Bora Bora

  • Visit one of the world’s premier producer of cultured Tahitian black pearls
  • Trace the remarkable history of pearl cultivation in French Polynesia
  • Discover how these underwater treasures are sorted by color, form, and grade

It was Federico Fellini who said “the pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.” The bivalve’s artful output is big business in French Polynesia, and the cultured Tahitian black pearl has become an iconic South Seas souvenir. Today, the pearl industry accounts for nearly two-thirds of total exports from French Polynesia, according to Robert Wan, whose name is now synonymous with high-grade black pearls. The seventh child of a Chinese immigrant to Tahiti, Wan grew up in Papeete. He was already well into a successful entrepreneurial career when, in the early 1970s, he began diving (literally) into the local pearl trade—consulting with experts from Japan to develop an effective means of cultivating pearls in French Polynesia. By 1977 Wan had his first harvest. Four decades on, his brand has achieved worldwide renown. If you’re headed to Tahiti, visit the Robert Wan Pearl Museum in Papeete to see his dazzling private collection. Meanwhile, just a quick jaunt from the Conrad is the excellent Maison Robert Wan, the brand’s flagship boutique in Bora Bora, overlooking its own elegant wooden pier in Vaitape. It’s worth devoting an hour or more to browse the small yet impeccable selection, and to learning about the pearl’s inextricable role in the islands’ history. You may hear, for instance, about the ancient god Oro, who liked to travel to Earth on a rainbow, leaving an iridescent glow in his wake. Oysters, it is said, captured some of that rainbow in their shells—hence the prismatic coloring of Tahitian pearls. French Polynesia’s atolls provide the pristine environment necessary for the sea to work its alchemy. With an array of curious tools, lamps, and sorting tables, the boutique’s staff will guide you through the process of evaluating color, form, and levels of quality.

The Conrad concierge can arrange excursions to the Robert Wan boutique in Vaitape, on the main island, a 10-minute boat ride from the hotel. (The boat will drop you directly on the pier.)

Maison Robert Wan, Vaitape; 689-4067-5027; robertwan.com