Field Document No.13




Yoshihiro HISADA and Tomoshige FUKUHARA
Pearl Marketing Specialists

The designations employed and the presentations of material in this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations concerning the legal or constitutional status of any country, territory, city or area or its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.

The Food and Agriculture Organization is greatly indebted to the organizations and individuals who assisted in the implementation of the project by providing information, advice and facilities.


South Pacific Aquaculture Development Project (Phase II)
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations


Suva, Fiji

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1.1   What is a Gem?
1.2   Pearl Production and Values

2.1   Akoya Pearls
2.2   Silver Pearls
2.3   Half Pearls
2.4   Black Pearls

2.4.1   Pre-war production
2.4.2   Post-war industry in Okinawa

3.1   Total Production and Marketing
3.2   Size
3.3   Colour
3.4   Coating (Nacre)
3.5   Quality
3.6   Structure of the Tahitian Pearl Industry

3.6.1   Establishment of G.I.E. Poe Rava Nui

3.7   Transaction Flow
3.8   Yearly Market Price Flow

4.1   Government Policy and Production Strategy
4.2   Sales

5.1   Silver Pearls
5.2   Black Pearls
5.3   Akoya Pearls

APPENDIX: Points to be Remarked in the Tables and Figures


This paper was prepared in 1998 based on presentation on the situation of pearl marketing made by Messrs. Y.Hisada and T.Fukuhara, who were invited by SPADP as the project resource persons at the regional workshop on marketing of selected aquaculture commodities (seaweed, pearls and giatn clams) held during the 3rd Project Coordination Technical Meeting, 20–22 November 1997 at Nadi, Fiji.

Pearls, though not as hard or durable as mineral gems, are nonetheless valued for their lustre and scarcity. This lecture focuses on Akoya, silver- and black-lipped oysters, Mabe oysters, and the black pearl industry.

Akoya pearl production in Japan was stable up to 1995, but the oysters began dying off for various reasons, and production plummeted. Several attempts to boost the Japanese pearl industry are now being taken, including using imported seed oysters and crossbreeding them on farms.

A Japanese company began breeding silver-lipped oysters at Myanmar, and both Australia and Indonesia have had success in producing valuable, good quality pearls in the past. Australia's traditional use of wild oysters has maintained the genetic variety (and thus the vigor) of their oysters and the high quality of their pearls, and has kept Australia at the forefront of world production. Indonesia had rivaled Australia in the past, but their crowded hatchery-produced oysters have lately shown a decline in production.

Mabe oysters produce a highly sought after blue-tinged pearl. Both half and spherical pearls grow in Mabe oysters, though the long cultivation period has been a production obstacle. Silver-lipped oysters also grow half pearls, but at present, due to the difficulty making the pearls durable, half-pearl cultivation on a large scale is inadvisable.

Black pearls have become popular and lucrative as a business thanks largely to the efforts of the Japanese Mikimoto farms. Because they produce a consistently high quality product, and because their marketing strategies have been canny, this company has made black pearls popular world-wide. At present, Tahiti produces by far the most black pearls, though culturing also goes on in Fiji, New Zealand, and Japan. Large-sized pearls of many different hues are grown, and organizing bodies like JBPP have undertaken the task of ensuring that pearls sold reach a high standard of durability, colour and lustre.

At present, black pearl sales dominate over white ones in Japan. Black pearls were not favoured by Western buyers, but are gradually becoming more popular due to their large variety of colours. The soft gray pearls are especially in demand now.

The Tahitian government supported pearl production by encouraging the establishment of G.I.E. Poe Rava Nui in 1975 to provide funds to new cultivators. Cultivation began in 1976, and the first auction was held in 1979. The current role of G.I.E. Poe Rava Nui is to value the pieces to be sold, control the auction, and apportion the profit among contributing producers.

Although G.I.E. Poe Rava Nui is in its 21st year, its member producers only make up about 5% of total world production, partly because the organisations' benefit is not appreciated by some producers who do not participate in the auction, and partly because production is not as high as it could be because of rushed, inaccurate seeding practices.

Though the number varies each year, there are now approximately 250 active large and small pearl producers. Most are registered with the promotion agency “Perles de Tahiti”, and belong to one of the self-policing organisations like SPPP, SPPTI, or G.I.E. Poe Rava Nui. A small proportion of the larger producers together make 85% of the world total yield, and small producers, even though they have the most members, only produce about 4% of the total yield. Pieces are sold at auctions, the best-known being held in Papeete. Other auctions are starting elsewhere in the world, i.e. Hong Kong.

Newcomers to the industry must have the full support of their government, as pearl production takes several years to establish. Further, the expertise of experienced technicians, and the choice of reliable buyers are vital. Silver-lipped pearl production is probably the best choice for a new producer, as their market is stable and demand is growing. Demand for smaller pearls in the 9–12mm range will increase, while black pearls may have reached their saturation point in the current economic market. If the search for new cultivation grounds in China, Vietnam, or Fiji is fruitful, the Akoya oyster may enjoy a renaissance.