Visit to a Pearl Farm in Rangiroa

Lynn & Mike ..around the world
Mike Drinkrow & Lynn v/d Hoven
Thu 9 May 2013 05:59
14:58.19S 147:38.29W  Visit to a pearl farm in Rangiroa
Yesterday morning we came through the Tiputa Pass into the Rangiroa atoll.  This is the biggest atoll in French Polynesia with a massive lagoon spanning 1640 sq/kms.  Today we went on a tour of the Gauguin Pearl farm which has been going for 25 years.
Although the price of pearls has dropped dramatically over the last decade,  the Pacific "black" pearls are still sought after and seem pretty expensive. (A single top quality 12mm pearl cost 670 Euros) These pearls are grown in the black-lipped oyster but not actually black, they are various shades of grey/ pewter - and some have tinges of green, pink , blue etc. 
The process goes something like this:
Baby oysters are grown in the neighboring atolls of Ahe or Manihi. When they are about 6cm in diameter they are brought to Rangiroa by boats.  Here a small hole is drilled through the shell and they are strung on a line, and suspended vertically in the water in rows.  When the oyster is 2 years old it can be seeded.  In a very quick procedure, the shell is wedged open about 1cm, and the grafter very surgically makes a cut in the appendix of the oyster, where a  6mm shell ball (the seed) is placed.  Along with the seed, a tiny square of live mantle is also inserted - this has been harvested from another oyster with good colour, which will be replicated in the new pearl.  Over the next 2/3 years the seed will get covered in mother of pearl to create the cultured black pearl.
Some other interesting facts:
There almost are no "natural" pearls found in black lipped oysters in the Pacific (incidence of 1 in 15 000)
The seed is made from a fresh water shell, harvested from the Mississippi River, that is ground into perfect spheres. 
Every 2 months the string of hanging oysters is pulled up on to a boat where it is cleaned of barnacles and parasites.
Each oyster can be seeded up to 3 times, as long as the pearls produced are good quality.  In round 2 and 3, bigger seeds are placed to make bigger pearls.
The growth of pearl material around the seed is between only between 2 and 4 mm thick.
Pearls are not graded by colour, only by perfection and size. 
When an oyster produces a very bad shaped pearl it is killed and the very small muscle is harvested for the local restaurant business.
After the process the shell is sent to China where it is used to make curios, buttons and other "mother-of-pearl items.
Pearl squeezed out of the appendix for the demo                    The string of oysters hanging on a line
Grafter at work                                                                       Different grades of pearls