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Relaxed control over Tahitian pearls sparks off criticism

According to the Shanghai Information Center of International Gemological Institute (IGI), only 180 out of 10,000 Tahitian pearls are A grade, flawless on at least 90 percent of a pearl’s surface. As the world’s largest exporter of Tahitian pearls, French Polynesian government had implemented a strict regulation on the quality and export control of Tahitian pearls since February 2005. All Tahitian pearls must be verified by visual inspection and radiography before exportation. Pearls which failed to meet the minimum 0.8mm nacre thickness standard would be destroyed by the marine and mineral resources branch in the presence of pearl farmers. However, the regulation was cancelled by the French Polynesian government in June 2017. The total amount of Tahitian pearls exports surged from 10 tons in 2016 to 14 tons in 2017. The relaxation of nacre thickness regulations has given rise to general concerns over the negative impacts on the quality of Tahitian pearls.   


Hong Kong, the largest Tahitian pearl importer of French Polynesia shipped in over 9000 kg of Tahitian pearls from the only French overseas collectivity. The city is also one of the biggest buyers of the 21st Cooperate Tahiti Auction in March 2018, which sold approximately 97 percent of 387,740 Tahitian pearls offered, a 25-percent more of total sales than expected. Commenting on the new practice from the French Polynesian government, Ida Wong, general manager of Tahitian Pearl Association Hong Kong (TPAHK) said: “Producers will still be able to apply to the government inspection service for their pearls to be x-rayed and certified and it is likely that this practice will continue for high grade pearls. Nacre depth is an indicator of good farming practice since there has been time and effort expended by the farmer.” 


In Japan, one of the top buyers of Tahitian pearls, over 90 percent of Tahitian pearls sold by the members of Tahiti pearl Promotion Society of Japan (TPJ) are imported from the French Polynesia. A TPJ’s survey in 2018 stated that 44 percent of the respondents were dissatisfied with the deteriorated pearl quality. Forty percent of them thought the price has jumped. TPJ told Hong Kong Jewellery that despite price rises, the quality has fallen short, still over 25 percent survey participants did not reduce the imported volume of Tahitian pearls and 16 percent of them even imported more than last year, reflected an absence of negative impacts on the exports of Tahitian pearls. 


Tahitian pearl exports are crucial for Tahiti’s economy as pearls accounted for an average of 50 percent of its total export earnings. Notwithstanding the government’s removal of nacre thickness regulation, Poe O Rikitea, organiser of the Cooperate Tahiti Auction, emphasises that control over the nacre thickness of all pearls the auction offer will be continued. He added only pearls with control on thickness are able to meet the market expectation and sustain.

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