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Concierge.com's insider take:
Black pearls are the number one souvenir for tourists in French Polynesia. In the United States, a single gem can cost upwards of $1,200, but the highest quality black pearls in Tahiti go for half that. The Robert Wan stores you'll see throughout the country are like the Tiffany's of black pearl shops—just about any other outfit is less expensive. Your best bet is to visit a pearl farm, where you can cut out the middle man by buying directly. The Manihi atoll in the Tuamotus launched black pearl tourism and is a great place to see how they're produced and harvested.
You'll likely notice that to call these pearls "black" is sort of a misnomer. When placed under the light, a pearl's true color may be steel gray, blue, pink, green, purple, brown, gold, or any combination thereof. The most expensive black pearls, or the A grade, are perfectly round, smooth, and actually black with a rainbow cast. More affordable are the slightly pear-shaped ones with small ridges called the baroques. Their beauty is in their imperfection and their pastel colors. When selecting and purchasing pearls, be sure that you can obtain a certificate of authenticity. In addition, avoid having the gems set in Tahiti as gold and silver are astronomically expensive. Loose pearls can be taken out of the country untaxed and then set by a jeweler once you get home. If you want to wear them right away, Tahiti Pearl Market in Papeete or Bora Bora will string them for you on a thin filament wire at no extra cost.
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