Posted on September 06 2011
Jason Momoa, the new face of Conan the Barbarian, wearing a Tahitian pearl on leather.
A friend of mine sent me this photo because I'm a huge Conan the Barbarian fan. Haha, not really but the trailer sure looks like fun.
Tahitian pearls on leather are increasingly seen in the mainstream, something I knew in my bones would happen 13 years ago.
Before I took over at Kamoka, I worked hard for my father and saved up for a project of my own. The money that I made under my dad I put aside and after finding a local partner, started my own farm on the island of Raiatea in 1997. I was able to do this remotely while I kept working at Kamoka then at the end of 1998, my partner and I found ourselves with our first harvest. As much as I'd like to take credit, I have to give it to my (now ex) partner. We were in the process of sorting pearls when he disappeared for a little while. He came back with a Cheshire Cat grin and a strange black cord around his neck with a pearl drilled (gasp!) all the way through with a monstrous hole. "What do you think?" He asked to which I replied that it was horrible and how could he do that to one of our sacred pearls? At the time, Tahitian pearls were new enough on the scene that the explosion of creativity had not happened yet. They were worn nearly exclusively with gold. The movie "Blood Diamond" with Leonardo Di Caprio was still 8 years off and the information available regarding the ethics of non-fairtrade gold was even farther away.
"I thought you might say that. Here, I made one for you. Put it on and tell me what you think tomorrow."
"Yeah, whatever. If it'll make you happy." I said as I tied it around my neck.
There was something enchanting about it. Nearly immediately I realized that he was right. The more I wore it the more I realized how perfect it was. Tahitian pearls are fresh and modern still and back then they were practically screaming to be worn differently than traditional white pearls.
The farm was a casualty of the pearling industry crash in 2003 but from our humble little operation in Raiatea that day, the idea spread like wildfire. Robert Wan went on to produce a successful though ill-tested product line with pearls and leather and simultaneously designers across the globe picked it up and ran with it.
At the end of 1999, my family and I moved to the main island of Tahiti and built a house in the sleepy end-of-the-road village of Teahupo'o. Fate would have it that beyond being a garden of eden and idyllic setting to raise children, it coincidentally turned into the hub of the surfing world. An annual contest called the Billabong Pro assembled the best surfers in the world and numerous surf industry players. The wave at Teahupo'o (pronounced: cho-po-oh, not cho-poo) is still considered to be one of the scariest and most perfect waves in the world, ideal for top-tier surfing performance as well as a veritable media utopia.
The idea of a brand of simple, surf specific jewelry with leather instead of gold came back on the table and after overcoming a number of setbacks, the brand Mana was born with the addition of a couple of surfer friends. Our project grew and soon we were selling product through a website as well as a number of surf shops across the world. Though the project was cut short, we amassed an understanding of how to build a necklace that would resist the rigors of an ocean based lifestyle. Our experience was that once men or women put our necklaces on, like us, they often didn't take them off. Producing a non-metal based "jewelry" item that would last as long as possible and looked great became our goal.
Stay tuned for news about our upcoming line of leather based jewelry.