On the Boulevard Pomare, on the seafront of Papeete, one finds the “Musée de la Perle” a museum dedicated the Emperor of the pearl, Robert Wan, one who has made his fortune and reputation of this illustrious gem. The museum is an ideal place to discover the mysteries of the famous Tahitian pearl.
The pearl through the ages
Opened in 2002, it is the only museum dedicated to the pearl in French Polynesia. It tells the story of the pearl through the ages… In mythology, the arts and in numerous civilizations. From Cleopatra to modern day. Throughout history, the pearl has symbolized fertility and the cycle of life, the presence of the divinities and the path of the soul that walks towards perfection.
Discovering the origin of the cultured pearl
As described in the Robert Wan pearl Museum, perfection is the guiding force throughout the pearl culturing process. First, the location of the pearl farm is crucial. The Tuamotu archipelago, renowned for its lagoons of incomparable purity, have since been the prime location with the best conditions. Next, the oysters, the Pinctada margaritifera species is endemic to French Polynesia, of prime quality, and remarkable color are bred and primed for years before they are grafted. Indeed, these are the colors of the pearl of the grafted oyster that will determine the nuances of the pearl obtained at the end of the culturing process.
But at this point, nothing ventured, nothing gained! The grafter and his skill will come into play. A small piece (barely a millimeter) of the mantle of the donor oyster is cut into small pieces and is essential in the grafting process. The recipient oysters are mature oysters of at least 2 years before they are ready for grafting. They are surgically grafted through an incision into the recipient oyster’s pearl sac.
Did you know? A natural pearl is born of a foreign body inadvertently arriving in the pearl’s sac. The oyster’s defense mechanism is to envelope the foreign body with layers of nacre. Thus, the pearl grafting process involves placing a small round bead made from the shell of a giant clam originating from Mississippi with the mantle membrane. The size of this nucleus determines the size of the pearl that it will yield if, and only if … the oyster survives the operation. Statistically, 20% of the oysters die in the months following grafting process unless it is later rejected … When they have not simply fallen prey to predators like stingrays and other fish from the lagoon…great lovers of the Pinctada margaritifera oyster…
About 18 months later, the oysters are harvested and the pearls reveal their beauty … If the pearl obtained is exceptional, the same oyster is grafted it a second time, with a larger nucleus (the size of the harvested pearl), this in time will yield an even bigger pearl although less remarkable in luster compared to those of the first harvest.
This is the pearl culture process in a nutshell. An interesting and educational visit to the Robert Wan “Musée de la perle”will prove enlightening and part of the Polynesian heritage.
The Robert Wan « Musée de la Perle » is open from Monday to Saturday from 9 :00 – 5 :00 pm. Admission is free.
As of 1 September 2016, the museum is open until 20:00 on Thursdays and Saturdays : while waiting for your international flight , enjoy your stay until the last moments and bring back one of the precious souvenirs of our islands.