The Significance of Giving Black Pearls

By Jessica McCombe

Black pearls have long been an exotic prize. These pearls are created by the black-lipped bivalve mollusk Pinctada Margaritifera, found around Tahiti and the French Polynesian islands. The Tahiti Traveler website notes that the black pearl has been known for “exceptional value and rarity that was only enhanced by its use in the jewelry of the world’s royalty and nobility,” earning it the nicknames “queen of pearls” and “pearl of queens.” The black pearl has had many legends associated with it, offering an array of meanings that can be attached to it as a gift.

Black pearls have many meanings.

Ancient China--Wisdom

Black pearls can signify wisdom.

The gift of a black pearl can symbolize wisdom. The Tahiti Traveler reports that the ancient Chinese believed that pearls originated in dragons' brains and the black pearl was therefore a sign of wisdom. National Museums Liverpool further explains that “The pearl can stand for truth, life or wisdom, and if the dragon loses it, he is left helpless and incapable of action.” According to The Tahiti Traveler, the dragon guards the pearl by holding it between its teeth. To obtain the rare black pearl, someone must first slay the dragon.

Ceylon (Sri Lanka)--Tears from Adam

White or pink pearls are from Eve's tears; black pearls from Adam's, legends say.

A legend from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) traces the origins of the pearl to a lake created by Adam and Eve’s tears, according to the Tahiti Sun Travel website. White or pink pearls were created by Eve’s tears and the “more precious and rare gray and black pearls from Adam’s tears.” There are fewer exotic gray and black pearls since (according to the tale) “man knows better how to control his emotions.”

Polynesian Legend--Everlasting Love

Black pearls can symbolize everlasting love.

Another significance attached to the black pearl originates from a Polynesian legend, according to The Tahiti Traveler. Oro, the Polynesian god of peace and fertility, came to earth on a rainbow to give the black pearl oyster (named Te Ufi) to man. Once here, he “offered the black pearl from this oyster to the beautiful princess of Bora Bora, as a sign of his love." notes that, "Even now, if you give someone a gift of black pearls, it is considered to be a symbol of eternal love.”

Polynesian Legend--A Gift From the Sky to the Sea

Black pearls--a connection between the sea and sky.

Polynesian legend also recounts that the spirits of sand (Uaro) and coral (Okana) each adorned the black-lipped mollusk (Te Ufi) with a “cloak that glistened with the colors of all the fish that swim in Polynesia.” Tahiti Sun Travel recounts that “for thousands of years, the glory of the heavens has come to rest on the ocean bed in the secret hollow of the iridescent mother-of-pearl, a gift from the sky to the sea.”

Modern Legend--Hope in a Time of Pain

Black pearls signify hope in a time of pain.

The Tahiti Traveler recounts an additional meaning associated with the black pearl: the “symbol of hope in man’s wounded heart.” Just as a “black pearl is born from a flaw of nature: a grain of sand entered on an oyster’s delicate flesh, the mother-of-pearl covers up the intruder and forms the roundness of the pearl. Rocked by the waves, the pearl is black and beautiful, like the loved one in the Song of Solomon.”