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We seem to have survived quite unscathed from this year’s hurricane season. Only “Odile” caused some damage at the farm: thankfully we were just “kissed” with a bit of rain but we did experience some strong winds that brought us some good height waves (reports of up to 6 meters/19 feet in our area). The damage to the farm was minimal, but the waves battered down and collapsed the main access to our work area (the “palapa”) and we are not going to be able to offer any guided pearl farm tours until it is fully repaired, hoping we will be ready by the end of October.

On the opposite side of the Gulf of California: La Paz, Cabo San Lucas and other communities experienced significant damage to homes, hotels and shops, as well as on the roads, electrical infrastructure and drinking water supply. We send our sincere wishes of speedy recovery to our brothers and sisters in Lower California.

And here is where it all ends for most people: in the material and human damages. But I think that most people forget yet another innocent victim of these devastating forces: our Biodiversity.

This past October 16 – right after the passage of “Odile” in our area – I went for a walk at the beach just in front of Hotel Marinaterra’s “Beach Club” in nearby San Carlos; this little beach has a beautiful cove formerly known as “Shangri-La”. The cove has many rocky reefs, a sand-and-pebble rock beach and a beautiful island coveered with giant cactii. I have loved this place since the first time I visited it in 1988 and it always has had an interesting fauna and it is a good place to practice some snorkeling. It pained me to see it this way…

Damage

The first thing that one can appreciate are several large garbage heaps, mainly consisiting of PET (soft drink) plastic bottles and house-hold cleaning containers, all kinds of plastic bag products, footwear (including tennis, shoes and flip flops), car tires, pieces of PVC pipe, pieces of home appliances (TVs, radios, VCRs, etc.).. I even was lucky enough to find a couple of audio tapes! (years without seeing one), assorted garments and accessories (underwear, sunglasses, caps, etc.). And this without considering all the contaminating elements that we can not see, as they would be all kinds of chemicals such as oil derivatives and of cleaning products.

It is really sad to see this display and know that this happens partly because waves are able of destroying whatever they find in front of them, but mainly because rainwater drags all this garbage into the sea. Our sea and our beaches have become an unofficial “Trash Can”.

After watching the huge quantities of garbage I moved on to find some of the innocent victims of this natural phenomenon: Marine Life. Sadly I discovered dozens of different groups of animals, all of them dead. The most easily recognized ones are the fish; I saw moray eels, seahorses, stingrays, puffers, cardinalfish, snappers and croackers. Sad images, but there were even larger quantities of dead invertebrates.

Fan Corals

These typical corals from the sea of Cortez are fished out to satisfy the tourist’s need for a souvenir (please don’t buy these corals, you will encourage their fishery…instead, find them on the beach). These invertegrates are few in numbers and take many years to grow. These primitive animals resemble the old-style “hand-fans” and that is the reason for their common name. That sad day I found hundreds of these corals on the beach, from at least 4 different species, but the most abundant species were: the “Purple coral” and “fire coral”, the latter is one of the most beautiful in our Gulf. And along with these corals I found yet another hapless victim: the “Rainbow Lipped pearl oyster”, which is the species that we grow in our pearl farm here in Guaymas.

Local fishermen know that this species of pearl oyster is commonly found attached on top of these corals, and that is the reason why they have given this species the name of “tree scallop”. Among the corals which I collected on the beach, I found some 15 small rainbow lipped oysters.

Molluscs

Thousands of mollusks died on this beach. I found dozens of different snail species such as Cone shells (Conus), turban snails (Turbo), Conchs (Strombus), and even several varieties of bivalves such as: mussels, clams, scallops and ark shells and black-lipped oysters. Their hard shells had been shattered against rocks when they were ripped from their habitats and then crashed and beaten against the reefs or rocks in the strong surge of waves. Some animals were still alive –but very weak- but most had their shells cracked and shattered. The animals that seemed to have a better survival rate were the Black lip pearl oysters, most of them only had a seemingly polished external shell. However, most seemed damaged beyond any salvation. I did not find a single Octopus, so I assume these critters are quite adept at escaping the wrath of the waves.

The Echinodermata

This is yet another group that suffered great losses… mainly among the starfishes and sea cucumbers. I did not find a single sea urchin, sand dollar nor sea biscuit, but this may only mean that the fragile shells of these organisms were “pulverized” in the violent waves. I collected dozens of starfishes of at least 3 different species on this beach, but the beach was covered by hundreds of these. The Sea cucumbers I found were from an uncommon variety, which is found buried in the sand.

Worms

Most people do not feel any love for marine worms: they are not “nice looking” and some are frankly aggressive and may cause pain. If this group of animals I saw at least 3 different species: several specimens of “fire worms“, a variety of “polychaete worm” that has thousands of cirrii or spines which can deliver an excruciatingly painful toxin to whomever dares touch them. However the most numerous group was that of the sipunculids (“peanut worms”), worms that are found buried in the sand. Some of the worms measured up to 40-50 cm/16-20” long.

Many people will not think much of these innocent victims, because they are not cuddly, don’t have big bright eyes or colorful feather or fluffy fur… but for me all these animals are valuable and “beautiful” in their own way; these creatures fulfill important roles in our ecosystems and make it possible for the perfect functioning of the Gulf of California. If we have any self-esteem, then there is a chance that we will also be able to harbor love for our sea and its creatures… we can demonstrate this love by making a real effort to avoid polluting our seas and beaches, so we do not have them become a “watery landfill”, and we can also do whatever is in our hands to protect these animals directly.

I was recently at a seminar and we had a couple of spectacular speakers there. Almost at the end of the event they told us a story – it could have been real or fictitious, but this is not important – which I would now like to share with you all:

After a stormy night, a man started walking along the beach the very next morning. As the Sun was coming out he discovered that the beach was litered with thousands of Starfish, which at that moment would begin to die from desiccation. He continued walking until he found a youngster who was busy picking up these invertebrates and returning them to the sea. There were thousands upon thousands of starfish, so this effort seemed futile.

The man approached the boy and told him: “Boy, don’t you see that what you are doing does not make any difference? They are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of thousands of starsfish. You will not be able to save them all!”

The child -with a starfish still in his hand – was thoughtful for a moment. He then threw the animal back into the sea and replied to the man: “Well, it may be true, but for those starfish I’ve put back in the sea I have made a huge difference”.

Even if your personal contribution is limited to not polluting and possibly even to telling others to stop polluting… you are doing a very good thing! And if for some reason you decide that you can even help to collect the existing trash then you are doing something even better and making a greater difference!

If you are thinking about extracting/fishing or buying shells or corals from fishermen, I invite you to avoid doing so and to wait to collect those you find on the beaches. Corals, snails and pearl oysters take many years to grow and may disappear from our ocean if we keep doing this, and this leaves us all in a colorless world, a world of less diversity and decreased beauty.

I invite you to be part of those who make the DIFFERENCE and not part of those living in INDIFFERENCE.

Until next time.

Estrellas de Mar en la Playa

The BIGGEST Cortez Pearl Ever.

17mm Cortez Baroque PearlOh yes! It happened this year. Finally after years of never seeing a really large Cortez Pearl we had the unique opportunity of harvesting a freakishly giant pearl measuring 17 mm in diameter. This huge dark-gray/purple baroque pearl is uniquely different from previous large Cortez Pearls because:

  • The largest Cortez Pearl was a 14 mm baroque pearl that was not solid. It was a “gas giant pearl” and these pearls are usually filled with a stinky dark liquid (which I fondly call “Pepe” for “Pearl Petroleum”) and do not have a very thick coating of pearl. When the putrid liquid is removed (cleansing the interior with hydrogen peroxide) you are left with a very light and hollow pearl.
  • The largest solid Cortez Pearl was -until this year- a 12 mm near round pearl that was harvested in 2012. The largest nuclei (pearl beads) we employ for the production of a cultured pearl will measure 10 mm, so this large pearl is quite solid with 2 mm of nacre growth (or 1 mm of nacre to each “side”).

So this information –and the one that follows- basically lays down the information needed to hopefully understand what makes this Giant Cortez Pearl special and why it is most unlikely we will ever see another pearl like this in many, many more years. This is truly a one of a kind pearl. Let me explain some basic pointers.

The Pearl Sac

The Rainbow lipped pearl oyster is an animal with a tiny pearl sac. The “pearl sac” is -technically speaking- just a very thin layer or nacre producing cells that grow on top of the pearl (and initially on top of the mother-of-pearl nuclei), but many people refer to this sac as the “general anatomic area” where the pearl is growing. To place this in a context it is like when people refer as that “a baby is growing in a mommy’s tummy” as opposed to stating that “a fetus grows within the uterus”, so I hope you get the idea. So, the pearl sac of this species (the general pearl producing area) is incredibly small. Tiny. Insignificant. To give you an idea of how small it is you can watch a video of the extraction of a pearl from any other variety of pearl oyster and one from the rainbow lip. You will see the big difference!

Let me tell you a story of something that happened to me back in 2012 or 2011…can’t really recall the year. I was at the pearl farm when I was told we had some special visitors. Went up to meet with them and they were a couple of pearl farmers from Tahiti. I will not state their names in public out of respect of their privacy. So, I greeted them and they wanted to see the farm and in the end they requested me to open up an oyster so they could see its shell and anatomy (I could imagine a bit of “technical espionage” there, but no harm can come of something as simple) and when I did…that is when I was amazed! Their reaction was astronomically unique! Their eyes seemed to “pop out” of their heads, a look of utter disbelief painted in their faces and they would look at the animal then at my face then back at the oyster then back at my face and this in a very fast manner! Finally he was able of uttering this phrase: “How…how can you EVEN produce pearls larger than 8 mm!?!?!?!?!”

Pinctada margaritifera vs Pteria sterna

Well, their experience is rooted in the Tahitian Black lip oyster (remember: genus Pinctada) which is not only a much larger sized animal but also it has a very conspicuosly large “pearl sac” in comparisson with the Pteria sterna which has a very tiny and compact “pearl sac” surrounded by the animal’s intestines too. So, from their experience what we were doing producing pearls in sizes between 8 to 12 mm is simply impossible. It took them some time to regain composture, then they left and I have never heard from them again. Not even a postcard.

Nuclei Sizes

BigCortez2Since our rainbow lip oyster has this tiny pearl sac we can only use “small” mother of pearl beads. The smallest sized beads we use are the 6 and 6.5 mm nuclei (our average size when seeding oysters) and we also have other larger sizes, our biggest nuclei being a 10 mm bead. I –personally- very rarely use that size…and since we keep the information on the biggest sized beads we use for every daily operation during the pearl seeding season I can tell you with a 100% degree of certainty that I have been unable to use a bead in this size since 4 years ago.

So, the 12 mm pearl I mentioned before was quite obiously the product of a 9.6 or 10 mm nucleus, but this larger pearl was actually the product of a smaller bead: for that given day of seeding, the largest nucleus I used measured only 9.3 mm. If this particular pearl is the product of such pearl it means that it has a whoping 7.70 mm of nacre around the bead! This is clearly a lot more than the typical coating of 1.5 to 2.3 mm of nacre we see in our Cortez Cultured Pearls.

The photo on the right side displays the large baroque pearl with some “smaller” pearls (8.5 to 9.5 mm in diameter).

Why is this Pearl SO BIG?!?!?

I don’t really know. This is a mistery that only the destruction of the pearl or an advanced pearl analysis may help us understand and I would welcome an offer to analize this pearl before it can be sold or goes into our “Pearl Museum” display.

My only guess is that the pearl producing cells of that rainbow lipped oyster worked under a different metabolic rate, probably in a state of angyiogenesis (similar to what tumor cells do in our bodies, by promoting the growth of blood vessels to feed the tumor and allow it grow), but this is simply my guess.

So, what do you think made this pearl possible??? I leave you with this thought… cheers!

This Summer was a record breaking event for two reasons:

  1. We managed to produce our biggest Cortez Pearl harvest ever (finally 4 kilos of pearls).
  2. We harvested the largest Cortez Cultured Pearl Ever.

And both of these record breaking events are quite a feat…but in order to understand why this is important or amazing we will have to analyze the situation. This is what this entry is all about: so you can see why this matters or is of importance. A Sustainable Pearl production is not an easy matter.

Producing Cortez Cultured Pearls.

Back in June -while I was at the Sustainable Pearls forum conference- I was listening to Jacques Christophe Branellec’s (of Jewelmer fame) talk on Sustainable Pearl production in the Phillipines and I vividly remember him showing a PowerPoint slide with a number: 7000. He asked us to see the number and then think about what he way going to reveal about it. He said: “That is the number of Gem quality pearls we harvest every year”. So out of a harvest of several tons of South Sea Pearls, Jacques was stating that only 7 thousand meet the “Gem Quality criterion”. At that moment you come to realize how truly special are these “Gem Grade Pearls”. Wow. They are special indeed…just a small fraction of a pearl harvest.

And at that same moment I started reflecting how truly special my Cortez Pearls are. I am constantly asked about what makes my pearls “special” and I tell people a lot of things: that mine glow red under UV light, that they are guaranteed to never be processed, that they are the only ones grown in the American continent… but I believe it is time to really put this information in a special context so you can understand how truly special they are, specially under the light of the “7000” figure. I hope I can convey my ideas correctly so you can also have a “Wow Moment” with my Cortez Pearls.

So here is the list of things that make these pearls special:

1) The only commercially cultured pearls grown in a Pteria genus pearl oyster: Yes, all other marine cultured pearls are grown in Pinctada genus oysters, this includes the Akoya oyster (Pinctada imbricata), the Silver & Gold lipped oysters (Pinctada maxima) and the Black lip oyster (Pinctada margaritifera). So, just in this respect our pearls are unique because they are the only ones that are being grown in this species of pearl oyster: the Rainbow Lipped Pearl Oyster (Pteria sterna). In a future blog post I will explain why we are still the only producers of this variety of pearl oyster.

Collage-Pinctada-Pteria

2) Unique Fluorescence: This is the only cultured pearl that glows pink to red under long-wave Ultraviolet light, when all other pearls (Akoya, white South Seas and Freshwater pearls) glow blue-green, and others (imitation/fake, artificially colored, black and golden South Sea pearls) don’t display fluorescence under this light. This is a feature that has been discussed in this blog before.

3) Extremely Limited Production: Each year we start with around 100,000 baby oysters (spat) for their use as pearl producing oysters some 24 months later. After all normal mortalities (this is a very delicate oyster) and the selection of only the best oysters for pearl production (both for Mabe & cultured pearls) we are left with some 20-30 thousand oysters that will be useable. We will still have some adittional mortality the next 2 years and we will be able to harvest between 15-23 thousand oysters, with a yield between 2 to 4 kilos of cultured pearls (1 pearl roughly weighs 1 gram = 2 to 4 thousand pearls) and 3 to 6 thousand Mabe pearls. In a nutshell (or is it more appropiate to say: in an oyster shell?) this means that only 4% of our oysters yield a pearl. When I absorbed the “7000” figure from Jacques’ presentation, my mind came up with “200” (yes, not even the “300” Spartans that valiantly fought the entire might of Persia). Only 200 top gem grade pearls every year.

Drop Dead Gorgeous Pearls (4)

4) All Natural Beauty: We have this thing about “pearl enhancing”…we simply don’t like it, so we don’t do it. We don’t bleach the pearls to lighten their color, we don’t dye them, we don’t polish them to make them shiny…we just DON’T PROCESS THEM. I am not against people that do this, but it is simply not our thing and we should be respected for it. For us a pearl is purely beautiful just the way it is. My way of thinking about this issue is like when you have a beauty pageant (not really my thing, but it works for this explanation): imagine that all the women that are in this competition have been “enhanced” by the skills of the best plastic surgeons in the world…are we judging the true physical beauty of the participants…or the skill of their surgeons? You can have it your way but only if you have the option, and we are giving you this option in our Cortez Pearls.

Perlas Cosecha 2007 (29)

So, this is a small list of things that make our Cortez Pearls so special. Some of my friends will say –quite correctly- that this doesn’t make my pearls better than other and they are correct: all pearls are special, all created by Nature, all of them a product of a living entity, and each is unique unto itself. I agree: my pearls are not better…they are simply different from any other pearl in production today.

So these are the facts my friends: no more and no less. Safeguard that “200” figure in your minds just like you may remember those 300 brave Spartan warriors of ancient times.

See you next week, when I will give you the scoop into the largest Cortez Pearl ever!

It has been a very exciting Summer…our harvest is almost over (and it has been the best ever!), we found the largest Cortez Pearl ever, I went to Hong Kong and I will soon travel to Los Angeles for Pearl Paradise’s traditional Pearl Ruckus…and it promises to be the biggest ever! But now I even have to add the biggest thing to happen to our Cortez Pearls since sliced bread: we have a new U.S. based distributor with an exclusive fine jewelry line. I feel like walking on water!

PurePearls.com

You do have to wonder how this new world works…because the owner of this established pearl jewelry brand/store is Ashley McNamara and we have not met in person. I believe we became acquainted with each other thanks to the Pearl-Guide forum, and after years of sharing our common love for this beautiful gem is that our companies have ended up working toghether. I am really happy to have PurePearls.com as another authorized distributor since we share this passion and drive for unique pearls and for settings that emphasize the gem’s beauty.

Today (July 17th,2014) is the official launch of PurePearl’s Cortez Cultured Pearl line and they have started with an assortment of our Cortez Pearls at incredible (and I mean: Incredible!) discounted prices! You really have to check those prices before the pearls dissapear.

Ashley made sure she got the largest and most beautiful pearls we had from the 2013 Pearl harvest to introduce several jewelry lines…it all starts with the pearl pendants and earrings, but will soon include baroque pearls and Cortez Mabe pearl jewelry.

So, don’t wait much to get your amazing Cortez Pearl pendants…these prices and qualities won’t last long! Have fun doing a bit of e-Shopping and remember what (CIBJO President) Dr Gaetano Cavalieri recently said at the Sustainable Pearls forum in Hong Kong: “When a consumer buys an item of pearl jewellery, they should feel that they have invested in our planet’s long-term survival rather than having taken advantage of it”.

I have to admit I love Dr. Cavalieri’s phrase and you’ll love to love our beautiful Cortez Pearls too. To go to PurePearl’s shopping site just click HERE.

See you soon!

Greetings friends! I’m currently occupied with this years’ (2014) pearl harvest (by the way, it has been a very good harvest: definitively the best harvest ever!) but I felt I really needed to write about the recent Sustainable Pearls Forum that was held in June 23rd in the city of Hong Kong. This great event was funded by The Tiffany & Co. Foundation and the University of Vermont, and I personally believe it is the best “pearling” event since “Pearls’ 94″ (a great gathering of pearl farmers, traders, scientists and buyers, took place in Waikiki, Hawaii, organized by Richard Fassler of Hawaii’s Department of Economic Development), and I believe this event is definitively more important since it addresses the most important concern for every person that loves, trades or grows pearls: the long term viability of this industry. As a special note I would like to congratulate project leaders: Drs. Saleem Ali, Laurent Cartier and Julie Nash for the amazing job they did for the Sustainable Pearls Conference and the labor of love they have given to this unique project.

The presenters at the June 23 Sustainable Pearls Conference in Hong Kong

The presenters at the June 23 Sustainable Pearls Conference in Hong Kong

Now, why should anyone care about this? I mean, there are millions of pearls being produced each year and most people don’t truly appreciate them for what they are: an organic Gem, produced by a Living organism that must grow in a Healthy environment. It’s these 3 simple things that make this Gem so unique and Special.

From my point of view these are the 5 most important reasons why Pearl Farming can be an important way of protecting our natural environment:

  1. A Pearl farm is sort of like a “protective umbrella”, where many other species of organisms will find shelter and protection from fishermen, and this greatly enhances their opportunity of survival, so a pearl farm is not just about pearl oysters. This is Protection of the Biosphere.
  2. A pearl farm operation will use its local resources whenever possible, avoiding waste and the lowest possible carbon-print.
  3. The farming operation must offer full disclosure and transparency: you should be able to visit the farm and see the way they operate openly, and you should be given complete information about the pearl’s origin and processing (if any).
  4. They should also operate in a socially and culturally responsible way: a job should have and give meaning to a worker, not only becoming a tedious way to make some money, and of course: salaries should be adequate and comply -even exceed- the local laws. And the farm should also become a special place -of local pride- to locals and visitors: a place to learn.
  5. Management Commitment: but all these benefits will be lost if there is mismanagement of resources and the farm has to close down. The farm is -after all- also a commercial venture that has got to make money in order to continue operating.
Rainbow Lip Pearl Oyster (Pteria sterna) with cultured pearls.

Rainbow Lip Pearl Oyster (Pteria sterna) with cultured pearls.

So this great gathering of pearl producers, researchers and industry has opened up the opportunity for a greater development of Sustainable Pearl farming operations that comply with these 5 Guiding Principles.

Where do Cortez Pearls stand?

Considering these 5 principles I feel more than confident to say that our little pearl farm in the Gulf of California is more than just compliant and -very importantly- we are always trying to find more ways to make this operation have more tangible results, some can be seen in our Natural refuge area (currently home to thousands of Sea Cucumbers and black-lip pearl oysters), our teaching efforts (tens of thousands of visitors educated about pearl farming since 1996) and the thousands of school-children that visit the farm to learn about pearl farming and biodiversity in the Sea of Cortez.

In the meantime, you can basically say there are just 4 pearl producers in the world that fully subscribe to these principles, and hopefully more will join the ranks in time. These are:

  • Paspaley Pearls- Australian producer of large, white South Sea Pearls using the silver-lip oyster (Pinctada maxima)
  • Jewelmer- Philippine producer of large golden colored South Sea Pearls using the Gold-lip pearl oyster (P. maxima)
  • Kamoka Pearls- Tahitian producer of  uniquely colored black pearls using the black-lip oyster (P. margaritifera)
  • Perlas del Mar de Cortez- the only producer of uniquely colored pearls in the Americas, using the distinctive Rainbow-lip pearl oyster (Pteria sterna)

We feel proud and honored to be a part of such a small group of environmentally responsible pearl producers, and I would really like to take the time to give my sincere thanks to the people that have helped us -over the years- to attain this unique position. The list is really lengthy but I cannot avoid thanking our former teachers and later our associates Sergio Farell and his wife Machángeles Carbajal, and our ex-partner and wise teacher Guillermo Soberón: they helped us shape this vision of sustainability in an aquaculture environment, at a time when this seemed unimportant in this industry. Also my friends and associates Enrique Arizmendi & Manuel Nava for sharing this same passion and determination, even in the face of dire difficulties. And also, for some of our friends/buyers that have shared this same eco-ideology such as Eric & Kathe Braunwert of Columbia Gemhouse, Kira Kampmann of Marc’ Harit and Dr. Dyann Smith, Gemologist and owner of Raw Pearls of Adelaide, Australia.

And I would really like to thank some beautiful people I have been unable to meet in person: Dr. Dyann Smith and Nora Lerner. Both have become truest friends and given me a support that I have never in my life experienced. To you both: My Eternal Gratitude and Love.

And to all of you special thanks as well: if you have visited or purchased pearls at our pearl farm in Guaymas-San Carlos, or you were a customer at our jewelry stores in Cabo San Lucas or Cozumel, or if you have purchased our pearls from us at any of the many gem shows we have exhibited at or through any of our buyers then we also need to thank you: you have made it possible for us to continue growing pearls and to protect the unique marine environment that we cherish and we call Home.

And so, this comes to an end for now…but I will later provide you with links to the many presentations and videos of the Sustainable Pearl conferences. Atardecer Bacochibampo (2)

 Sustainable Pearls Forum Videos-Post Update August 8th

The Sustainable Pearls project has made all presentations readily available via their website. You will be able to watch all the great presentations in detail by visiting this link. I took their video and changed it a bit so you could also see my presentation in full color. I hope you enjoy it.

I continue with details about this year’s Tucson Gem Show, and this time I will focus on some curiosities and things that caught my eye. I will begin by introducing you to a new kind of “Japanese Pearl”.

The “Cotton Pearl”

Sometimes I find it mind-boggling to think that with today’s low prices on Chinese freshwater pearls there are companies that still feel it is necessary to produce yet another imitation pearl. Yes, I know…but this is something I found this year at the Tucson Gem Show: a new faux-perle made in Japan by “Miyuki Bijoux”.

These plastic spheres range in sizes from 8 mm to some enormous pieces that may measure over 30 mm and they come in a great variety of assorted colors such as: white, cream-beige, lemmong green, sky blue, golden, purple, pink and black. The surface of these beads is unique when compared to other imitation pearls such as “Mallorca” or “Shell-Pearls” since it is highly texturized and in a spiral. Another trait is that they are very lightweight, so a necklace made with the huge beads will not be a concern for your chiropractist. The “Cotton Pearl” has a drill-hole that is very much typical of other plastic imitations.

From my point of view they are definitively not trying to imitate pearls but to perhaps carve a special niche in the bijoux market. Pricing: a small bag with 12 pieces in 9 mm diameter has a net value of $5 USD, and just one large piece (30 mm) will have the very same value. Necklaces were being sold in the $30-50 USD range, depending on the size of the beads.

Here we have some photos of these new “pearls”:

 

Giant Chinese Freshwater Pearls

In the previous entry I told you about the so called “Diamond Pearls” and the “Fireballs”, but I did not mention two more pearls in this category that I found very interesting. I found them interesting enough to purchase some for my already famous “pearl dissections”, which I hope to document and share with you all in the near future.

I named one of these pearls using the Japanese word “Shuriken” due to it very unusual shape. My youngest daughter saw this pearl and immediately conceived an excellent use for it with one of her favorite toys: a teenage mutant ninja turtle. Hey, I didn’t come up with the idea…but it was quite fitting. Still, I can envision someone using these pearls for a higher purpose and they can indeed be fun.

The other pearl I found had no commercial name and was simply described as a large freshwater pearl. I would call these “skull pearls” (obviously for their shapes). Quite cheap for such a large pearl (up to an inch big/4 cm) and they have shapes that I found very pleasing to use as “carving pearls”. As a matter of fact I sent some of these pearls to my friend -and designer- Carlos Cabral since he is also a master carver (specializing in wood, amber, shell and other semi-precious stones) and I can see him making some fabulous pieces with these. I am sure he will send me photos eventually, which I will be able to share with you all.

 

Ammolite/Korite – Beautiful Fossilized Mother-of-Pearl

This is a product I had the chance to see way back in 1996 if I remeber well. I was impressed with the display of these enormous and beautiful fossilized specimens of Ammonites, some large primitive cephalopods that became extinct many millions of years ago. Back in those days I thought it was a sacrilege to cut & destroy these beautiful specimens to produce jewelry items (yes, I know…typical of biologists), but I was told that there aren’t enough museums in the world to hold all the shells they obtain every year, that many shells/fossils are broken and not fit for displaying and that they would eventually just become damaged. Ok, I get it, made your point.

Anyway, I love the beauty of mother-of-pearl shell and these fossils do bear resemblance to the “fresh” material they came from: the beautifully thin and iridescent layers that offer their colorful interplay…but there is this incredibly stunning intensity of color that makes this gem very unique: the greens and the reds are simply breath-taking. I spoke at lenght with the owner of a small Canadian company that process the shells and mount them in some very nice silver and gold designs. They use the commercial trade-name of Ammolite for their product (also known as Korite) and it has a competitive price range ($200-300) per piece when the gem itself is set in silver. Made for a very nice gift.

Ammolite is considered as one of the three organic gems –alongside amber and its close cousin pearl- and it seemingly has some interesting metaphysical properties…if you do care for such things. Just look up for this information on your favorite search engine.

If interested in this product you may contact John Reed of “Enchanted Designs” with this Canadian phone number: (250) 713-2220.

Final Thoughts

Altough at this moment we are no longer inside the “pearl lab” trying to coax our precious oysters into producing pearls, we have been quite busy with our pearl and pearl jewelry sales. We have recently been blessed with great sales with our friends at “Raw Pearls” (Adelaide, Australia), “Marc H’arit” (Copenhaguen, Denmark) and to a new buyer in the United States (can’t tell you whom just yet). We are eagerly expecting good news from all these three sources.

On the jewelry front, we have been working with new suppliers that have enabled us to have a new price & quality range for our jewelry line and this has had a very positive impression on our customers and pearl farm visitors. We invite you to visit our Cortez Pearls Facebook page so you can see some of our new designs (and maybe even to be as kind as to gift us by clicking on the “Like” button), some of which are already available for sale at our e-Store.

On the Road Again: I can’t wait to be on the road again…good ‘ole Willie Nelson fans will recognize this great tune of his and it used to be my “battle cry” when I worked in the touristic industry some 14 years ago (wow, time does fly when you’re having fun!) and this year I do listen to this tune in the back of my mind: I will be in Hong Kong in a couple of weeks to participate as a speaker and panelist at the “Sustainable Pearls Forum” (at the invitation of the Tiffany Co. Foundation). I will be both honored and thrilled to be amonst friends and colleagues such as Jacques-Christophe Branellec of Jewelmer fame, Robert Wan of Tahiti Perles, gemmologist & author Laurent Cartier, Julie Stiles and Dr. Saleem Ali -these being the faces behind the Sustainable Pearls initiative- Shigeru Akamatsu of Mikimoto Pearls and our very good friend and eco-friendly pearl farmer Josh Humbert of Kamoka Pearls. Of course, there will be many more personalities at this event which I hope to soon meet. Will let you know more about this once I come back from Hong Kong and we finish up with this year’s Cortez Pearl Harvest…yes, the most exciting time of the year is upon us!

Then, next month, I will be again off to California to participate in the now traditional Pearl Ruckus event held by my very esteemed friends Jeremy & Hisano Shepherd of Pearl-Paradise.com fame. I am sure that it will be a very interest gathering of pearl specialists & pearl lovers and it has been two years since last I’ve been there so I am really happy to once again be in a gathering of like-minded “pearlers”. And this year does bode to be an “El Niño” year: just a couple of days the city of Hermosillo (just some 120 Km/75 miles) from here hit an all time high-temperature of 52 Celsius/123 Fahrenheit!!! and Guaymas is usually not as hot (we are on the coastline after all) but we still hit a simmering 48 C/119 F degrees. Now, warm air temperatures per sei don’t mean there will be a “Niño” event…but I’ve been following the NOA’s ENSO advisory and it looks like we’ll have one (70% chance), it feels as if we’ll have one…I believe we’ll have one. Then we’ll also have about 14 hurricanes on the Pacific side…so it seems like it’s going to be a very interesting year.

Please keep visiting and leave your comments…I always read them.

We are already in the month of May and this event took place in the month of February in the city of Tucson, Arizona. I have previously commented on our annual pilgrimage to this gigantic showcase & sales event, and every year you can find some new & different items: what’s new in the world of gems and jewelry? how about fossils and meteorites? Well, this year it was no exception and I take this opportunity to talk about some new people I met and their unique products.

Pearls, pearls…and more pearls?

In the subject of pearls we had several new revelations at the Tucson Gem Show. We had a chance to see and touch several new varieties of natural pearls from Mexican waters -thanks to our friend Edgar- including some very unusual pearls specimens from a species of snail (Pleuroploca gigantea); one of these pearls is what I would call as “Full Blooded Mexican” all the way to the name that Edgar christened it with:  “The Habanero Pepper Pearl”.

I had never seen something quite like this before. I do have to agree with our local vernacular poet Bruno Pablos: “the longer you live, the more things you will see”. This snail species is common on the Atlantic coast -from Florida in United States to Yucatan, Mexico- and is known as the “Florida Horse conch”. Their most striking features are an orange-red coloration and the unique pattern on their surface.

We got to see other pearls from this very same snail species, and they can be considered as “more beautiful” (this “Habanero Pearl” really has a huge size and unique appearance) due to their more appealing shape. This is yet another Pearl that adorns the beautiful coasts of Mexico.

Sea of Cortez pearls

Returning now to my pearls, we had opportunity to see some of the work of our friend Sarah Canizzaro of “Kojima Pearls” fame. She used our beautiful Cortez Pearls to produce with a beautiful Pearl Necklace accented with different gems. Each year we are fortunate to see and enjoy the new creations of many talented designers, but I really enjoy Sarah’s designs and discussing pearls with this internationally acclaimed Pearl-Fanatic. Kudos Sarah!

As a summary of this year’s gem show, I can state that it was a good year for our pearl sales: our traditional clients continue acquiring pearls for their jewelry unless there is a dramatic disaster – such as the Tsunami in Japan- which collapsed this important market for us for a couple of years. The Pearls that we had on display and for sale this year were of a slightly smaller size than other years, but the colors and luster were really exceptional.

In addition to the usual sales activities, we had the opportunity of sharing the “salt and bread” with some of the most important actors in the world of pearls, among them we have Jeremy Shepherd -the new “King of Pearls”-  (who we see together with Enrique Arizmendi, General Director of Perlas del Mar de Cortez), owner of Pearl-Paradise.com, fellow pearl-farmer Jacques Christophe Branellec (who appears with Sarah Canizzaro in the photo) and Managing Director of “Jewelmer” and our dear friend & gemologist Elisabeth Strack (author of the best-selling book “Perlen”) and who -by the way- just gave a very interesting presentation entitled “the first decade of the 21st century: is the pearl market changing?”. Several other good old friends were present at the dinner such as intrepid pearl-reporter Blair Beavers, Natural Pearl Mogul Jeremy Norris, and of course our gracious host Hisano Shepherd (another talented jewelry designer, also known as “Mrs. Pearl-Paradise”)… I have always has identified Jeremy and Hisano as some of the finest people I have ever met (and I guess I have been lucky to meet do many!) and the best hosts ever. I really thank them for inviting us to their annual Tucson Show dinner of Tucson and the famous “Pearl Ruckus” event. As alway, it is a pleasure to feast & dine with you all!

“Goodnes Gracious Great Balls of Fire” and the “Diamond Pearls”

Sorry, I could not avoid the pun when talking about these “Fireball Pearls”, but in a musical way. Some couple of years ago, these pearls of great size made their appearance at the Tucson Gem Show: they are being grown in freshwater mussels in China and were baptized as “Ikecho” or “Fireballs” (due to their likeness to a comet or fire-ball); this year the available amounts of these pearls caused a significant fall in their price. I am impressed when I see these huge pearls (sizes between 18 and 26 mm in diameter) with such a ridiculous price of $10-50 USD per pearl; clearly it comes to mind that the value of a pearl depends on its beauty (and these particular pearls I saw in Tucson I can say that they are not truly attractive, but you are free to disgress), its rarity (and it seems they are producing tons of these pearls) and quality (in the ones I inspected the quality was medium to low)… and so, if the price tells us something about these pearls I will just leave it to you it to your imagination.

A new Pearl that caught my attention is one that they called “Diamond Pearl”, this Pearl seems to be a variation of the “Ikecho” and I conjecture that the farmers introduced a faceted mother-of-pearl bead into the pearl sac of the mussel to bring you this unusual shape. How much is such a huge Pearl Necklace worth? Bleieve it or not, but it is hardly worth $200 USD, which to me is a clear reflection of what the people who are introducing this product to the market think about it: these are “costume jewelry” quality, never thought of as having GEM quality.

Well, at the moment I think have reached the end of this installment, but I will soon continue since I want to talk about mysterious “Cotton pearls”, a variety that is freshly “harvested” in Japan, and I also want to talk about a Canadian product that already has some time available in the market, but that few people know about and is “related” to pearls.

Thank you for your attention, I hope your valuable comments and I hope to see you soon.

My apologies to all of my readers and subscribers. This blog is definitively re-opening: just yesterday we finished operating a bit over 20,000 Rainbow Lipped Oysters for this 2013-2014 Pearl Seeding Season. And this ultimately means that I will –again- have some more time for other activities.

I had all the information ready for this entry since last December but I decided to wait until I could really take the time to write it down with order, this is basically an account of the last important notes of 2013. Without any further interruptions…let’s dive into it!

1) The New “Pearl Fluorescence” video.

This is a re-edit of the video I shot way back in 2008 (with a trusty little Cannon camera) and that has ringed up some 20K visits in YouTube. This new video has HD quality images, as well as new photos and comparisons that may help you to identify or distinguish between many more pearl varieties than ever before. I believe there is no other video on the web with this information available. I hope it helps you in your quest to learn more about pearls.

2) Laurent Cartier of the “Sustainable Pearls Project” pays a Visit.

After years of being in contact by means of Skype and e-mails, we received the visit of Gemologist Laurent Cartier; Laurent is a member of the “Sustainable Pearls” project. This great program is financed by the University of Vermont and the “Tiffany Co. Foundation”, and at present it is working with several pearl farming ventures (including those of my friends Josh Hubert of “Kamoka Pearls” and Jaques Branellec Jr of “Jewelmer”) in order to produce a set of simple guidelines needed to help other pearl farms attain a sustainable pearl culture operation. This would free-up all sustainable-would-be-farmers from the need of a certifier agency (a costly requirement for most farming operations) and having a unified set of criterions that would make it possible for farms with very different oyster species and vastly different environments to work in accordance. This is a very important project, not only for us but for the future of many pearls farms in the world.

During his visit, Laurent had first-hand experience at telling how different are tropical (most pearl farms are in tropical areas) and sub-tropical environments (like ours) when he took some time for a snorkeling tour of our pearl farm…with a temperature of 16 Celsius/60.8 Fahrenheit.

Later, in a photographic session with our Cortez Cultured Pearls, Laurent was able of distinguishing the amazing variety of colors and overtones in our pearls and some pearls were donated to the Swiss Gemological Lab (SSEF) in Basel, Switzerland, were an extensive study on pearls is being carried out to identify pearls by means of their DNA. This is truly a breakthrough in pearl identification, and Laurent is part of the impressive team behind this achievement.

3) The Cruise Ships are Back!

This is something that all of us in the Touristic sector have been eagerly awaiting…the Return of the Cruise Ships. This ray of hope materialized last December with the arrival of “Zaandam” and again in February with the “Azamara Quest” this last February (just before the Tucson Gem Show). It was good to see these magnificent ships back inside the Bay of Guaymas.

The local touristic industry has been suffering since the beginning of this “whole mess” caused by the financial crisis of 2008, the swine-flu scare of 2009 and the “Mexican Drug Wars”. I am not going to go into details about any of these events (that is not the scope of this blog) but I will just point out that I consider that the touristic industry is the best one in the area: local jobs are well paid, small businesses can thrive and many other different economic sectors also benefit. In all: if this industry falls we will have “the real people” suffering too, eventually this cascades into a deeper recession and higher crime rates. Guaymas needs a break…we all need it.

4) Final Thoughts

It is astonishing to see how time just flies! It has been months since my last entry and I again apologize, but I do have to say that these are what you would call “working risks”: I am not just a “blogger”, I am a real “Pearl Farmer” and it is the time you spend at your farm, with your pearl oysters and at the store-front with your pearls and pearl jewelry the one that is truly significant for a business.

Nonetheless, there are some things that we do here that are simply a “Labor of Love” and this blog is one of them. So, I appreciate your patience and your support to this little side project: this is an EDUCATIONAL effort for which we do not generate any income.

So, to wrap it all up: I wish you all a -belated- great and happy 2014 year for you all. Please stay tuned for many more interesting stories and information.

Thank you,

Douglas

Coming Soon!

Yes, the “seeding season” is almost over, and this means I will be unleashed back unto the world of the living! Er, well maybe not unleashed but at the very least I will be able to write more blog posts.

First off: I need to add “closure” to last year’s (has it been so long?) blog posts about UV fluorescence and the last visitors that honored us with their presence. So, please stay tuned.

Second: things are changing. As much as I love Bob Dylan’s catchy “The times they are a’changing” song, I have to say that there are things that I simply do not like about these changes and that I would like to share with all of you.

So, please stay tuned to the Cortez Pearl’s Blog revival: Coming Soon!

Sunset over Tetakawi

Beautiful view of Tetakawi hill, taken from the pearl farm.

Once again I’m back in the saddle, and after this very hot summer I feel like I am ready to go back to the Pearl Fluorescence series and this actually got me thinking…where else can you obtain a good pearl gemology course like this one and… for FREE??? Been thinking I deserve a position in the Ministry of Education, but then again I’d rather do this for my noble audience: you deserve it and I thank you for reading my blog and for supporting our Cortez Pearls.

In the meantime, let us go back to the heart of the matter and continue with this interesting subject, this will not only help you identify pearls and distinguish them from fake/imitation pearls but also to distinguish between pearl varieties. Last time we touched the subject we had Black pearls on stage, and now we have GOLDEN PEARLS featured.

Golden Fried?

Many people say that “Golden Pearls” belong to a group of colored pearls that range from yellowish to cream/beige and a deeper coppery-gold color, but we can mainly say that true golden pearls are those that are produced by the large “Gold Lip Pearl Oyster” (Pinctada maxima) from the Philippines and surrounding areas. This pearl oyster species is the biggest, with a maximum size of 30 cm/9 inches and with a weight of up to 5 kilos/10 pounds!!! With this great size the pearls you can obtain from this species can reach up to 30 mm in diameter, with the average size usually ranging between 12 and 18 mm (this is not small at all!).

Jewelmer is the Philippine company –led by Jacques Branellec- that grows these impressive marine gems and that has achieved world-wide recognition under the allure of the “Golden Pearl”, a company with an impressive environmental commitment. I can truly say that I admire them for what they have been able to do in the environmental arena and that I do hope we will be able to endure to cause a similar effect upon the Gulf of California: unfortunately, not everything lies in your hands and many of the needed actions fall upon the local Governments; in Mexico we have yet to see a truly dedicated national environmental policy that will join forces with local environmentally-sustainable producers.

One thing that this company has been able to achieve –besides an excellent environmental program and a high-quality pearl- is the color standardization of their gem; this has been possible thanks to a strong genetic selection/breeding program, and in this they have also achieved something that I –and this is my personal opinion, you don’t have to agree with me!- do not like: their pearls end up looking very similar in their looks. I really prefer uniqueness over sameness but we all have the right to disagree.

There is yet another group of yellow colored pearls, but much smaller in size and is grown in China & Japan: the “Golden Akoya”. These pearls are produced from the Akoya-gai oyster (Pinctada imbricata) but this coloration has not always been considered good nor desirable, with most producers going to lengths to have them bleached (under UV light and inside a chloride solution) to make them as “white” as possible. But some of these pearls have a truly nice coloration, such as these natural golden-color Akoya pearls (photo courtesy of Jeremy Shepherd of Pearl-Paradise.com).

Now, for the $100 dollar question: how do these pearls react (fluoresce) under an Ultraviolet lamp??? Let’s check it out!

Golden Under Violet

Here we have two “golden pearls”, but one of these is actually a fake (imitation) pearl. When you look at both pearls it is very difficult to see much difference in their color, but their shape gives them away: the round one is the imitation and the “doll” shaped one is the cultured pearl. No wonder a standardized golden colored pearl can be easily imitated, but this is not the concern for us: Cortez Cultured Pearls do not –and will never, as long as we live- have a standardized color and will always be distinctively unique in their appearance.

Now, let us expose these two under a long-wave UV light and…what will we see???

In the next image we will see 3 pearls: the pair of golden pearls (left: the doll shaped pearl, right: the imitation pearl) and in front of them we have a small white-colored freshwater pearl that I have used before as the “blank” or comparison pearl. The differences between these pearls is actually subtle, except for the little white pearls that glow with a strong blue color.

The main difference between the imitation and the real golden pearl is almost not noticeable in this photo, the yellow color being deeper in the South Seas Pearl but I cannot say it is glowing. I would not use the UV lamp method to identify golden pearls at all. The same is true for the golden akoya pearls, just as we saw in the “White Pearl” entry. There seems to be a pigment or protein in these pearls that interferes with the pearl’s natural fluorescence, and in this way these golden pearls are similar to black pearls.

A Golden Cortez Pearl

This is –after all- the Cortez Pearl Blog so it does make sense to have these unique pearls placed on the same stand as the others, but we have to understand that when we say “Golden Cortez Pearl” you are definitively not saying “Deep Yellow”: these pearls display many other colors/overtones that end up having a beautiful golden-coppery coloration with flashes of emerald green and pink.

What will happen to a Cortez Golden Pearl if we place it under the same UV light? Will the Gulf of California pearl have the same inhibiting pigments as the others? There is no other option than to try the test on both kinds of pearls.

And I do have to apologize for my forgetfulness…I forgot to add in the little white pearl for comparison sake. But I believe that it is more than evident to all that these golden pearls look strikingly different under the very same UV light.

It is quite clear to all that the pigment that is found in other golden pearls is simply absent from the Cortez Pearl. The “Rainbow Lip Pearl Oyster” (Pteria sterna) is a very different species from all other pearl producing oysters, its unique porphyrins can create a very unusual fluorescence.

So, what do you think of this entry? Did you learn something new that will help you to identify pearls? And as always: your comments are important and appreciated, Cheers!

And I want to wish my daughter Samantha and my Uncle Xavier a Happy Birthday tomorrow.