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Badger

Badger
In Greenland

Iron Bark

Iron Bark
Under full sail

Fantail

Fantail
At Russell Boating Club's Tall Ships Regatta

Annie Hill

Annie Hill
Photo credit: Alvah Simon

Blue Water Medal

Blue Water Medal
Blue Water Medal

Books By Annie Hill

  • Brazil and Beyond
  • Voyaging on a Small Income

About Me

10 March, 2007




The culture of black pearls is now a major industry in French Polynesia. Mangareva, being a long way south, has cooler water and apparently this makes for better-coloured pearls. The farming is on a large scale and many inventive ways have been devised to use pearls of all shapes and sizes, as well as the oyster shells themselves. I have always loved pearls and was fascinated to see what was for sale in Rikitea’s little shops. While the large, black, perfect pearls are very beautiful, I much prefer the baroque and many-coloured misfits, that are used in less formal jewellery. The smaller ones are known as keishi and are arguably more ‘honest’ than the flawless ones, being formed around chips of shell. The perfectly spherical ones are built up around small plastic balls, which account for between 75% and 90% of the finished pearl. Should you have a necklace of the latter and wear it constantly, you can wear away the nacre down to the plastic, while keishi pearls are formed entirely of nacre. A local jeweller had made a gorgeous little necklace of local keishi, ranging in colour from white, through kingfisher blue and aubergine down to the deepest black. I fell in love with it and Trevor bought it for my birthday.
A teacher arranged for the yachties to visit the local craft school and watch the students working on the pearl shell. This is polished and made into a variety of articles from dishes to jewellery and little is wasted. The standard of workmanship was very high, but the most impressive thing was that the craftsmen were all schoolgirls ranging in age from 11 to 15. They were brought in from the Tuamotus and other Gambier Is and it was a required subject. A couple of days later we saw the best on display in the mairie: the standards were extremely high. The shell is often used very imaginatively – for instance, several pieces will be shaped and polished and then threaded on a band of material to make straps for a dress. The effect can be truly stunning. The girls’ wares are regularly sent to Tahiti to be sold there, but we could buy on the island. The teacher marked each piece to identify its creator and it was lovely to see the girls’ delight when they were introduced to the person who’d bought something they’d made. I think they got more pleasure from that than from the money.

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