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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!

Douglas McLaurin’s presentation at the HK Sustainable Pearls ForumGreetings 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.

httpsvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGzyH9XbGsw

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.

An Unusual Summer

This Summer has been somewhat different to that of previous years. In the last 6 years I’ve used the Summer months to work on writting articles for magazines, travel to sell and promote our Cortez Cultured Pearls, edit some new “Pearl Video”, answer all of my YouTube Channel’s questions and comments and start a new “Pet Project”, but not his year: I’ve been bogged at sales. And Summer is the perfect time to do such things since it is also the time of the year we work little with our pearl oysters, since they don’t really enjoy the hotter water.

And although I still have many things to share with you (I still have the whole UV-on-Pearl series to complete) I have been unable to do so, there have been some things worth mentioning such as this year’s Cortez Pearl Harvest, an event that was recorded by the local newsmedia and TV channels. This was a very special event and unusual because we had some special guests to attend it.

HighCroma HQ (1)

 

The Annual Pearl Offering

This is our traditional yearly ritual that we perform beforeCosecha de Perlas 2013 (2) we actually begin harvesting our pearls. What we basically do is that we gather all the un-saleable pearls from the previous year’s harvest and we then throw them into the sea. What makes these pearls unsaleable? Their nacre layer may be thin (less than 0.8 mm thick), they may have too many defects or maybe they are not pretty: of all harvested pearls in a year some 60-80% of them will suffer this fate.

Some will argue this is too much, that we should not destroy these pearls…that they are pretty enough, but we believe this is what should be done to keep our pearl from following the path of other producers…we do it because it is the correct thing to do. By the way: the pearls will be recycled by marine organisms, so there is no environmental impact.

When the pearls are thrown into the sea…they just make this really incredible sound that is a delight to listen to! And before the pearls are thrown we dedicate this year’s harvest to a person or group of people. In previous years we’ve dedicated the harvest to the memory of Gastón Vivés, the Yaqui Indian Nation and even to religious imagery (not my cup of tea, but we all have different beliefs and all are just as respectable) such as the “Virgin of Solitude”. This year we dedicated the harvest to the City of Guaymas, hoping for a better future for all its inhabitants. Our guests then release the pearls and we all proceed to harvest the pearls out of the “Rainbow Lipped Pearl Oysters”.

Would you like to be our guest next year?

Pearl Offering 2013

 

Cortez Cultured Pearl Harvest

Every year I’ve used my different video cameras to film the extraction process of the cultured pearls. Of hundreds of oysters, just a few shots actually make it to editing. This year I used our new photo camera with a macro lens to shoot the video. These shots are usually difficult because we are actually working there (not faked) and there is a constant squeeshing and splotching of pearl oyster liquids and you don’t want these to touch the camera! The oyster’s digestive liquids are specially corrosive.

On this ocassion I was able to obtain some good close-ups, but I do hope next year will yield some better ones. The results can be seen in the video below:

A detailed view of the extraction of Cortez pearls from the oyster’s pearl sac.

 

Diving with Sea-Lions

Where else can you find Sea Lions (Zalophus californianus) inside a Pearl Farm??? To my knowledge: nowhere else. Most pearl farms are located in tropical areas and Pinnipeds (sea lions, seals & walruses) are usually only found in cold (temperate & polar) seas so you won’t see these friendly creatures in a Tahitian/Phillipino/Aussie pearl farm… dolphins, manta rays, sharks are indeed found in most pearl farms. Back in 1994 there was even a female Fin whale that gave birth very close to the farm…but this was a rare thing. Sea lions are a common sight but we had never before carried an underwater camera to record the event until this year.

We hope you enjoy watching these playful marine critters as they approach our divers and the pearl oysters.

 

Diving with Sea Lions at the Cortez Pearl Farm

New Markets

For an unusual cultured pearl it is not very easy to move into a new market, but this year I can happily announce that the Australian market for Cortez Pearls is alive & healthy. Australia is know for its large-sized, high-quality South Seas Pearls but as we all know: there is more to life than just white pearls (or black, for that matter). Our Cortez Pearls will be offered by “Raw Pearls” this year and I have to thank Dr. Dyann Smith for this opportunity to open in such a prestigious market.

But this is not the only new place where our pearls will be heading this year…since we have a new buyer in Prague, Czech Republic, so this has been a very different summer for us. Let us hope this upcoming winter season will also be a different one.

 

Have a Pearl Farmer as your Guest.

Now this is odd. Why have a pearl farmer as a guest in your house? Continuing with my desire to do things differently I –Douglas McLaurin- wish to visit you at your place. Of course I don’t have the time to travel great distances (I do have many occupations) but I can easily visit you at your place in Guaymas, San Carlos and even as far as Alamos. Why? Well, we have always relied on your welcomed visits to our farm & store, but there are people that have already been here and would want to have some time to ask special questions and have some friends to join them in a more relaxed athmosphere…at the farm I am usually bussy so it is not the same: I cannot relax and I have to hurry.

So, if you feel like you would like to have me over to discuss pearls or our environmental protection program just organize a meeting with some friends (with at least 6 guests), call or e-mail me with a possible schedule (I am quite busy, so I would appreciate having some options). I will even bring coffee and tea for you and your guests! Give me a call at the office (221-0136 area code 622 if you dial from another location) or just e-mail me at: info @ perlas dot com dot mx

PMC Coffee Mug Animated

This time we will examine the “opposite” colored pearl group: we’ll move from “white pearls” to “black pearls” and we’ll have a totally different experience in the pearl’s fluorescence. If last time you ended up believing that all pearls glow with a blue color under a long-wave UV light, then you’ll be surprised. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself, let us go out and play in the field.

 

What is the source for “Black Pearls”?

Authentic "black pearls" –both from the natural & cultured pearls varieties- have been mainly produced by two species of pearl oysters that belong to the "mother-of-pearl" or “Pinctadine” oyster group that mainly includes: the "Black-lip Pearl Oyster" (Pinctada margaritifera and its many varieties or sub-species) and the “Madreperla Panámica” or "Panamic Mother-of-Pearl Oyster" (Pinctada mazatlanica). Some of the characteristics of these Pearl Oysters is their large size (up to 25 cm/9.8” in diameter for the the first one, and up to 20 cm/7.9” for the second one) and they have a beautiful metallic-looking shell whose coloration may range from white to smoky-grey, with flashes of emerald green and violets; once the the shell is polished it displays a beautiful wavy pattern that makes it just perfect for a collector as well as being used to make buttons and all kinds of shell hand-crafts.

These many species of "black lip oysters" have a very wide distribution througout the Pacific Ocean, and you can find them from the Persian Gulf (with the variety Pinctada margaritifera persica) to the islands of Hawaii (with the variety P.margaritifera galstoffi), but it is variety cummingi which stands out for its beauty and large size, and it is in the Islands and atolls of the South Pacific where this oyster is grown for the mass production of cultured black pearls.

Then we also have the “American” variety that we know as the “Panamic Black LIp Oyster” (Pinctada mazatlanica) which was considered as yet another variety of P. margaritifera for many years, but then the many anatomical differences (including the “anal flap”: talk about “dark discoveries”) made scientists conclude this species was unique. This variety is found from the Gulf of California in Mexico, all the way down to Peru and including the Galápagos archipielago and Easter Islands. Below you’ll find a distribution map of several species of Pearl Oysters based on Sohehi Shirahi’s book (Shohei Shirai. 1994. Pearls & Pearl Oysters of the World. Kousoku Printing Co. Ltd. Okinawa, Japan. ISBN: 4-9900287-1-6)

World Map MOP McL 2005 copy (Copy)

The Third Group

There is still another group of marine mollusks that produce “black pearls” and this one is also a group of animals related to the “Pinctadine” group, but different enough: the Black Pen Shell (Atrina maura) and the “Concha Nácar” or “Rainbow Lip Oyster” (Pteria sterna). Since there is no cultured pearl production on Pen shells we will only talk about the “Rainbow Lip” oyster.

The “Rainbow Lip Oyster” is a uniquely different organism: it is related to the “Pinctadines” (they belong to the same family so they are…second cousins!) but this species is much smaller (the largest specimen we have recorded is just 14 cm/5.5”, but on average the “large” individuals measure about 12 cm/4.7”), the shell being less flattened (more concave) and having a very unique anatomy (more on this in a future post): smaller and more muscular. It also has a unique metallic looking shell, and the color range is somewhat more impressive than that of the “black-lips”: it also ranges from a blueish light-gray color to a smoky-dark color with many beautiful color reflections, including green, golden, violet, purple and blue. A photo here can be more helpful.

3-Conchas-Pteria

 

How we’ve been Trained to See “Black Pearls”

Now, when most people think of "black pearls" they really picture “black orbs” in their minds, but the black pearl is so much more since it can display a enormous variety of colors, from white, to light-gray to an obsidian black color, but they also display beautiful overtones, mainly in green and violet. For the most part you can say that Tahitian pearls display darker colors (black), while the Cook Islands pearl have a more greenish color (pistachio), and "Kamoka Pearls" (from our friend Josh Hubert) and pearls from Fijii have a wide range of rich dark colors. To say "Black Pearl" is almost the equivalent of sayin "Not a White Pearl", but even with all the recent awareness and knowledge about pearls in forums, websites and specialized books there is still confusion surrounding the use of the "Black Pearl" term.

Now, there are many people that talk about black pearls from Japan and China… and the truth is that the vast majority (not to say all) of these so called "black pearls" are actually artificially colored pearls; these have been “blackened” by means of chemical processes (staining/dyes) and/or physical (heating, radiation). Then, these pearls are not black pearls at all and have not been grown in any of the species we’ve discussed on this entry, and it doesn’t matter how much those selling them say they are. In the near future we’’ll show you a way –quite dramatic- to “discover” these crypto-black pearls.

Anyway, today we decided to differentiate several groups of “black pearls” from Pinctada margaritifera (from Tahiti, Kamoka and the Cook Islands), of Pinctada mazatlanica (from Guaymas, Mexico) and of Pteria sterna (again from Guaymas), but also a group of artificially blackened pearls (some Pinctada imbricata from Japan and also some freshwater pearls from China); and something that can be easily appreciated is how these pearls are so different among themselves and this is something that truly distinguishes them from the "white pearls" group that we saw in the previous post.

When we compare these groups we can see that margaritifera pearls are much darker, almost black but with overtones in green and violet (the best quality, as seen in the above image), mazatlanica pearls are more of a dark grey color with some olive green, and that those from Pteria sterna they are very different: highly iridescent. On the other hand we see that artificially colored pearls also display a highly variable appereance (the “Black Akoya” are… just jet-black) and that their Chinese counterparts can be very iridescent, but this is in a “static way”, not “dynamic” in their appearance (will try to explain this in the future).

Here are a few examples:

Panamic Mother-of-Pearl Oyster – Pinctada mazatlanica -Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico.

These include white, light gray and a dark grey-green colors.

 

Rainbow-LIp Oyster – Pteria sterna – Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico

I see pearls like these every day… and I still find them breathtaking! No need to explain their colors, since it is also difficult to do so.

 

Artificially Colored Pearls – Akoya and Freshwater pearls.

The Akoya pearl is the one located to the left-front side of the photo below, the other three pearls are all Chinese freshwater pearls and they have been dyed. The colors are static… you can say they are "painted" or “burnt-in” and thus the colors simply remain in place.

Now, let’s see how all these pearls look when they are exposed to a long-wave ultraviolet light… what kind of fluorescence will we see?

 

Black Pearls under UV

Let’s start with the first group, the "Tahitian" pearls. In the previous post we saw that white pearls glow with an intense blue color, so I will use a white pearl to help us to compare the fluorescence between these two different groups of pearls. This little white pearl –let’s call it the “blank pearl”- is the same for all pearl groups.

As you can see in the above photo, “black pearls” from Tahiti and the Cook Islands and all those that are produced in the Pinctada margaritifera pearl oyster do not possess any kind of fluorescence. Unlike “white pearls” they are inert under this radiation and therefore this test cannot be used to distinguish them from fake pearls or artificially colored pearls.

Will the other “black pearls” behave like this group? Let’s us see…

 

American Black Pearls

This group of pearls includes those produced by the “Panamic Black Lip” (PInctada mazatlanica) and this oyster produces both light and dark colored pearls so we might see something very interesting: the light colored pearls display the typical white pearl fluorescence, and the dark ones do not show this phenomenon. Somehow this special pearl group is between both the “white” and “black” pearl groups. I wish I had a light colored Tahitian pearl to see if it also displays a similar fluorescence. Obviously the pearls black possess something that does not allow the pearl’s fluorescence.

 

Sea of Cortez Pearls – Pteria sterna

Now let us move on to the group that is remarkeably different from all other black pearls: pearls from the "Rainbow-lip Oyster" or Pteria sterna. This Oyster has an enormous capacity to produce colors including a “Rainbow” color effect within the pearl (see previous image of the three pearls from this species). Will these pearls behave in a similar way to the fluorescence of “black pearls”? Let’s us see again…

We definitely see something completely out of place in this case. Definitely: these pearls are NOT inert, but neither do the they glow blue… but, instead they glow RED. And this is something diametrically opposite to what we had expected. These pearls are unique in a way that it is possible to use this test to identify them among any other cultured pearl in production currently.

 

Artificially Colored Black Pearls

Now let us see how fake pearls will behave under UV light. Will they try to imitate the black pearl? Will they glow like the pearls they originally come from (the “white pearl” group)??? Will they glow like Cortez Pearls??? Let us dive into the results:

As you can see there is no fluorescence. All these pearls are inert (except the white we use to compare with). In this sense we see that they behave more like the natural colored black pearl. For those who imagine seeing a small red-pink pearl of the far right: this is actually a “Hot Pink” colored pearl and whe are not seeing any glow from it…just is current color, there is no inner glow. What do these pearls have in them that prevents their fluorescencent glow?

Questions that we will need answers later, but for now I would like to close with a comparison between all these varieties of pearls.

 

Comparing between black pearls

We see a group photo of these "classmates" and we can easily detect a wide variety of sub-colors, something that we could not observe easily in the previous group (white pearls) and to the extent that we can easily identify the species of oyster that produced it, if you have a bit of experience and you know what to look for.

To the left we can see a large drop shaped “Kamoka pearl” from Tahiti, just in front of it we see a round Japanese Akoya, with a couple of dyed Chinese pearls to its righ, and on the far right a beautiful drop shaped pearl from the Gulf of California. I Just have to add that I somehow forgot to add a Pinctada mazatlanica pearl… a small detail that I hope does not affect you.

Now, let’s look at the reaction of these same pearls under a long wave UV light:

And again we see that only two pearls are glowing here: the little white pearl which is used as blank, and the Pteria sterna pearl with its unusual red colored glow.

We hope that this entry about black pearls has aroused a greater interest in the subject and on the methods used for pearl identification. Next month we will have more evidence and more exotic specimens, so continue learning in this free Gemology course that we are happy to have prepared for our avid readers.