TAHITI: Pearl Diving in Bora Bora

Pearl Diving at The Farm in Bora Bora, Tahiti

I Tried to Convince Them to Let Us Take This Home… No Dice

Pearl Diving in Bora Bora

 

We’d been dying to go pearl diving in Tahiti ever since we saw it used as a challenge on The Amazing Race. So we were excited to find out about the Bora Pearl Company, a Tahitian-owned family business on the island of Bora Bora.

 

Pearl farming in the area began in 1966. Photographer Erwin Christian and his wife Ate opened the island’s first pearl boutique 11 years later. Their daughter Tea’s interests in marine biology and jewelry design eventually led the family to create The Farm, one of the only places in Tahiti where you can actually go pearl diving, find your own locally cultivated pearl, and take it home with you.

 

Pearl Diving at The Farm in Bora Bora, Tahiti

The Farm, the Only Place in Bora Bora for Pearl Diving

 

When we arrived they gave us a tour of the facility, teaching us about how the Tahitian black pearls are grown. It starts with the introduction of a foreign substance– in this case a round piece of oyster shell harvested from the Mississippi River– into a black-lipped oyster. For some reason, this is the only pearl nucleus these oysters will accept.

 

They explained to us each stage of the growth process, from the grafting and the birth of the pearl to the cultivation and harvesting process, a meticulous operation that takes two years. Even then, only 3 out of every 100 pearls harvested is good enough to be considered “perfect.”

 

Pearl Diving Tour at The Farm in Bora Bora, Tahiti

Pearl Diving Tours Include Education in How Pearls Are Grown

 

We learned that these Tahitian Black Pearls actually come in 5 different colors– blue, green, eggplant, peacock, and gold. The luster, or reflective quality of the pearl’s surface, is a key factor in determining its value.

 

The French Polynesian Parliament regulation defined 4 basic qualities, based on the number of imperfections found on the surface of the pearl as well as the intensity of the luster, with an “A” rating boasting imperfections on less than 10% of the pearl’s surface.

 

After this brief education, it was time to go pearl diving. So we strapped on our masks and snorkels and swam out into a gorgeous blue lagoon, where we saw rays and all sorts of tropical fish below.

 

Pearl Diving at the Farm in Bora Bora, Tahiti

Diving For Pearls

 

There were 4 farming sections spread out around the lagoon, each anchored by rope to a bottom we couldn’t see. Each section had around 22 lines attached, with 4-6 oysters per line. Guests dive down with a divemaster, unhook one line, and then bring it to the surface to find out what’s inside.

 

 

It sounds simple enough, but with the lines secured 10-15 feet below the surface, it took a really deep breath to get down there long enough to execute any action. It’s hard to imagine pearl diving back in the 19th and early 20th century, when guys had to free dive 40-100 feet to harvest oysters.

 

Black Pearl Extraction at The Farm in Bora Bora, Tahiti

The Fine Art of Black Pearl Extraction

 

Back at the shop, our guides showed us the process of harvesting the pearls. After clamping the oyster delicately into a vice, they pry the bivalve open just enough so they can fish around inside it to find the precious gem. They do this very gently, because a good oyster can keep creating pearls for around seven years! After a few seconds, she managed to locate the pearl within, and carefully pulled it out for us.

 

The Pearl Diving experience is a little pricy (around $300), but the Bora Pearl Company guarantees that you’ll go home with a pearl at least that valuable. If the pearl you find isn’t worth as much, they replace it with one that is. And if yours is a perfect gem, it could be worth $2000 or more. Luckily, it turned out our little pearl was a keeper.

 

Tahitian Black Pearls at The Farm in Bora Bora, Tahiti

Tahitian Black Pearls Come in a Broad Range of Colors & Shapes

 

Tahitian pearls come in myriad shapes and sizes, typically ranging from 9 to 12 mm and from perfect circles to drops, baroques, and ringed pearls. The larger the size and the more perfectly round the shape, the more valuable your pearl will be.

 

Once you’ve found your pearl, the jewelers take it back into the shop to drill a hole for stringing, so you can then have it put onto a necklace or bracelet. For an inexpensive souvenir, you can also have them engrave a Tahitian design into an unproductive oyster shell: We had them do a sea turtle for my daughter.

 

Engraved Oyster Souvenir at The Farm in Bora Bora, Tahiti

My Daughter’s Engraved Oyster Souvenir

 

This family-owned pearl farm/boutique is an incredible tourist attraction unlike anything else you’ll find in Bora Bora. And while pearl diving may be a bit pricy for some people’s pockets, the experience is a unique Tahitian treat I can guarantee you’ll never forget.  –Bret Love; photos by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

 

If you enjoyed reading about Pearl Diving in Bora Bora, you might also like: 

TAHITI: First Impressions

TAHITI: Moorea 4×4 Safari Tour

TAHITI: Moorea’s Tiki Village Theater

TAHITI: Ruahatu Marine Sanctuary, Bora Bora

 

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  1. I remember seeing this challenge, too! When in China, we visited a pearl factory to see the production steps, and I had finally saved enough to buy myself a pair of beautiful eggplant colored studs from an eco-friendly (or so they say) jeweler. I was so bummed to lose them, but this sort of experience would have made them even more valuable! Beautiful setting, too.

  2. This reminds me of something of the opposite experience in Mallorca, where we toured the factories where the “pearls” are manufactured. It was kind of funny being on an island where basically everything was manufactured from scratch. Would much prefer diving to find my own, of course.

  3. This looks like a really exciting thing to do. Although as you say, would not like to have done it years ago and dived 40 feet. I would never come back up again!!

  4. Wow! incredible peace of nature……… it is true that no one can create thing like God created for us…… Thanks for sharing such a nice post.

  5. WOW! Thanks so much for sharing – this is something we’re definitely putting on “the list!” Love that they are so careful with the oysters – I always thought oysters had to die to give up their treasures – YAY! -Veronica

  6. Oh, I’m so jealous! I’ve been wanting to see Bora Bora for such a long time and pearl diving just looks like such a unique and wonderful experience.

  7. That’s so cool! I’ve never been that fond of normal pearls, but those black ones are beautiful. I don’t know if I could dive for them, though – I’m terrible at holding my breath!

  8. Very interesting to learn about the process. I, like you, have difficulty imagining how people would have free dived for those things in the 19th and 20th Century. There must have been lots of risk involved.

  9. Very interesting read. I heard a lot about pearling when I was in Bahrain and can’t imagine how they did this in the past, even as far back as 4000 years ago. Would be fun to give it a try 🙂

  10. This is sooo fun. The only time I’ve ever seen anything about pearls, as cheesy at it sounds, was at sea world in the States.

    Regardless, it was fun, so I can’t even imagine how interesting, educational and also hands on this experience was!

    I have yet to hit that side of the world.

  11. This is so interesting–I would love to go diving for pearls! I’m going to have to make a mental note of this for when we eventually make it there. I never knew pearls were grown like this and that oysters could produce more than one pearl. Looks like a great time!

  12. Really, really cool! And I find the black pearls to be much more beautiful than typical off-white pearls. Such a great experience, thanks for the post!

  13. Fantastic! How much do you think your pearl is worth? I reckon there’s a good business idea here of just going along each day and hoping to make a profit from the pearl you take home!! 😉

  14. Looks to be a great experience that helps you realise just how much effort goes into producing these little jewels. The whole thing looks great and the fact you get to take a pearl home with you is just great and such a fantastic memento.

  15. It sounds like an amazing experience! I knew that it is very hard to find perfect pearls – and it sounds like the explanations you received are quite comprehensive on this topic. Loved the photos too!