There’s not a lot of industry on Rarotonga, or Raro as it’s known. There’s tourism, and there’s tourism, and there’s pearls—and did I mention tourism? Oh, and there’s also weaving and quilting, but more about those later. On a recent visit to Raro we decided to do some pearl shopping, and you can’t do pearl shopping without learning the history of the Cook Island pearls.
There are pearls everywhere. You can buy them in souvenir shops (but they’re probably not very good quality) or from a jewellers, or you can visit a pearl outlet—there are a few dotted around the island. At the pearl outlets you can choose your pearl (or pearls) and design, or make your own design with the help of the jeweller. You can choose silver or gold settings (gold being obviously more expensive) and can select from varying shades of white, pink and black pearls.
The black pearl is local to the Cook Islands, and is farmed on the island of Manihiki in the northern group. The Cook Islands is made up 15 islands dotted over almost 2million square metres of ocean—that’s almost the size of India—and is made up of two groups; the southern group, and the northern group.
Manihiki is a small atoll that sits on top of an underwater mountain. Its stunning internal lagoon is 10 kilometres across with 43 tiny motus (islets) strung along the reef like a string of pearls. The pearl farms are dotted around the lagoon, and on the west of the island at Tauhunu are the pearl carvers.
The pearls are sorted into quality, lustre and size. Small pearls (like the ones below) are suitable for necklaces, ear-rings and bracelets. Larger pearls tend to be used in pendants and rings.
For our shopping expedition we visited Tarani’s who specialise in pearls and weaving. Tarani herself designs and makes the pearl jewellery, and her tiny shop is chock full of pearls of all shapes and sizes. Tarani likes to use single pearls a lot, and sets them in silver—often with the shells—as pendants, and she also makes rings, ear-rings and necklaces.
There isn’t a great deal on display as Tarani prefers to show the pearl separately, and then work with the buyer to design a piece of jewellery that not only is unique to them, but showcases the pearl in its best setting.
…which came home with me.