The Pearl Emperor's 50-Year Legacy and Vision for Tahiti's Black Pearls
The Robert Wan Group celebrated its 50th anniversary on Friday evening at the Pearl Museum in Papeete. Neither the vahine nor the Polynesian prestige abroad would be the same without this man who discovered his passion later in life. His passion remains intact, and Robert Wan continually strives to enhance and disseminate the black pearl worldwide.
Robert Wan marked the 50th anniversary of his brand on Friday evening. In his youth, he had no ambition other than to "succeed," he says, and it is this success he celebrated, surrounded by his family, friends, and clients at his Pearl Museum. President Moetai Brotherson and the minister in charge of the sector, Taivini Teai, were also present, along with Nicole Sanquer representing the assembly of French Polynesia.
Robert Wan delivered a brief speech in which he paid tribute to other black pearl pioneers, the Rosenthal brothers and Jean-Claude Brouillet, from whom he had purchased the Marutea Sud atoll, as well as the Japanese jeweler Mikimoto, who bought his entire first harvest and with whom his company still maintains a close relationship.
Tahiti owes a great debt to him: when Robert Wan took an interest in the black pearl at the dawn of his forties, few predicted his success. Despite the early 1980s cyclones that destroyed many farms in Tuamotu, he persisted. He was the one who convinced the Gemmological Institute of America to recognize the black pearl as a full-fledged gem and to determine its appraisal criteria to facilitate its marketing. The many years devoted to becoming the "emperor of the pearl" have greatly contributed to putting the destination of Tahiti on the map, and few visitors leave the fenua without an example of this Polynesian craftsmanship that he has elevated to an art form, from the lagoons of Tuamotu to his jewelry workshops.
Robert Wan attributes his success to the ambition drawn from his modest origins, "because I grew up in poverty," and his unwavering passion for improving the Tahiti pearl, which he has made known worldwide.
As a pioneer, he has also excelled in exporting his creations, especially by betting on China before anyone else. "I had trouble at the beginning, no one knew about China," he says. "And by doing so, I made Tahiti known." He was right: "Today, the Chinese practically take the entire production."
With his experience and the excesses of past years, Robert Wan believes that the Tahiti pearl market is recovering and that demand exceeds supply, but he cautions, "we must be careful not to produce too much, as our lagoons do not allow it."
Next year, Robert Wan will celebrate his 90th birthday. The company remains a family affair, and the succession is assured: "Yes, it's my grandson Johnny, my daughter's son. He's a handsome boy, too." Shakespeare, in "The Merry Wives of Windsor," has one of his characters say, "The world is my oyster." This expression has become an English proverb, signifying that the world offers infinite possibilities for success to those who are willing to seize them. It undoubtedly applies to Robert Wan.