#thisispearl Nov. 2021 - Page 25

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The Emperor of Black Pearls

Robert Wan, known today as a preeminent black-pearl farmer, was born to a Chinese father who emigrated to Tahiti in 1904. By the time he was old enough to start working, in 1954, Wan fell in love with the black pearl industry that his home government had started to vigorously develop and promote in the 1960s.  

In the early 1970s, Wan invested in Mangareva, the largest of the Gambier islands, to start his own production of black pearls. In 1974, he traveled to Japan, the birthplace of the cultured pearl industry, to meet Professor Sato, a well-known figure in cultured pearl production. Sato worked with Kokichi Mikimoto, the father of commercial pearl farming, and introduced Wan to Mikimoto’s grandson, who promised to be a loyal customer if Wan could produce a large quantity of high-quality Tahitian pearls. Three years later, Mikimoto bought Wan’s entire harvest, thereby cementing the friendship and partnership of the two mega names in pearls. 

By the mid-1980s, several brutal cyclones decimated French Polynesia, inspiring Jean-Claude Brouillet to sell his South Marutea production. Wan bought it, and Marutea continues to be the crown jewel of his pearling operations today. 

In the December 2020 issue of this magazine, Wan told us, “The waters in the South Marutea atoll are 50 meters deep and are rich in minerals for the oyster beds, creating an ample environment for crafting and flourishing the pearls. Our expertise is in high-quality and big pearls, ranging from 15 mm to 17 mm. The round shapes account for at least 40 percent of total production.”

Robert Wan

The Emperor of Black Pearls