Island News

Fijian pearls add to island’s lustre

Written By : SUN FIJI NEWSROOM. Fiji Gold may be a brand of lager enjoyed throughout the tropical islands of Fiji but around Savusavu it can also mean the star
19 Sep 2009 12:00

Written By : SUN FIJI NEWSROOM. Fiji Gold may be a brand of lager enjoyed throughout the tropical islands of Fiji but around Savusavu it can also mean the star offering from the nation’s budding pearl farming industry.
French Polynesia is the South Pacific’s main pearl producer, followed by the Cook Islands; but J Hunter Pearls, established seven years ago on Savusavu Bay in the northern Fiji island of Vanua Levu, has a growing reputation on the international scene.
It’s also become a popular attraction for visiting tourists, mostly from Australia and New Zealand, followed on shore by a climb up to the company’s first-floor showroom where a variety of dazzling necklaces, earrings and other jewellery – with pearls of gold, black and a variety of other soft pastel hues and bold tones – are on display and for sale.
Guide on our tour was a Fijian marine biologist, Marilyn Vilisoni, who expertly detailed the technical intricacies of rearing pearls, pointing to row after row of buoys from which ropes with growing oysters attached dangle around 6m deep into the bay,
Tourists can see the underwater lines from a glass-bottomed boat.
They may also watch Japanese experts flown in twice a year for the implanting and grafting stages when a nucleus (from the shell of a Mississippi mussel) with some mantle tissue is implanted in the oyster which forms the heart of the developing pearl.
Harvesting of the cultured pearls from up to 50,000 shells is also carried out twice annually.
The experts evaluate the condition of the pearl sac after removing the oyster and will replant it if deemed suitable, leading to a larger pearl.
The gems are graded, the best being symmetrically round, and sent to the United States to be placed in jewellery settings.
The company says that J Hunter pearls, highly sought after for their uniqueness and untraditional colours, feature in jewellery stores at popular tourist resorts and shopping centres around Fiji.
In June, the first auction of Fiji-grown pearls was successfully held in the Japanese city of Yokohama with buyers from Brazil, Denmark, Germany, Italy and Sweden as well as Japan spending a total of more than $F1 million (about $A710,250).
Says Justin Hunter: “We are devoted to the creation of beautiful pearls that are exceptionally different from all others.
“Along with uncompromising farming methods, we are utilising the uniquely coloured oysters of Savusavu Bay.
“We believe that perfect pearls come only through a partnership with our natural environment.”
The Fiji pearls have been described as some of the world’s largest, with an average nacre thickness of 1.55mm, such thickness and quality being a significant factor in a pearl’s beauty, durability and value.
And the pride of the collection is the Fiji Gold.
Justin Hunter was a small-town boy from Savusavu (population 5,000-plus) who became a man with big ideas.
Son of a Savasavu property-owner, the late American-born Bob Hunter, Justin studied marine biology and worked in the United States, returning home to Fiji with plans to establish a pearl farm, which he did in 2000 with the aim of producing pearls in beautifully distinctive hues that are also larger than those traditionally grown.
The site he chose was in the pristine and nutrient-rich waters of picturesque Savusavu Bay behind Nawi Island, two minutes by motorboat from the town’s main street.
The J Hunter project, while meticulously protecting the environment, has provided work for local farmhands and divers, and has helped the Savusavu community in other ways.
Its water lease payments go directly into a scholarship for local schoolchildren and other funds go to various development projects.
The Fiji Government is supporting the development of pearl farming here and elsewhere around Vanua Levu and other, smaller islands with the aim of increasing the industry’s value from the present $F7.5 million (nearly $A5 million) last year to $F50 ($A35 million) by 2015.

If you go:
Pacific Sun, a subsidiary of Air Pacific, flies between Nadi International Airport and Savusavu. Tours of the J Hunter Pearl Farm are scheduled Mondays to Fridays at 9.30am and 1.30pm, and on Saturdays at 10am, priced at $F25 (about $17.50) for adults and $F12 ($A8.50) for children. Details: call (0011-679) 885-0821. The writer was a guest of J Hunter Pearls on an itinerary prepared by the Fiji Island’s Visitors Bureau (02-9264-3399,, flying to Nadi in Fiji by Air Pacific (1800-230-150) then by Pacific Sun on to Savusavu. – AAP

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