Here we are back again with this topic that I find increasingly interesting, due maybe because I have used it as a form of catharsis, allowing me to remember one of the reasons why we started a Pearl Aquaculture project, some 17 years ago, when we were still students at the Guaymas Campus of the Tec de Monterrey. In those days, we first wanted to understand the reasons or logic of why natural pearls are created within the pearl oysters and – of course – there was this previous “knowledge” about the origin of pearls: the mystical, magical, whimsical and musical “grain of sand theory“, which is really just another “pearl myth”.
The Myth that Afflicts Humanity
It seems that regardless of the time period or place, this sand-grain-to-pearl myth has become very popular: it can be heard almost in any country and language. In my case my grandmother told me, when I was just a child, that pearls grew in an oyster as a result of an irritation caused by a grain of sand, so that there was no better choice for the little animal than to coat the painful and offensive particle with soft layers of nacre. I, of course, assimilated this important information and used it wherever there was an opportunity – and there were not many I must admit – until it came time to put this theory to the test.
From Left to Right: Manue, Enrique & Douglas
Back in 1991, our select group of friends – including Mauricio Atl Tahuilan, Carlos Navarro Serment and Jesús Gutiérrez – had helped us to collect some 70 Pearl oysters to start off our studies on Pearl oyster reproduction and culture. Most of the oysters collected were “Black Lips” (Pinctada mazatlanica) and only a few specimens were “Rainbow Lips” (Pteria sterna), so we use some of these few animals for a very simple experiment: use sand to produce natural pearls. And the result was simply disappointing: we did not obtain a single Pearl. Zero. Zilch. Nothing. Nada. And there arose the question of why didn’t it work? Because we all know thata grain of sand will induce the production of a pearl…thus, a thousand grains of sand should be capable of allowing for the production of a thousand pearls and a million grains of sand …well, a million pearls!!! It was just so obvious and foolproof.
But it was not. As much sand as we used, we could not produce pearls. Not a single one. on the other hand, to see inside the animal we took account the oyster was perfectly clean, without traces of sand. We could not know what really happened in those days because we simply did not have the time to be there -in front of an oyster- for some 24 straight hours. Can you imagine yourself sitting, just watching an animal that, for some people, is as interesting as a rock??? Therefore, we came up with conjectures and hypotheses, but we never quite knew what was truly happening; anyway, we were “satisfied” with our guesses. Many years have passed until the technology was available –and inexpensive enough- to perform these small experiments…and, of course, for the “birth” of this Blog to have the motivation to write and document them.
Experimenting with sand: the Present
We used a small fish tank with clean seawater to introduce two “Rainbow Lipped oysters” into which we had –previously- introduce one and a half tablespoons of sand. We placed a small video camera to take a time-lapse video for the next 18 hours to record what happens to an oyster which has sand inside. The results did not astonish us, and lived up to our expectations.
After 3 hours in the tank, oysters would quickly open and close their valves, in a movement and launched a “cloud” of sand out of their bodies. This action removed a great proportion of sand from their body, but for the next 8 hours oysters continued to, slowly, releases small “sand packets”. These “sand packets” consist of a sticky mucus that the oyster secretes in order to bind with the sand, and thus it is more easy to remove the annoying particles. By the next morning, the oysters were almost perfectly clean.
While – at first view – the oysters seemed to be clean from sand (we could see the most of the sand laying at the bottom of the tank) an oyster was sacrificed in order to inspect its body thoroughly, and we still managed to find a very small amount of sand inside. Under natural conditions, the oyster would have managed to remove all remaining sand in some additional hours, but here it was necessary to see the “mucus in action”: our video displays how the Oyster uses its mucus to catch some sand particles and helps to eliminate them.
Pearl oysters are perfectly adapted to their natural environment – the ocean – which has an inexhaustible source of sand. Because of this perfect adaptation, these lowly creatures can – very easily – remove every single annoying grain of sand from their bodies; thus, we can discard sand as being able to help produce natural pearls. In my opinion this is highly unlikely.
Thus, we hope that with the information generated by this test and the proofs on video we will help –once and for all- eliminate the false myth of the “grain of sand”. We hope that this myth will not become resurrected –a zombie of its former self- and come back to haunt us in the future… I swear that if I have to listen –once more- the question of “Is it not a grain of sand that makes the pearl?” something very, very bad, will happen …. I’m just joking: I have already been seared in the flesh –and mind and soul- with this question for years and years, so I am certain I will be able to sustain it longer (but try not to put me to the test, please).
A Blister Pearl!
While inspecting the oyster that was sacrificed for the “grain of sand experiment” I found a worm-like mud-blister pearl. Since our last blog-episode was about these pearls, and I already had the camera rigged it was just natural to make this information available for you all. So, I simply used a scalpel to break the mother-of-pearl layer on this “small tunnel” and found a small orange colored worm. It was clearly a drill-worm (genus Polydora). This discovery can be seen in the video.
This Blog will continue to have more information of interest to you, but probably this information will become a little more “spaced” in time, since our farming activities become intensified during the winter season and we usually spend more time at the farm than at the office (where I write the Blog).
So please do not despair, I promise more posts in the near future and do continue to visit our Blog and send your comments and suggestions.
We want to share with you the experience of having achieved the production of two unique -exceptional- pearl necklaces made from pearls produced at our farm in Bay Bacochibampo, Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico.
Both necklaces –one made of loose cultured pearls and the other from keshi pearls- are made using pearls produced by the native Pearl Oyster known locally as “Concha Nácar”, also known as the “Rainbow-lip Pearl Oyster” or by its scientific name Pteria sterna. If you have checked any world pearl production data, you will find that this is the only commercial farm in the world that employs a pearl oyster of the genus Pteria. So, all other pearl farms of the world use the so-called “mother-of-pearl oysters”, which belong to genus Pinctada. Thus, simply because of their rarity, a necklace made of pearls from the “Rainbow-lip Pearl Oyster” is really a very special piece, completely out of the ordinary.
Finally, we could talk with technicalities about the beauty of these pearls… that their Orient or overtones are exceptional, that their chroma or color saturation is simply out of the ordinary, that their natural luster is very high, but I think that anything that is said about these two necklaces simply PALES before what we can capture with our eyes… so we offer some beautiful pictures of these items, and you… you will be the one to decide whether they are beautiful and exceptional pieces.
“Bacochibampo” Pearl Necklace
Bacochibampo Pearl Necklace
Previously known as the “Bicentennial” necklace, but once it passed into the hands of its new owners it received it’s new – and very proper- name: Bacochibampo. This is a word which means “Bay of the Seven-headed Snake” and refers to an ancient Yaqui legend (of which we will talk in the future). It is also the name of the beautiful Bay in which we culture these pearls, thus we found its name to be more than appropriate.
This necklace consists of 41 cultured pearls, but if you recall (see this note) the necklace originally had 43 pearls, but the “missing pearls” were used to make a beautiful pair of earrings to go with this incredible piece.
Additionally, it gives great pleasure to say that this necklace found its residence in Mexico, adding to the number of Cortez pearl necklaces in Mexico to 4 (1 more needed to equal the number of necklaces found in other countries).
Close-up of Bacochibampo Pearl Necklace
“Mares Lucis” Necklace
Keshi Pearl Necklace Mares lucis
Whose name evokes the natural phosphorescence which we enjoy in a warm and dark summer night. This is our first great necklace but made with Keshi pearls. It was made at the request of a client in the US and it turned out to be a very pleasant task.
This necklace has 61 Keshi pearls harvested between the years 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. It is a graduated necklace, which means that the size of the pearls gradually decreases from the Central Pearl – of greater size – towards the rear. The sizes of the keshis vary between 3.9 and 6.7 (central) mm.
Mares lucis -another view
It was truly a privilege to work in the production of these unique pieces of jewelry. These are durable pieces that are meant to become true family heirlooms. For us the making of these necklaces meant:
1. That we took care of at least four different generations of pearl oysters (2005-2008), each one being looked after for a period of 4 years (this means 12 years of care, work and dedication).
2. The operation of thousands of pearl oysters, so that of these thousands only 1% would give us enough Gem quality pearls, in the sizes and shapes required for the production of these jewelry items.
3. A selection process that involves saving the best pearls from each year’s harvest, so we can have the pearls needed to produce one pearl necklace of this quality, every year.
So when they ask us if we cannot simply make another necklace like these we have to say: “We’d Wish!”… And hopefully next year we also have the opportunity and privilege to produce another necklace like these two… never identical, always unique, but of this same Quality.
The only that remains for me to do is to invite you to watch a short video with additional photos of the “Bacochibampo” pearl necklace…
We now commence a new blog-delivery with a new subject: pearl quality. How can we view this from the client’s standpoint? Let us ask the following questions: Why should it should I pay more for higher quality? What do I get in exchange?
And the answer should be clear and concise: quality gives you value and beauty. In the case of gems this should be of real importance, because these products must keep their beauty and their value in 5 or 10 or 200 years. A gem that loses its beauty also loses its value
How can we measure pearl quality? That is a very interesting question and one we hope to be able to answer in an easy and precise manner. In the meantime, we will tell you about a critical indicator of pearl quality: nacre thickness and we will see why this indicator is this so important. But first let us begin this post with a couple of stories…
A Life Investment
Beautiful Hindu Woman wearing a lot of jewelry
For millennia, human beings have purchased precious stones and metals, as well as jewelry and ornaments – made with these materials- for their personal use and enjoyment. Jewelry items are not only used as adornments or to establish “status” amongst people; they can also serve as a manner of “safe-guard” in moments of crisis. As an example, in many countries women adorn themselves with lots of jewelry and this can be of a great advantage at times: imagine that at moments of social unrest or economic struggle, that a family has to flee for their lives, keeping only what the family is wearing? Of course, you may own a pair of fancy tennis shoes, but that will not be enough to feed the family or pay a ransom, but your mother’s jewelry may be enough to help the family get on its feet again. Of course there’s also the question of quality: it would be better to possess a single high-quality –valuable- item, than 20 kilos of costume jewelry (it will not even allow you to run faster). Under this logic let us examine a relatively well documented case.
On October 1917 -during the Russian revolution- the new Bolshevik government began arresting all Russian nobility. This meant that the aristocrats fled their country, leaving behind their palaces, land, clothes and furniture, keeping with them only those items which had great value and were easily carried and hidden. Amongst these Russian nobleman was Prince Alexander Yousopoff (better known for his part in the assassination of Rasputin) who fled to Paris with some family jewels. Amongst his most precious treasure he had a pearl necklace (that some assumed had many Sea of Cortez pearls, due to the voracity Russian nobility had for fine pearls) that might have belonged to his mother, Princess Zenaida Youssopova. During his final stay in France, his economic problems became greater and finally –in 1922- he decided to sell this pearl necklace (it might be the one that appears in his mother’s portrait, although without the famous “La Regente” pearl, also known as “Napoleón’s Pearl”, because this pearl has its own unique story). The sale was done by prestigious jeweler Pierre Cartier, who was able to sell the pearl strand to a rich American heiress at a value of $400,000 U.S. dollars.
Princess Zenaida Yusupova, wearing "La Regente" Pearl and an incredible pearl necklace.
To be honest with you all, this story might have some contradicting leads (which I believe just adds a detectivesque flavor to it) and you may want to dig deeper into the story…just like treasure hunting. Some -like this reference- lead us to think that the pearl necklace might have originally belonged to Catherine “The Great” of Russia, but the necklace could’ve been part of the Imperial Russian treasury, although it is said but the jewelry was found by the Bolsheviks, hidden within a wall in one of the imperial palaces of the Romanov dynasty. In order to have a more coherent story we are using the information found in the “Cortez Pearl” website as valid.
Nacre thickness and pearl quality
For us, one of the main attributes to take into consideration is nacre thickness. To understand what this is all about, we can ask the following question: How much of your pearl is really pearl? Let us analyze this.
Most marine –or salt-water- cultured pearls are produced by the introduction of a small shell-bead -by means of a special surgery- inside the pearl oyster’s body, and over a length of time –the culture period- the little bead will become coated by millions of thin nacre layers, deposited one over the other (in the likeness of an onion) until the pearl is harvested. Under a short culture period (4 to 8 months) the pearl will have a thin nacre coating, but under a longer culture cycle (18 to 24 months) they will possess an excellent nacre coating.
How can we make sure that we have a good nacre coating on our pearl? There are several way to find out, amongst these we have:
X-Rays: these are used to observe the shell bead within the pearl, and we can also measure the pearl’s nacreous thickness. This is a method that is employed by many pearl producing countries, such as Tahiti.
Cutting the pearls in half: we select a sample of pearls that will be cut in half to analyze their nacre thickness. This is the best method to determine nacre thickness…but it might be a bit destructive for most people.
Inspection of the drill hole: this is a difficult method to use and that will not ensure you of the pearl’s nacre thickness, but it does help to identify pearls with a thin nacre coating.
Additionally, we have indirect methods that may be utilized by different pearl farmers. We utilize a simple technique which provides us with very good information regarding nacre thickness: we utilize a group of control oysters in wish we only insert shell beads with a single size. Thus at the end of the culture period, we can measure the harvested pearls and determine their nacre thickness by means of the size difference between the shell bead and the resulting pearl (if we use a 6 mm shell-bead or nucleus, at the moment of harvest the pearls will at least measure 8.2 mm), but we can also gauge both the maximum and minimum nacre thickness in a given lot of pearls. Utilizing a combination of these methods we can feel assured of the nacre quality of our cultured pearls.
Harvest 2010- Nacre Thickness
We feel are grateful for this year’s harvest especially with the resultant nacre thickness, which was excellent. The range we consider typical of a Cortez Pearl is a minimum of 0.8 mm, with an average thickness of 1.2 mm and, in a rare occasions, exceeding 2.2 mm. With this nacre thickness, Sea of Cortez pearls are just as good –and sometimes better- as most South Sea pearls in the market today.
In the image above you can appreciate the nacre thickness of a group of pearls that was cut in half to evaluate their nacreous coating. Those with a thinner coating (left side) have a thickness of 0.9 mm, the average ones (central portion) measure 1.5 mm and the thicker ones (on the right side) may even reach up to 2.8 mm (in all instances I am just mentioning the thickness on one of the pearl’s sides, as seen in the following photo).
Pearls in Half
Sea of Cortez pearls: Our guarantee
A case of Pearl Leprosy?
A thick nacre coating means that the pearl has what it takes to display good natural luster -thus it will not be necessary to polish it- and for the pearl to have durability -to endure the passage of time- and to become a family heirloom. on the other hand a pearl with a thin nacre coating will seem dull and unappealing –unless the pearl is polished- lacking real beauty and devoid of orient, it will not be durable and can easily peel and crack.
The pearl we produce is guaranteed for life against natural defects if the pearl suffers any damage (not due to the wearer), then this pearl will be replaced by another one of the same quality for value. In most instances, any damage from the pearl is caused by the wearer such as scratches, damage caused by jewelers, and –sometimes-even being run over by a car, but these are exceptional cases.
If we take into consideration that a thinly coated pearl can have a “useful life” of only a few months to perhaps a couple of years, then a pearl with a value of $10.00 U.S. dollars becomes an expensive product:
$10.00 divided by 8 months = $1.25 per month
$10.00 divided by 24 months = 42¢ per month
But if the pearl has a thick nacre coating, then it has the potential of a long, useful life, well in the range of hundreds of years; but since this is something really hard to estimate, let us say that with a lifetime guarantee we are at least talking about 80 years. Thus if we have a pearl valued at $1,000 USD we are talking about a good price:
$1,000 divided by 80 years = $12.50 per year = $1.04 per month
So, you get the idea: quality pearls actually give you more of everything. And, now let us go back to our question of “why should we be interested in a pearl’s quality?” but now analyzing it from the viewpoint of the pearl producer: Why should we invest more time to in order to obtain a higher quality pearl? What do we receive in exchange? The main thing you obtain is prestige to a proven quality and second: it’s a matter of personal pride (you can actually feel good about what you are doing).
Investing in quality is well worth it. In the future, we will continue to talk about other aspects of pearl quality.
I’ve just returned from a dizzying trip to the always impressive Californian metropolis, where I joined a select group of “Pearl-People” (people linked to the pearl industry) to discuss a subject that we always discuss: pearls, pearls and more pearls. The interesting thing about such events is that they involve people who are in different areas of this field: pearl farmers, nuclei producers, wholesalers, retailers, designers, gemologists and collectors. In all: quite an interesting array of areas of expertise and depth of knowledge.
A total of 16 people were invited to the “Pearl Ruckus 2010″, an event that was promoted by Jeremy Shepherd, CEO of “Pearl Paradise“, by “Jewelmer” and by “Classical Wines of Spain”. The event included five conferences, as well as several social events where the pampered guests would enjoy fine Spanish wines, exquisite sushi and even indulge in a bit of Whiskey tasting. We were treated like royalty…and as such, pearls adorned all the fair ladies at the event.
Conferences – Saturday 24
Beginning at 10:30 am and ending at around 4 pm, we were fortunate to attend the presentations by the following lecturers:
Blaire Beavers (GemGeek): A comprehensive lecture on “Exotic Pearls”, among which Blair talked about the New Zealand’s Abalone Mabe pearls, the large orange-colored “Melo-Melo” Conch pearls, the giant pearls of the Tridacna, the beautiful and elusive Nautilus pearls (a relative of “Paul the Octopus“) and, of course, the “Cortez Pearl”. I do have to point out that GemGeek recently visited our farm (last May),but she seemed fascinated by our local fare of regional seafood, and this was quite evident in the presentation, which included pictures of the fish tacos and other delicacies.
Michael Rivers (Mikeyy): Mike’s lecture gave us a very comprehensive, interesting and detailed description of the mother-of-pearl industry of the United States, from the early 20th century to the present; it included pearl mussel fishing methods, the production process of mother of pearl buttons and of the core of most cultured pearls: the little nacre bead. The talk ended with a discussion on the future of this industry.
Renné Newman: This renowned gemologist gave her presentation on the “Zhuji Pearl Market, China” and -much to our delight- she presented the 5th Edition of her famous book “The Pearl Buying Guide“. I must admit that we learned a lot about pearl quality by using the first edition (1992) of this book and that it made us very happy to see several new sections and photographs about our “Sea of Cortez Pearls” in this new edition.
Steve Metzler (smetzler): who has made an incredible effort towards the identification and certification of two types of extremely rare natural pearls: the pearls of the “giant clam” (Tridacna) and those of the cephalopod Nautilus. This research is carried out by specialists from Spain (Dr. Checa & Dr. Cartwright) and we cannot yet disclose information any about it … the information will be published within a few months. Steve’s collection of natural Tridacna and Nautilus pearls is simply unparalleled.
Douglas McLaurin (CortezPearls): Who, as always, was enjoying himself with his presentation about the “History of the Gulf of California Pearl”, with information ranging from the pre-columbian period to the present, including details of the pearl fisheries made by Spanish-Soldier-turned-Millionaire Manuel de Ocio, the farming methods of Don Gaston Vives and the short-lived farm of Don Manuel Lozano Gallo, then easing into the 1990′s research stage and, finally, the commercial aquaculture in Guaymas, Sonora.
What I can say I that I did not mentioned before? We had the most excellent hosts in Jeremy Shepherd and lovely Hisano Takei (who wore a beautiful kimono), we had Sushi chef Hitori Hirata preparing delicious sushi, the best caviar I’ve had, a fine selection of Spanish wines, including a delicious Galician Albariño wine, we had a “Scotch Whiskey Tasting event” with the help of Michael Udhe, and to wrap it all up: the excellent comradeship amongst the guests at this unique event.
I consider myself fortunate to have been invited this year and, God willing, there will be more Mexican Pearls at the 2011 Pearl Ruckus next year …
With great pleasure and satisfaction we announce the presentation of three pearl necklaces for the year 2010. As with all previous pearl necklaces that have been produced in Mexico since our pearl farm started operations, these necklaces are made using pearls from several crops or pearl-harvests; for these 3 necklaces, we have used pearls from the 2010, 2009, 2008 and even 2007 crops. You need extreme patience in order to produce a good string of pearls.
What makes these necklaces so special? Well, they consist of pearls produced in Mexico’s Gulf of California, a region known worldwide for its pearls, and these are cultured using a limited-production (4 kilos) scheme, these are the only cultured pearls that are produced under the “Fair Trade Gems” standards, the only cultured pearls that are produced using a “winged pearl oyster”: the “Rainbow-Lip Pearl Oyster“ or Pteria sterna, thus they are the rarest cultured pearls produced in the world and they also display a pink-red fluorescence under long wave UV rays, and are some of the very few cultured pearls that do not receive any “embellishing” treatments (physical nor chemical) … there are many more things to say about how special these pearls are, but this is just to lay the basics.
What we now need to do is present these three strings of pearls from the 2010 edition:
Necklace 2010 – A
This one consists of a graduated necklace with a length of 20″ (50.8 cm), made with 49 baroque pearls with a size (diameter) of between 8.0 and 8.7 mm, using “B” grade “Cortez Pearls” (“B” grade means that there are skin imperfections on the pearl and that its luster is not very high), the central pearl measure 8.7 x 9.1 mm . However, with its light gray color, unique shapes and its iridescent pearls makes it a truly exceptional piece. It has a simple yellow 18 K gold brooch.
Pearl Necklace 2010 – B
This is an excellent pearl necklace when you consider its price:benefit. It is a baroque pearl necklace, but these pearls are soft baroques (not by human action), in short, although these pearls are asymmetrical shaped they posses very soft shapes that are almost spherical in appearance, thus they look “round” from a certain distance. It is quite uncommon for our Gulf of California cultured pearls to have a perfectly round shape (the reasons will be explained in a future post), thus our spherical shapes attain a far greater value than that of the most common shape: the asymmetric or baroque shapes-so this necklace achieves a relative low cost with great looks or “more bang for your bucks”.
This graduated multicolored 19″ (48.26 cm) pearl necklace consists of 51 baroque pearls with a size between 8.0 & 8.6 mm (diameter) and made with “A” and “A+” grade pearls (this means very good natural luster and a clean pearl surface) of exceptional colors. The result is a rainbow-like necklace with red, green, blue gray, black and purple pearls … As with the previous necklace, it features a plain 18K yellow gold brooch.
Special Edition “Bicentennial” 2010 Pearl Necklace
This is a truly a unique Cortez Pearl necklace, a piece of jewelry fit for a Queen and truly something that very few can own. We’ve placed this necklace at the same level of delicacy -for want of a better word- as some of our finest necklaces such as “Stella Maris” (2009) and “Bohéme” (2008). The central pearl is a gorgeous purple pearl (11.6 mm) with incredible green overtones (obtained from the 2010 harvest).
This 19″ (48 cm) graduated multi-colored pearl necklace consists of 49 near-round Sea of Cortez Cultured Pearls with sizes between 8.7 and 11.6 mm (diameter), and was made using the only “A+” and “Gem” grade pearls, featuring the most intensely colored pearls available, the highest natural luster and the best surface (“skin”) purity possible using only non-treated pearls. This necklace does not include a clasp, since the buyer usually acquires a specially made clasp for such a unique piece.
So far we have named this necklace as “Bicentennial” (Mexico turns 200 years old as an Independent country this year) but this name will be changed by the owner: in the purest pearling tradition these unique necklaces are named or are “christened” in the manner of other famous necklaces or Pearls of old. In today’s world, the vast majority of necklaces produced do not even deserve a nickname… but high quality pearls with a limited production are still worthy of this distinction.
Where are the other Cortez Pearl Necklaces?
Since our Bacochibampo Bay farm started producing loose cultured pearls in the year 2000, we have only managed to produce eight special pearl necklaces -with characteristics similar to those of the “Bicentennial” necklace- and we have always wanted for these to remain in Mexico, but this has not always been possible. So where are these necklaces? Here’s the list:
3 necklaces in Mexico, including the three most perfect and beautiful: “Stella Maris”, “Bohéme” and “Balandra.”
2 in the United States of America (“Maria” and “Isabella”)
1 in Italy
1 in New Zealand
Understandably, the owners remain anonymous. In the case of “Bohéme” it had the distinction of appearing in the book “Pearls” by gemologists Hubert Bari and David Lam, a book where the authors state (on page 86) the following about the “Sea of Cortez Pearl”: “It is perhaps the most beautiful pearl to have been cultured up to now” (Hubert Bari & David Lam. 2010. Pearls. Skira . Italy. 336 pages).
Where will the “Bicentennial” spend its Time? What will be its final name? That will be known soon …so, stay tuned!
Natural Pearls…this small phrase can mean different things depending on which portion of the food chain you are located in, so it can either mean utter nacreous ecstasy or feverish anger. Whatever your feelings are, every year we have the fortune of finding a few natural pearls within our farm-raised “Rainbow Lipped Pearl Oysters” (Pteria sterna). This quantity varies tremendously depending on environmental conditions (although some people have gone far to suggest that this depends solely on the actions and decisions taken by certain Political Party members…but no, it is certainly not the case) and the way these conditions become more propitious for the development of certain bio-elements (just a fancy word for “little water bugs”) that are normally found in our oceans.
For us, 2007 was an astounding year in Natural Pearl production, whereas 2008 & 2009 were not very productive in yield, but we did find a couple of very exceptional pearls (see “The Virgin’s Pearl” account of this same Blog). This year seems to be more similar to 2007 in pearl yield and quality.
So, before we proceed with the data from this year’s natural pearl harvest, let us watch a short video on natural pearl harvesting (taken from the 2007 natural pearl harvest):
If you paid close attention to the video, you will have noticed that all natural pearls were found inside a thin, semi-translucent membrane that was attached to the oyster’s mantle. This membrane is known as the “pearl sac” and it is where the pearl develops…in the same way a baby would develop inside a womb. A similar “pearl sac” is formed to produce a cultured pearl, but in this case the pearl sac develops inside the oyster’s gonad and due to Human intervention. Thus, when we find a natural pearl it is quite a surprise (similar to when you are told your wife is expecting twins…trust me on this), there is no Human intervention in their production. To notice the differences between the harvest of natural pearls (the video above) and that of cultured pearls you can now watch this other video:
Now that you have seen both videos you can realize how differently these pearls come to see the light of day or are “born unto the world”. Another significant difference between natural and cultured pearls is their size: most naturals we obtain are in a size range between 1 to 7 mm, whereas the smallest cultured pearls we obtain measure 8.3 mm in diameter. But perhaps the most striking difference would be quantity: you always obtain many more cultured pearls than natural pearls.
In a future post we will talk more in detail about how natural pearls are produced: their incidence, what causes them to appear (a grain of sand of course!!! sure…maybe it was a politician that came up with such an answer), but for the moment I just want to post some photos of some of this year’s natural pearls…let us begin!
This “cute” little natural pearl has quite some personality. Measuring 1 cm at its widest, it has the shape of a toon-like tortoise, complete with a little eye.
It is not the prettiest natural pearl we’ve harvested here, but it now belongs into a select group of “unconventional” pearls we’ve found, such as: doves, cats, hearts, aliens (pretty certain it was a so called “Gray“) and the “American Classic”: Mickey Mouse.
The next pearls are much more beautiful, but more “pearl shaped”, and by this I don’t mean “round”. Very few natural pearls we’ve harvested (out of hundreds in our 16+ years of work) have been perfectly round, and those that have this shape are usually very small (less than 2 mm).
Now we have a pair of “good sized” (7 mm diameter) baroque shaped natural pearls, slightly flattened (something quite normal in natural pearls). Their main color is dark so they would be considered “black pearls”…a term that I don’t particularly like because the Gulf of California Pearl is much more colorful. The one to the right has a red-wine coloration (probably Pinot Noir) and the one to the left has a blue-green-violet coloration.
Now, we have a pair of pearl trios. The first one in sizes around 5 mm in diameter, but I believe they are even more beautiful than the larger ones: truly a case of “Bigger is not necessarily more Beautiful”. And the following trio (in sizes of 3 mm) are even more striking: some pearls even display the much coveted and desired “Fish Eye” effect.
These little pearls have very strong overtones, the one in the center having the most intense “fish eye” effect.
And to wrap it up for today…a beautiful pair of 8 mm natural pearls with very different colors: one is light gray with a strong violet overtone, the other one has a dark electric-blue coloration. one reason why pearls were known as “Unios” in the Latin language of Ancient Romans is because they were clearly unique, distinctive. These natural pearls are truly deserving of such name…but their Gulf of California Cultured Pearl counterparts are just as unique as their famous predecessor…you will not find any “Clonios” around here.
In our next edition: Cortez Keshi Pearls from the 2010 Harvest. See you next week!
It is finally here…that special moment that takes place only once every year here at our Pearl Farm: the HARVEST. This year we expect to have a lower yield of pearls in comparison with last year’s, but we believe this harvest will be more beautiful than 2009′s.
All these pearls will be harvested from our Pearl Farm in Bacochibampo Bay, Guaymas, Sonora, México, in the central portion of the Gulf of California or Sea of Cortez. The pearls we produce are exclusively grown in one of our native pearl oysters: the “Rainbow Lipped Pearl Oyster” (Pteria sterna). I want to use this opportunity to clearly state that WE DO NOT PRODUCE pearls using the local “Black Lip Pearl Oyster” (Pinctada mazatlanica), because there are some “experts” that say we do, but we don’t. You can use a nifty UV light to see how our pearls glow pink-red, an attribute of pearls produced from the “Rainbow Lipped Oyster”.
Some interesting facts about this harvest is that we will -apparently- have softer and rounder shapes, with a very thick coating of nacre. As an example: we obtained a 13.7 mm (diameter) pearl, and we know -for sure- that the largest bead employed that day measured 9.5 mm in diameter…thus we know it has a 4.2 mm thick coating, or 2.1 mm per side which is what you would expect out of a good South Sea Pearl.
Colors this year seem to be more on the Lighter side…mostly light grays, but the colorful pearls are very colorful and intense, as you will notice on the photo below:
The next photo displays some of our light colored pearls, but when they have baroque shapes they will display very intense iridescence.
The intense colored pearls are coming out in stunning shapes and with great overtones…
Finally, a selection of Gem+ grade pearls: great natural luster (our pearls are NEVER polished), excellent surface (clean, unblemished), intense colors and beautiful overtones…
And this great “Deep Purple” pearl, round, measuring 12 mm in diameter…this one will become the center piece for this year’s pearl necklace.
Finally, the pearl I came to Love from the minute it was plucked out: I christened it as “Matryoshka”, a most Slavic name for such a Mexican Pearl…but once you see its shape you understand why I named it this way. It has the most intense Aubergine color I have seen in years…
Will continue adding updates as the harvest proceeds…
That’s right, we have already published on the web -thanks to YouTube- our Original video on “Sea of Cortez Pearls.” This was a project we had in mind for several years, but we never had the time to invest in an “original production”. The video reached a good compromise between what we wanted to play on the video, yet we could not achieve such as: we wanted a video clip of a hurricane in action on the pearl farm … but when this happens one usually take refuge in your home, or special clothing (we could not shoot a troop of “Spanish Conquistadores” trudging through the desert) and,we were not able of getting a professional narrator (primarily due to time constraints) for the Spanish version of the video… but the English version has superb narration.
Despite being produced in 2008 (it achieved “Gold” status on December of that year) we had the video available only on DVD throughout 2009, and it was until this year that we decided to share it publicly.
The video is presented in two parts due to time constraints imposed by YouTube. The first part is a presentation of the Gulf of California Pearl:its lore and History; the second part deals with the commercial cultivation of pearls in Guaymas, Sonora. So, with no more hesitation: we hope you enjoy the video…
We thank all those who participated directly in this beautiful project, specially the staff of “Cheque’s Films” from our good friends Ezekiel “el Cheque” Núñez and Esteban Ibarra (who were in charge of cameras and video editing), the original “Perlas del Mar de Cortez Soundtrack” was the work of Jaime Delgado Avelar,the excellent voice narration by the professional narrator Charlie Bloomer, and photos taken by another good friend, Alberto “el Gordo” Tirado. Another couple of good video details provided by our friend Benito Sarmiento (thank you for allowing us to use your videocam and “casing” as well as for lending us your aerial video of Bacochibampo Bay), and finally, the great 3-D work of the “Spanish Galleon” done by Abraham Castro of “Onix” fame. In all, this video was made 100% in Guaymas, Sonora.
The script for the video was produced by us (“pearl trio”), in addition to video footage and photos that we did and incorporated into this video.
Additional thanks? Sure! There are many people who we would like to give special thanks, and amongst them we have: “The Yaqui Diver”/Adrian Amarillas Casillas, our friends Rocio Mendoza and Diana Alvarez, as well as to Karla Valdez, Sergio Farell -our friend and former mentor- the ” Tec de Monterrey” for showing faith in our school project and, of course, our group of “Yaqui Workers” led by Jesus “el Pipi” Valenzuela.
I invite you to please leave your comments … I know that in order to leave a comment you are required to use an e-mail account, but for those who do not want to leave a comment because you will “need” to use your e-mail, you can do the following: there is no need to enter a real email … instead use this fake e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org (“copy & paste” and place in the appropriate field) and you will see that it is not necessary to use your personal mail.
It is fascinating to meet with people from all over the world, specially if they are seasoned travelers…they always have interesting stories to share with us and we appreciated their talk and sharing of experiences, specially when they have previously visited other pearl farms in Japan, Tahiti or Australia EXCEPT when someone comes up with their “Mallorca Pearl Farm Visit”. The typical description is that they have seen divers retrieving the always perfectly round pearls that seem to come in only 4 basic colors.
Spain is, indeed, a great aquaculture producer…but its main products revolve around edible shellfish production: scallops, mussels and edible oysters. These species of bivalves are usually produced in the northern part of Spain, on the coastline of Galicia, where they grow three very tasty and valuable species: the Mussel (Mytilus galloprovincialis), the “Vieira” or Queen scallop (Pecten maximus) and the european rock oyster (Ostrea edulis). But none of these species are able of producing nacreous pearls (they would produce “calcium concretions” or “non-nacreous pearls“) so they cannot look like the “Mallorca Pearl”. Let us look into this more closely then…
The so called production of these famous “european pearls” is found in the city of Manacor, Spain, and… where is this place??? It is a beautiful spot in the Mediterranean Sea (see map, courtesy of Google Earth), an area that has not been known or recognized -not today nor in ancient times- as a great pearl producer. Also, take note that Manacor is on an island…but not right next to the sea but some kilometer away from it. This can only mean then that the pearls and their oysters are being grown in special ponds or lakes or maybe even in rivers… but examining the city with Google Maps or any similar program will not reveal any evidence of large lakes/ponds suitable for a grand scale production of pearl oysters nor mussels.
Very well then… they must grow the pearls and their oysters in the ocean and haul them into the city as needed. What variety of pearl oyster could they use to produce their pearls? Let us do a bit of research…hmm, we seem to find very few sources that include information on pearl fisheries -past and present- inside the Mediterranean Sea. Let us use Sohei Shirahi’s excellent book “Pearls & Pearl Oysters of the World” and let us see…weird… no pearl oysters reported in that area of the Mediterranean. The only information we find is that from another great book -actually a “grand classic” on the subject- Kunz and Stevenson’s (1908) “The Book of the Pearl” which cites that a man by the last name of Vassel states that in 1896 , the “Akoya Pearl Oyster” (Pinctada imbricata) made its way into the Mediterranean by way of the Suez Canal and can now be found in limited areas of Tunisia, North Africa. Yet, there is another pearl oyster in the region: the “Mediterranean Winged Oyster” (Pteria hirundo) which can be found in Turkey and Italy. There is not a single report of these species for the Spanish island of Mallorca. The following map can give us a clearer idea of the worldwide distribution of pearl oysters (based on Shirai, 1994).
Well then, if there are NO pearl oysters nor pearly mussels in Spain nor in its island of Majorca… what gave rise to this myth? It is hard to know, but we all know how half-truths have an easy way of propagating… like summer grass on fire. It is a fact that the Spaniards have always stated that their so-called “pearls” are just as beautiful -or better- than their cultured pearl counterparts, or even state that their product is manufactured using “marine materials” but I have never seen an advertisement or article that states that they “grow” their pearls inside living oysters. But some people are…that is for sure. For what reason or to what ends? You can be the judge. So, let us go to an “official” “Majorca Pearls” website, from where I extracted the following text:
“Majorca pearls are imitation pearls manufactured on the Spanish island of Majorca in the Mediterranean. Local women there have specialized in the artistic fabrication of faux pearls since the 19th Century. These pearls have such a resemblance to the natural cultivated pearls that only experts can tell them apart.”
That last part about only experts being able to tell them apart is a hoax (in future posts we will try to help you identify all sorts of pearls, including fakes…which are very easy).
But for now I believe that it is quite clear that these imitations or “faux perles” are not grown from live organisms, but a product of Human manufacture. But, for those that will still believe otherwise… I have -for the first time on the Internet- a perfectly preserved specimen of the very elusive “Majorcan Pearl Oyster” (scientifically named: Plasticus artifactus). The specimen can be admired at our Museum-like display at the Pearl-Shop in Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico… so stop for a visit, don’t miss on this unique opportunity!
If you have questions or an interesting subject to suggest, please feel free to make your comments known on this Blog…see you in a couple of weeks!
Once more we are here, sharing our thoughts and hearts with you…hoping you will allow us to guide you into the history of the Gulf of California Pearl. I hope you find the story of Dr. Gastón Vivés feats as enthralling as we did when we first learned of his existence in 1991. So this week we continue with the most important area of the “CCCyP” or “Pearl Farm”: the “Raceways” or aquaculture channels.
When flying over Isla Espíritu Santo you will easily be able to distinguish the little bay and estuary where this famous pearl farm once stood, this because you can clearly distinguish the man-made shape of the culture station. This part of Dr. Vivés’ operation was a special as all others, but this one is the one most people can see, touch and easily comprehend in its operation. After almost 100 years of abandonment, harsh weather and even hurricanes, this area is still in good condition but slowly being overtaken by the mangrove forest.
This little “ensenada” or harbor has a small mangrove forest growing in typical estuarine fashion: you have a little inland lagoon with its sides all covered with mangrove trees. Gastón Vivés must have “cleared” some of the mangrove forest in order to improve the pearl culture environment, because pearl oysters are not commonly found inside these lagoons. The problems you usually have when you work in an estuary such as this one are the following:
Increased salinity levels during summer months
Decreased salinity levels after the rainy season
Higher/Lower temperatures than those in the ocean
Reduced oxygen levels.
Lots and lots of mosquitoes and some terrible little -almost invisible- bugs we call “jejenes” (No-see-ems???)
But on the other hand you also have important benefits such as:
Higher than average productivity levels (food)
Easier handling of animals in shallower water
Secluded area, easier to protect
So, it is obvious Dr. Vives decided to remove a portion of the mangrove forest and use it to grow his black-lipped pearl oysters (Pinctada mazatlanica) instead. It is hard to know if they dredged the bottom of the lagoon in order to remove the usually black-muck (highly organic mud) that is commonly associated with these forests. It could have been, but maybe they just closed the communication between the ocean and the lagoon…then they cut the trees, allowed the bottom to dry and have workers remove the anoxic muck and then prepare the bottom with more adequate conditions such as “tepetate” rock. This also gave them time to work with the masonry.
Pearl Culture Raceways at Isla Espíritu Santo
I can imagine this was a very intense workload for those involved. Why? Let us go back to 1890 and imagine that the World was different: sailboats on the remotest part of Mexico, a desert island with little or no food and fresh-water available, high temperatures of 45 Celsius (over 120 Fahrenheit) during midday, poisonous snakes and arthropods, mosquitoes, no medical help…you can keep adding it up. So, you not only needed workers, but logistics that are similar to those needed to fight battles and win wars: those that cannot supply their armies are the ones that will loose. And it was an army that Gastón Vivés had to take care of: at the height of the farm’s operation it is said it had over 1,200 men working on the Island.
So, among all the things he had to do is have his workers build barracks and other areas needed to establish and serve a large contingent of people. The docking area would have been important as well, because you need constant transportation of people and goods from La Paz to Espíritu Santo, and drinking water would have been a problem (although several fresh -and some briny- water springs are identified on the island). In order to obtain meat, goats were introduced and allowed to forage the desert shrubbery…something that nowadays is considered an “ecological nightmare” (but in those days the notion of “ecology” was non-existent). once the whole site was constructed it would no longer be the peaceful island but a noisy bustling place of activity (heck! we’ve got towns in the “sierra” that have only some 88 people… and this place had hundreds of workers!): cooks cooking, iron-smiths bashing iron, carpenters nailing planks, divers, packagers…everything but plumbers and electricians.
The Nursery System
About the Masonry work: marvelous. He had great stone-smiths (for a lack of a better word) that -in my opinion- were serious artists and cared about quality. They used dark/red volcanic rocks to form the canals. Their amazing masonry work looks quite sturdy in most places, but the roots of the mangrove are slowly destroying them…
Inside the canals or water-channels it was possible to see some fish darting in and out (usually the common “Lisa” or “Mullet”), as well as an aggressive little Blue-Crab (Callinectes bellicosus). The water is mainly murky-green: thick and rich with nutrients. The water is shallow and has very little movement, the bottom seems more sandy instead of the black pudding-like muck you find at other estuaries (maybe I just needed to stand there until I sank…but did not have much time).
This place would have looked somewhat different some 100 years ago, because this part of the farm was entirely covered: it had a great “palapa” roof made with palm fronds (I did not see a single palm tree here, so the fronds would have been transported from the mainland as with most other things such as wood) and wood beams (very much like the palapa we employ at our Guaymas pearl farm today).
The reason for these roofs is simple: the sun is strong at this latitude and it warms the water; warmer water usually holds less oxygen and some creatures can suffocate… so, just add some shade and the water’s temperature will be cooler. Smart man. In winter you would have the opposite problem (cold water) so you can remove the palm covering and the water will warm up.
This raceway or canal system was very important because it was the “nursery system”, the place were the delicate little juvenile black-lips would be kept under constant surveillance. Why? Well, he did choose a lagoon…and these are well stocked with blue-crabs and these just adore little oysters for their “botana” (tastier than nachos). So, guards were places on top of the canals, armed with fork-like lancers and ready to defend the little pearl oysters. But many other creatures could have wanted to enjoy a free lunch as well: but mainly the octopus, snails and starfish.
The canals had wooden planks to allow the guards to move easily from one place to another and chase the intruders. Also, when the water from the canals was taken out (during the low tide) people would be able to jump inside and work with the animals, perform close inspection and even remove some predators that could have escaped from the guard’s watchful gaze.
The bottom was “conditioned” as I mentioned before, but the little juveniles were not left on the bottom just sitting. Nope. This was all worked out in detail. The little oysters were introduced inside small metal mesh cages, shaped like rectangles. We found the remains of several of these cages at the island…all oxidized, but of course plastic was unavailable in those days.
These juvenile oysters were obtained using special “spat collectors” (of a special design, and we will talk of these in the near future), and the little creatures must have measured some 3 cm (about 1 inch) when caught.
At this stage, the oysters are quite delicate because their shells are not hard enough to protect them and they have a special “anchoring” system (the bissus) they employ to grab a hold of a rock or coral and it is quite delicate: you should never pull them. Also, their small body size does not give the oyster enough protection from sudden temperature changes (they can heat easily under sunlight, and if placed rapidly in cold water the shock can kill them)… so it seems very likely Dr. Gastón Vivés’ medical training might have given him a very sound foundation to understand the oysters and give them the best possible conditions to improve their growth and survival.
By means of the mesh cages, it was easy to handle many oysters at once and protect them from most predators and he would have been able to reduce mortality rates to very tolerable levels (5-20%) at an age when -if you don’t do the right things- you can have a mortality rate of up to 80%.
Truly a revolutionary man and way ahead of his time… let us continue with this account in the coming weeks. In the meantime, you can watch a small video about our visit to this historical site. The video has titles in Spanish only, but if you read this entry you will be able to grasp the meaning…I will add sub-titles to the video in the future.
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