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Tahitian Keshi Pearl
From Peril to Pearl

To the people who wear them pearls are wonders. But to the mollusks that make them, pearls are weapons.

Even long before farmers pried them open and inserted nuclei, mollusks were subject to invasion of privacy by the smaller but no less bothersome irritations of bits of shell and parasites which also acted as trigger mechanisms to a unique form of pain relief. To end the discomfort caused by the presence of foreign bodies in their bodies, oysters and mussels have the ability to smother these intruders in layer after layer of a substance called nacre and, in the process, create one of the most highly prized of gems.

So don’t let the pearl’s lustrous beauty blind you to the fact that this treasure is still the result of trauma—a no trespassing sign against encroachment by man or nature.

No type of pearl better symbolizes the will which shellfish resist the invasion of their space than the keshi—a completely spontaneous pearl that occurs when the process of nucleation introduces additional matter which also serves to trigger nacre production.

Because the keshi is ad libbed, many gemologists think it is a natural pearl—or, at least, a throwback to a time when all pearls were natural. Others argue that, no matter how unintended or accidental, the keshi still can’t be classified as natural because it is a by-product of pearl culturing. But even though it comes from the farm, the keshi is still a link to the time when pearls grew wild and a single strand could be traded for a building on Fifth Avenue. Indeed keshi exhibits its own distinctive kind of wild beauty. Last but not least, the keshi pearl is one of the best gem bargains around, especially in the impressive large sizes coming from Tahiti and Australia—major sources, along with Japan, of these spontaneous splendors.


Literally speaking, the word keshi means tiny. It was adopted by Japanese pearl farmers to describe tiny non-nucleated pearls that had grown by accident that were often found inside oysters at harvest time. Today, however, the word has a more generalized meaning and refers to unplanned pearls of any size that are produced by a seeded mollusk.

The definition of keshi had to become broader once South Sea pearl farms began producing these flukes of nature in relative abundance. Usually the farms that produce them are smaller mom-and-pop operations which cannot go to the lengths that the larger farms do to guard against keshi. As one Australian pearl farmer put it, “There’s just so much space inside the oyster for pearl growing. So the last thing we want is a keshi competing for that space.”

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Tahitian Keshi Pearl