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Our Guide to Great Pearls


Here is a selection of the most frequently asked questions that our staff are asked about Cook Islands pearls.

Are they real pearls?

Cultured Cook Islands black pearls are created in the same way as naturally-occurring pearls – they just get a helping hand to start them off.  The pearl is naturally coloured and shaped by the oyster and is the result of grafting and breeding in a natural environment. Cook Islands pearls are grown in our native species of pearl oyster.

How are they made?

Natural pearls are created by chance, but the art of culturing Cook Islands black pearls relies on man’s intervention.  A tiny piece of foreign organic matter (the ‘seed’) is placed into the black-lipped oyster.  In response to this irritant, the oyster secretes a substance called nacre, which builds up in layers around the seed over a period of years to create a pearl.  Cultured pearls were first patented in 1916; almost all pearls sold globally today are created in this way. 

Why do I need a certificate of authenticity?

Due to high demand, some unscrupulous vendors sell imitation or imported pearls as genuine Cook Islands pearls.  Your certificate of authenticity is a guarantee that the pearl you have purchased is sourced from one of the Cook Islands’ three pearl-farming atolls, Manihiki, Rakahanga and Tongareva (Penrhyn) and hasn’t been enhanced in any way.
By buying a genuine certified AVAIKI black pearl you are supporting a sustainable industry that uses an environmentally-sound code of practice to maintain a healthy lagoon and industry for many years to come.

How do I look after my pearls?

  • After you wear your pearls, wipe them with a soft cloth.  This prevents the acid in your sweat from gradually eating away at the lustre of the pearl. 
  • Don’t throw them on top of all your other jewellery – they are soft enough to be damaged by rubbing against other jewellery. 
  • Avoid exposing your pearls to chemicals, like those found in perfume.  Apply your fragrance before you put on your pearls.
  • Have your pearls cleaned by an expert – don’t use abrasive fabrics or cleaners, ultrasonic cleaners or toothbrushes to scrub your pearls clean as these can all damage the look and shape of your gems.
  • Keep pearls away from direct heat, very dry air or sunlight, as these can cause them to dry out and crack.  Instead, store them in a cool place inside a jewellery pouch. 

Where do they come from?

Manihiki, Rakahanga and Tongareva (Penrhyn): the three atolls where Cook Islands black pearls are farmed.  Located 1200km north of Rarotonga, these atolls are remote and beautiful, with a total population of just 1000 people.  Life on Manihiki, Rakahanga and Tongareva revolves around pearl farming and the lagoons where the pearls are produced. 

Lagoon ecology is vital to the success of the industry and the pearl farmers of the Cook Islands work hard to maintain a healthy environment for their pearls.  Avaiki pearls come only from farms which adhere to a strict code of practice and use only environmentally-sound farming methods. 

How are black pearls different from white?

Cultured pearls are all made in the same way, but while white pearls are produced by a range of molluscs, Cook Islands black pearls are produced only by the black-lipped oyster Pinctada margaritifera. 

Other Pacific pearls include south sea pearls, produced by the Pinctada maxima mollusc and the smaller gold-lipped natural pearl Pinctada maculata found in the lagoon of Penrhyn.

How do you tell a good pearl?

There are several factors to consider when buying a pearl:

  • Shape
  • Size
  • Lustre
  • Surface quality

Taking the attributes of each individual pearl into account, it is assigned a grading – and only A, B or C graded pearls are sold under the AVAIKI banner.  Your pearl’s grade is clearly noted on your certificate of authenticity. 

Why are they different colours?

There is a certain amount of natural variation when it comes to the colour range of our pearls at Moana Gems.  The cultured black pearl of the Cook Islands comes from the black-lipped oyster, Pinctada margaritifera, and always has a black body colour.  On top of this black body, though, the best quality pearls also have overtones that add depth and glow to a pearl, as well as giving the overall final appearance a range of colours. 

As well as black, you’ll find Cook Islands cultured pearls come in grey, blue, brown, black green, green and peacock – a reflection of the colours of the Polynesian lagoons.  While some cultured pearls are treated or irradiated to achieve a more desirable colour, all the colours of Cook Islands cultured pearls are naturally-occurring, not dyed. 


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