacific is big enough for everyone". Military strategies and geopolitical concerns should met with direct investment to the Countries of the pacific supporting the USA, Fijii and Marshall Islands are concerned.
Is there any recent news on pearls from the Marshall Islands?