Fiji Pearls: Alluring Gems from Paradise

fiji pearls

Fiji pearls are prized for their beautiful colors   Photo Credit: J. Hunter Pearls

Highly prized for their lustrous array of colors, and farmed in partnership with local communities, Fiji pearls are unique in the world of precious gems.

Out of the hundreds of thousands of visitors to Fiji each year, only about 20,000 or so make it to lovely little Savusavu, a town of less than 5,000 on Fiji’s second largest island of Vanua Levu. If Savusavu is “Fiji’s best kept secret,” the opportunity to visit J. Hunter Pearls and see how Fiji pearls are farmed right in Savusavu Bay is another.

J. Hunter Pearls is a recent success story in the world of Fiji pearls. Since the 1960’s, Japanese pearl farmers have had a small presence in Fiji. In 1999, marine biologist Justin Hunter returned from the United States to his hometown of Savusavu with innovative new ideas on how to resurrect and grow the pearl farming industry in Fiji. Justin’s vision was to enlist local village residents as partners in order to maintain the unspoiled natural environment and create economic opportunity.

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Different colors on display at J. Hunter Pearls

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Stringing a multi-colored necklace Photo Credit: J. Hunter Pearls

Nowadays, J. Hunter Pearls leases from fishing rights owners, employs local workers to clean and harvest, and provides scholarships to deserving students as part of its community partner status. Additionally, the company abides by a strict environmental code of practice which has helped increase fish populations in the bay, adding local economic benefit. This video from four years ago gives an overview:

J. Hunter Pearls is located in an unassuming building across from their small pier on Savusavu Bay, with the main pearl farm located straight out from the pier.

fiji pearls

Buoys piled in the warehouse

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Schedule board in warehouse keeps track of production

We were treated to a comprehensive presentation and then shuttled out in a small skiff to the farm. In the middle of Savusavu Bay,  workers were cleaning and inspecting oysters amidst the buoys that marked their growing cages.

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Pearl farm workers on their way

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Extracting the oysters from their netted cages

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Cleaning barnacles from the oysters by hand – you can see rejected white beads on the flooring

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Rough work on hands – different colored string identifies growth stages

It was at this point in our visit that we began to realize why Fiji pearls are so expensive. Not only is their color variety so unique, but the hands-on, organic aspects of their cultivation and care add to their overall finished value.

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Pete holds a mature oyster

Fiji pearls still have a Japanese connection: J. Hunter Pearls employs expert technicians who come from Japan to implant the oysters with small beads (which interestingly, come from the Mississippi River). The oyster then forms the pearl around the bead, which it views as an irritant, by secreting lining material around it. The color of the pearl is determined by the color of the lining just inside the black lip of the oyster. The entire process takes about 18 months, and a producing oyster can yield 3-4 pearls on average through its lifespan.

fiji pearls

Different linings produce different colored pearls, formed around the inserted white bead

fiji pearls

Oyster shells post-harvest – imagine the color of the pearl from each one!

The oyster may reject the bead, resulting in no pearl. The oyster may also grow a pearl which has no nucleus, called a keshi pearl. Fiji pearls can be single color or variegated and striated. J. Hunter Pearls come in two different color palettes: warm – champagne, chocolate, copper, cranberry, gold and pistachio, and cool – deep blues and greens. Overtones can include coppery-gold, deep sapphire, dusty rose and turquoise. All are stunningly beautiful.

Keshi pearls - Photo Credit: J. Hunter Pearls

Keshi pearls – Photo Credit: J. Hunter Pearls

fiji pearls

J. Hunter Pearls uses white and yellow gold settings with diamonds to enhance individual pendants

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Multiple pearl bracelets often combine colors

Pearl farming isn’t without its hazards. Young oysters are fragile and prone to predators. As well, just as with land farming, natural disasters such as cyclones or environmental anomalies threaten yields. This video from three years ago shows the effects and aftermath of a cyclone.

Fiji pearls are in high demand in European markets, most notably Austria, Switzerland and Germany. J. Hunter Pearls currently exports about 70-80% of its pearls to European partners, and would like to expand in other markets.

Back in the showroom, we oohed and ahhed over the Fiji pearls which had been crafted into a variety of stunning jewelry pieces. Necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings were tempting, as well as carved mother of pearl pieces made from the shells.

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Leather bracelet with three pearls

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Mother of Pearl carvings

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Rings and pretty things

Changes are afoot in Savusavu Bay with the approval of a high-end resort project on the foreign investor-owned island adjacent to where the pearl farm is currently located. Of concern is the potential environmental impact the project will have which may disturb the fragile ecosystem the oysters require. We felt fortunate to have visited prior to any real work being done on this project. Sweet little Savusavu will be a different place once it has been completed. All the same, we plan to visit again, and you should, too, for a glimpse of the real Fiji and real Fiji pearls.

Comments

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Jeanne and welcome! Yes, the colors in the Fiji pearls are amazing. You’re fortunate to own a Tahitian pearl, as those are very valuable as well. :)

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Noel – We were amazed by the color range as well, but the one I liked the best was the pistachio green. Absolutely stunning and so unexpected in a pearl.

  1. says

    I love pearls and these are gorgeous. I was in Hawaii on my 34th birthday, and I bought a “pearl in a can” for five bucks. Turned out to be a lovely one, and so I paid to have it put in a gold setting (of course, that is the hope). I have it on my finger now, and it is still one of my favorite rings. (I am a ring freak) :)
    Nancie has an awesome blog post here: Angkor Wat for Travel Back SaturdayMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Nancie – Sounds like you had a lucky day! Some of the Fiji pearl rings are so large that I had a momentary concern that I’d knock it into something by accident. But I wouldn’t mind putting it to rest. 😉

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Irene – Yes, it was really fun to go out on the water and see how the oysters were planted and handled. Very respectful and deliberate processes.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Juergen – The size and the color of Fiji pearls really make them extraordinary. It sounds like you may have inherited your mother’s appreciation. :)

  2. says

    What an interesting post! I just love pearls and gems and even took a beginner’s gemology course to learn more about grading, quality and other attributes. I’d love to visit Savusavu and experience the process firsthand but in the meantime you’ve given me more of an appreciation of the effort that goes into farming pearls in Fiji as well as the beauty. The range of colours is quite fantastic.
    Michele Peterson has an awesome blog post here: Recipe: Hot Rum and Bourbon ToddyMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Michele – Savusavu is a gem in and of itself, not to mention the opportunity to see its pearl industry. I’m sure you’d love it all. :)

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Donna – The necklace is absolutely stunning in person. I think you’d enjoy the tour as much as we did.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Anita – Yes, the depth of color in these pearls is unique in the world. I can’t get them out of my mind! :)

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Billie – Once I saw the other colors, my preference for black took a back seat. But they’re all beautiful.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Carole – I was surprised to see and really liked the more casual feel of the leather bracelets and rings.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Jo – Yes, indeed, Fiji pearls are standouts, and part of that is that they’re so fragile and difficult to grow. :)

  3. donna-may says

    Hi there…. I was wondering where one might buy the pearl bracelets with cord on this page.

    Thank you so much!

    Donna-May

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