Tahitian Black Pearls Take Flight
Tahitian black pearls didn’t take off in popularity until Frenchman Jean-Claude Brouillet and American Salvador Assael teamed up.
Brouillet was an entrepreneur who opened hotels in French Polynesia after a successful career as a pilot in Europe and Africa. With his hospitality ventures a triumph, he turned his attention to another local specialty that was relatively unknown in the early 1970s: the Tahitian black pearl.
Brouillet loved the pearls but struggled to entice top jewelry houses to buy them. A jewelry friend named Assael, whose yacht docked next to his in St. Tropez, offered to shop the pearls around for him in New York City in 1973.
Assael first offered the pearls to Harry Winston, who snapped up 18 strands, using them to make jewelry combined with diamonds. Encouraged by the sale, Assael and Brouillet bought the island of Marutea in French Polynesia in 1975 to start a pearling operation whereby Assael became the exclusive distributor.
Up until this point, few Tahitian pearls had been harvested by anyone in French Polynesia. But with the interest of high-end jewelers piqued, Brouillet harvested 8,000 pearls in 1976 and 14,000 pearls in 1977. Assael proclaimed ‘A New Gem is Born’ in trade ads and sent samples to the Gemological Institute of America in New York City for authentication of the color as natural.
Source: Modern Jeweler, December 1994
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