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Since recorded history, man has coveted the luminous white gems we call pearls. , Revered the world over for their rare beauty, otherworldly sheen and understated elegance, pearls are as popular in modern society because they were with European royals and Egyptian princesses centuries ago. , Today, pearls connoisseurs have a new love: black pearls. , Exotic, luxurious and rare, a rich black pearl necklace presents a striking picture--the gems definitely lack the demure, chaste picture of their classic white counterparts. , For that woman who has everything, a black pearl necklace, whether showcased alone in a pendant or in a wonderfully matched strand, constitutes a wonderful addition to her jewelry collection. Think of how lovely a black pearl necklace will look on any skin tone! Where do jewelers obtain the pearls they use inside a matched black pearl necklace? 'Black' pearls are also known as 'Tahitian cultured pearls,' but both names are misleading. Not just are Tahitian cultured pearls not exclusively black, also they are not grown in Tahiti. Called 'black' due to their exotic dark colors, Tahitian cultured pearls could be gray, blue, brown and green. And they are grown within the lagoons of small islands which are part of a group referred to as French Polynesia. Tahiti, the biggest island, serves as the group's center of commerce, and never like a pearl growing mecca. Interestingly, fine Tahitian cultured pearls have only been on the marketplace since the 1970s. Yet they have become very popular for the reason that small amount of time. Growing Tahitian pearls Tahitian pearls are cultivated for approximately 2 yrs in Pinctada margaritifera cumingi, a large saltwater mollusk that's native to French Polynesia. One of the ways this unique oyster is different from other species is the fact that its interior shell color is dark. This so-called 'black lipped' oyster also has black mantle edges--the 'lips' that give your pet its descriptive name. Due to overfishing, adult wild oyster populations aren't as plentiful because they used to be. In order to reverse this trend, the federal government protects the animals; pearl farmers in French Polynesia who wish to culture the black lipped oyster must raise the oysters from spat (baby oysters). When the farmer works in nurturing the spat to adulthood, at around two and a half to 3 years old, the oysters are implanted with mantle tissue along with a mother-of-pearl bead to begin the pearl growing process. This delicate operation is conducted by specially trained workers called nucleators; nevertheless, according to the Gemological Institute of America, more than 50 % of the oysters die or reject the nucleus. Literature from GIA says, 'Add those oysters to the ones that do not satisfy the implantation criteria: The farmer's potential pearl-producing stock is less than half the amount that lived long enough to be considered for nucleation. Once the pearl growth period begins, after 3 years of work, the farmer only has 20 % of the oysters he collected as spat.' No wonder an excellent quality Tahitian cultured pearl is really rare! Tahitian pearl growth generally takes place inside a closed lagoon that is ringed by coral reefs. Such a setup offers protection along with a stable environment for that implanted oysters to complete the pearl-growing process. Following the oysters happen to be submerged for 22 to 26 months, they're hauled to the surface, where any pearls they were able to grow are harvested. The farmers then clean and lightly buff the gems prior to offering them for sale. Farmers also sort the pearls by color, shape, etc. and grouped with like pearls. In the end, just one to two percent of the Tahitian cultured pearl crop includes high-quality round cultured pearls. Color Today, the most sought-after Tahitian cultured pearls are dark green-gray to blue gray with rosé or purple overtones. But exactly how do pearls get their color? We're not completely sure, but we do know that pearl colors are determined by several factors, including variations in the host oyster, color variation from the implanted donor mussel tissue, the amount and thickness of nacre layers, and variations in growing environment such as temperature and water quality. Tahitian pearls are most often variations of gray, black, green and blue, but other colors exist. Search on the Internet for Tahitian cultured pearl images, and you'll see they aren't an all-black costume! Buying a black pearl necklace In an average size 8mm-14mm, Tahitian cultured pearls--especially those specimens that are gem-quality and round--are very costly. (GIA estimates that one first-quality, unusually large Tahitian cultured pearl will set you back thousands of dollars!) If perhaps one to two percent from the harvest creates a high-quality round Tahitian cultured pearl, imagine how long it takes to make a matched strand! No wonder a black pearl necklace is really costly. Choose carefully, bearing in mind that pearls having a desirable overtone (secondary color) and pearls that are bigger than typical could be more expensive. Look for pearls that are well-matched, not pitted or marked in a obvious way (minor surface characteristics are acceptable). Make sure to check return policies in advance, too, when you have a problem. Ask your retail jeweler for his or her store policy or, if buying online, check the site's guarantee before you make a purchase. Once you receive your pearls, make sure to examine them closely. After wearing, store your pearl necklace away from other gems; while fairly durable, pearls are prone to scratching as well as their nacre will erode over time, especially if subjected to harsh chemicals like bleach, perfume and chlorine. Black pearl necklaces in modern fashion Although slow to catch on in the beginning, thanks simply to publicity from stars such as actress Elizabeth Taylor, a renowned jewelry collector who wore a striking black pearl necklace in publicity photos on her Black Pearls perfume launch, Tahitian cultured pearls are wildly popular today. It's not hard to find examples of fine black pearl jewelry in modern society. Browse around and you will see black pearl necklaces on everyone from businesswomen to moms to Hollywood A-list actresses, models and celebrities. Take Kiera Knightly, for instance, who wore a stunning black baroque Tahitian cultured pearl choker at the premier of her movie, The Black Pearl. Stars like Christy Turlington, Naomi Watts, Heidi Klum, Michael Michelle, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Shalom Harlow are also pearl fans. Perhaps black pearls' popularity is the reason why designers like David Yurman, Elsa Peretti and Paloma Picasso (for Tiffany & Co.) are incorporating stunning black pearls, as well as black baroque and black keshi pearls, into modern designs like long chain necklaces, brooches, chokers and charm bracelets. Black pearl drop earrings and pendants are also favorites, as they require little matching--or none at all. Whimsical designs on cufflinks and in popular frog, dragonfly along with other animal pins incorporate black pearls as well. Black pearl necklace alternatives When most people think about black pearls, they naturally think of Tahitian cultured pearls. But price is high for these rare gems, in part due to their large size, unusual colors, and the very high cost producing them. If you wish to wear real Tahitian cultured pearls, one way to achieve this having to break the bank is to select a pendant-style necklace with a single pearl; black pearl earrings; a single black pearl ring, or black baroque (non-symmetrical) pearls. These designs are every bit as exotic yet a lot more affordable than the usual matched black pearl strand. For customers for whom Tahitian pearl jewelry is too high, there are some inexpensive yet beautiful alternatives to the classic black pearl necklace. Today, freshwater pearls--round, drop, button and baroque--are color-treated to make a look that closely resembles the hue of Tahitian cultured pearls. The natural-looking result is beautiful and looks great in such pieces like a baroque black pearl bracelet, black pearl drop earrings or black pearl necklace. Every bit as real as their Tahitian cousins, black freshwater cultured pearls' color is man-made, but remember that nearly all pearls are treated somehow (bleaching is the most common enhancement). If you are after not just the colour however the size fine Tahitian pearls, consider a black 'pearl' necklace made from black mother-of-pearl beads. Their generous size, lustrous sheen and affordable price make them a well known alternative to a fine Tahitian pearl necklace. A graduate of the Gemological Institute of America's Graduate Pearls program, Amy Drescher is really a fashion writer and accessories buyer for She welcomes your questions. Reach her at