“Our pearls are the natural result of cultivation and are not artificially enhanced, nor the oysters genetically engineered in any way”.

Q&A with Alexis Napa Wolfgramm, Executive Officer Marketing for the Cook Islands Pearl Authority.

What is the reasoning behind the Cook Islands Pearl Authority running this campaign at this point?

Many of the visitors to Rarotonga are unaware before they arrive that we have a thriving pearl industry and that we culture black pearls in Manihiki. Most people are aware of Tahitian black pearls because of their successful marketing over many years. We thought it was time to boost awareness about Cook Islands Pearls and that right here on shore where we have many visitors is a the best place to mount a fresh campaign. We also want to distinguish our pearls in front of our own people, to make them want to wear them every day and not just for special occasions.

Why did you call the campaign 'Love a little Pearl’?

Cook Islands Tourism has a very colourful and catchy new slogan: “Love a little Paradise”. We thought that it captured where the Cook Islands is amongst so many larger tropical destinations for visitors. We felt a parallel with the pearl industry: we can’t compete with the volume of black pearls, and pearls in general, that are cultivated overseas. Our industry is smaller but still producing the outstanding quality the world market desires. We also have more of a boutique element to the crafting of our pearls because they pass through hands rather than machines in every step of their journey from the shell into jewellery. There is certainly a lot of love mixed in with the care and culture of Cook Islands Pearls so we thought that ‘Love a little pearl’ would complement the Tourism campaign, it seemed a natural partnership.

Where do CI Pearls come from, how are they grown, and by who?

Cook Islands' black pearls are cultured and perfected by nature in the pristine lagoon of Manihiki, one of the most remote islands of the Cook’s group over a thousand kilometres north of Rarotonga.

Since the 1890s, the lagoons of Manihiki and Penrhyn (Tongareva) have been harvested for natural pearls from the Pinctada Margaritifera, the black-lipped oyster. Cultivation of the pearls began with trials in the 1970s leading to the first commercial farms being established in the 1980s in Manihiki.

Today Manihiki, with less than 300 residents, most of who are involved in the pearl industry, is the heart of the cultured pearl industry of the Cook Islands. There are around 30 pearl farms in the Manihiki lagoon.

What is it about Cook Islands Pearls that distinguishes them from other pearls?

Defined by their lustre, colour and deep nacre quality, Cook Islands Pearls are highly sought after throughout the Pacific, and internationally by the jewellery industry. Cook Islands pearls emerge from their black-lipped mother of pearl shell in an amazing spectrum of colours reflecting those inside their host shell.

Iridescent overtones of blue, green, gold, pink and purple shimmer across the body of the pearls’ deeper silver through to black shades. When rotated, the pearl’s colours will shift and glow as light is absorbed and then refracted through the layers of nacre built up on each pearl.

Cook Islands' pearls come in a variety of shapes that range from the freeform and unique baroque pearls through to the perfectly spherical rounds. Exquisite drops, ovals and button shapes are perfectly formed for particular jewellery settings, while the semi-baroque and circle pearls inspire jewellers and craftspeople to create fascinating and innovative designs. Each pearl has unique attributes that will appeal to the individual’s taste.

Cook Island’s pearls are generally cultured to develop sizes between 9 and 14 millimetres. Occasionally, pearl sizes will reach 21 millimetres and are a premium on the international market. Our pearls are the natural result of cultivation and are not artificially enhanced nor the oysters genetically engineered in any way. The point of origin and proof of authenticity for exported pearls is guaranteed and certified by the Cook Islands Pearl Authority (CIPA)

The highest quality of Cook Islands pearls is produced through a value chain of strict controls. Those pearls are marketed under the exclusive Cook Island’s brand name of AVAIKI.

What retailers are involved in the LALP campaign?

There are a variety of vendors of genuine Cook Islands Pearls including A & M Pearls, Bergman and Sons, Farm Direct Pearls, Goldmine, Island Craft, Kora Pearls, Kiyana, Manihiki Pearl Techs, McLeod Pearls, Moana Gems, Paka’s Pearls, Pearl Essentials, Rangi Peyroux Black Pearls, Tarani Crafts and Pearls, The Pearl Lounge, Tokerau Jim and Vaiana’s. Just look for the ‘Love a Little Pearl’ flag around the island and at the Punanga Nui Market

Photo caption:
Teinaki Toka’s seeding house on the kaoa (coral head) in Manihiki lagoon
Image: Noel Bartley

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