Cultivating black pearls
Cook Islands black pearls are farmed in one of the most remote and beautiful parts of the world. On the atolls of Manihiki, Rakahanga and Tongareva (Penrhyn), around 1200 km north of Rarotonga, pearl farming is the lifeblood of these communities with a combined population of around 1000 people.
Black Pearls are a special souvenir
Cultivating black pearls is a long and complex interaction between nature and technology. It is a relatively new industry here (the first cultivated black pearls were harvested in 1988) and is still small on an international scale but has become very important to the local economy. The industry is the country's second biggest income earner (after tourism).
Black Pearls are named for the shell that they come from. 'Pinctada margaritifera' or the Black Lipped Mother of Pearl Shell is indigenous to the atolls of the Cook Islands and French Polynesia. Black Pearl is something of a misnomer for the subtle interplay of colours on these pearls however. They range from shades of blue and silver through to deep greens and aubergine - anything but black.
Now, the highest quality Cook Islands pearls are being sold under a new brand, Avaiki. The brand guarantees buyers of the genuineness of the pearl, its Cook Islands origins and the sustainability of farming practices in the lagoon where it originates.
Pearl producers and retailers here have been aware for some time of the need to be able to guarantee quality and origin in a world market often flooded with cheaper imports and imitations.
We recommend talking to pearl retailers and finding out a little about the origin and black pearls. It is a fascinating story and will help you understand and appreciate the pearls you buy.