Despite his youthful appearance, Raymond Newnham has spent over 25 years immersed in every facet of the pearl business.
Having completed his post-graduate studies in the mid 1980's, Raymond was all set to travel overseas when his parents decided to venture to Manihiki, his mother's homeland. Curious to learn more of his family heritage, Raymond decided to briefly join them and help with building their new home in Manihiki. That's as far as his overseas experience went.
At that time, some of the locals in Manihiki were giving serious thought to taking up pearl farming in Manihiki's lagoon. However, the locals had no real experience of this type of farming, so Raymond offered to undertake some research including visiting mussel farms in New Zealand to see the type of equipment (floats, roaps etc) that they used.
Raymond also learned to dive for the wild pearl shells in the lagoon. The shells that were undersized commercially were carefully placed on the coral heads in the lagoon near the villages. These became the original stock for the first local pearl seeding operation undertaken by half a dozen local families with a Japanese technician in 1987. By the time of the second harvest, the demand for Manihiki's black pearls was so strong that pearls frequently commanded $220 dollars each.
Since those heady, pioneering days of pearl farming, Raymond has been based in Rarotonga and has set up a prime retail store there, managed by his wife Jackie, which showcase their own pearl jewellery. He has also travelled to many parts of the globe as a wholesaler for Cook Islands pearls.
When the opportunity arose to become a wholesaler for the newly created Avaiki brand, Raymond responded enthusiastically. "I could see that a well-presented brand that was supported by robust, sustainable farm practices was the way forward for Cook Islands pearls", says Raymond. "After all, we have a premium product and a great story to tell. I think we've captured all these elements well under the Avaiki brand."
Looking ahead, Raymond sees good prospects for Avaiki and Manihiki. "Gaining awareness of the merits of Avaiki pearls around the world, with our limited resources, is not easy," says Raymond, "but as more people come to understand the quality and rarity of our pearls, I'm confident that we will secure the returns to our farmers that will enable this vital industry to continue in the Northern Cook Islands."