Archive for the 'Traveling Pearls: where have these pearl been' Category
And here we are again, bracing for impact but hoping for the best: that Hurricane “Paul” (which is striking the Baja California peninsula as we speak) will keep to its trajectory and will avoid us completely, but it has happened before that some hurricanes simply jump over Baja’s Vizcaíno mountainous range and land square face on us. On the image below (courtesy of The Weather Channel) you can see Hurricane “Paul” is already causing damage on Baja, but the projected trajectory states it will move away from Baja and dissipate as it hits the cold California current.
Anyway, we have to prepare for the worst –as always- and we are removing our farm’s flotation and everything off our land facilities yet again (we had done this twice already in the month of September), so there is this little problem with our Pearl Farm Tours: it won’t be the full experience that we always want it to have, since we will have everything “packed up”. Once more we apologize to our visitors for this inconvenience.
Gilberto A.C.: Helping Others
And speaking of “packing up”, we have to tell you all about our up and coming trip to Mexico City for the week of October 22nd to the 27th, and this of course means we will not have any “pearl farm” tours available during this week. We expect to resume our normal Pearl Farm Tour schedule on October 29th, as soon as we are back from our trip.
If you have read our Blog before you probably know that we sometimes leave the farm to head off to certain events such as Gems Shows & the Pearl Ruckus, but this time we have been invited over to a special event known as “Bazar Gilberto Navideño”. The organizers of “Asociación Gilberto A.C” have been promoting this special Christmas Bazaar since 1993 in a constant effort to raise money to help out the communities that have suffered from the disastrous effects of hurricanes; actually the name “Gilberto” derives from the first time when this association started to help when hurricane “Gilbert” struck many Mexican States in September of 1988, with a destructive force yet to be equaled (at least in this country).
So, once this organization finished helping out there was yet another hurricane the next year, then unusual floods, and ever since we’ve had one natural disaster after another and this organization kept its internal structure and objectives, but with a continuous effort to help those in need. This Xmas Bazaar is a means to raise funds and all exhibitors will be there with the same frame of mind: Helping those in Need. Here you can see some photos and read a bit (in Spanish, but you can easily translate with Google/Bing) about last year’s event.
I also have a video to share: made
by Gilberto A.C. of the Veracruz branch, where we can see how they are helping the poorest communities with housing projects and installing much needed services in order to improve the lives of thousands. It is in Spanish language, but an image is worth a thousand words and not much more is needed to appreciate their work.
So, we feel honored to have been invited by Gilberto A.C. and we hope this event will be as successful as it has been in its 20 year history.
Wish us good luck and we’ll see you soon at the pearl farm in the Sea of Cortez…
We are currently preparing for our yearly Tucson Gem Show, so I’m using this opportunity to invite you to come and visit our booth at the GJX tent from January 31st to February 6th.
For us the Tucson Gem Show has been a tradition since we began exhibiting in 1994. We still remember our first exhibit at the “Rodeway Inn” under the banner of the G&LW, when most of the product we had to offer were our Mabe Pearls…fast forwarding to 2011 when our main sales at the GJX show consists of high-grade cultured loose pearls. So, this year marks our 18th straight year at the Tucson Gem Show…many stories & “adventures” to tell, as well as many fond memories.
Definitively: the Tucson Gem Show has remained as our only international gem show venue, and this is for many reasons: it is close to our headquarters (just a 6 hour drive), the climate is similar to ours, no jet lag, they have REAL Mexican food in Tucson, I’ve got family up there, the Mountains are beautiful…really much better suited to us than the shows we did in Guadalajara, Denver, Basel & Hong Kong. Then again: we always enjoy seeing the friends we’ve made over the years.
Below, you see a photo of our booth at the “Holidome” in September 1995. I am taking care of a plastic container while Sergio Farell unpacks other items, closely inspected by Manuel Nava and our friend Alejandro Rodríguez.
The next year we had the chance of exhibiting at a big flop called “Atrium” and this is our booth. In those days we sold a lot of Sterling Silver & Cortez Mabe Pearl jewelry. Not a good show for me –personally- since I had to rush back to Mexico to my grandmother Emma’s funeral.
And one friend we miss seeing at the Gem Show is Richard “Bo” Torrey, former editor of “Pearl World”. Lots of fond memories with Bo…here with Enrique Arizmendi.
Placing the memories behind, let us fast forward to 2012.
The Cortez Pearl @ Tucson
We can once more be found inside the GJX tent (across from the Tucson Convention Center) in booth #508. This year we have a couple of things to show our visitors, including a magnificent multi-colored Cortez Pearl necklace: the first one for the year 2012. This particular necklace (code 2012-A) was on the designing table since 2009 and our associate Manuel Nava found the necessary pearls to finalize it just this new year. Although it does not contain any pearls from this year’s harvest, we decided to give it this year’s blessings.
We will also have our usual assortment of loose Cortez Cultured Pearls, Mabe Pearls (including some blisters) and some Silver Jewelry items. So, come on over and check out our unique pearls, learn how difficult it is to grow these Fair Trade beauties and get all the information straight from the oyster’s mouth: we’ll be happy to share a moment with you.
Hope to see you at the Gem Show!
Well, this isn’t really a “freshly-made” blog entry (I actually had it in the Spanish language version of this Blog since August 9th) but have not had the time to translate and proof it. I know: in these days of “instant translators” (such as Google Translate & Bing Translator) it should really be easy to just pop-in your text, get it out and be done with it…but some of us prefer to do things the “ole fashioned way”: using our brains and typing text. So, here is my review of this year’s “Pearl Ruckus”…
In the previous entry announcing he would travel to Los Angeles, California, to participate in the traditional "Pearl Ruckus" organized by the American Pearl Entreprenaeur Jeremy Shepherd, in order to gather toghether friends of what is probably the most important international pearl forum on the Internet: Pearl-Guide.com
Hollywood: Pearls we bring to you!
So, keeping to our appointed date (from July 22nd to the 24th) we all met in a beautiful mansion near the hill with the “Hollywood” sign … you will have to please forgive me the lack of photos but my camera "died" unexpectedly and the few images I was able of taking were using a borrowed camera (Thank You Sarah!). A total of 18 people came toghether thanks to the true hospitality and generosity of our hosts Jeremy & Hisano; we all had the opportunity to share & learn more about our fascinating gem (the pearl of course) and the changes that are happening within this industry.
On Saturday 23rd we had 3 presentations and a special necklace-making session. Presentations were given by:
Josh Humbert, pearl farmer from Ahe, French Polynesia. Josh is a black-pearl producer that takes pride in his high quality pearls grown in an environmental friendly way. Josh explained his “biological cleaning system” (which he calls “the silent workforce”) based on the use of reef fish, which are used to clean his pearl oysters and avoid labor costs. This is a very interesting system that also allows his farm to avoid pollution increases the local fish populations.
Douglas McLaurin of Guaymas, Mexico, with a discussion of the positive Environmental aspects of the operation of a pearl farm in the Gulf of California. This activity seems to have had a very positive effect on the repopulation of the native pearl oyster species and that will be also be used to enhance the reproductive potential of other native species.
Hisano Takei, a very talented designer, was responsible for a special “designers & jewelry workshop”, among which we could find Caitlin Williams (moderator of the Pearl-Guide.com’s forum) and designers Sarah Cannizzaro (from Kojima Co.), Patricia Saab, Sheri Jurnecka, Cathy Tran, Cinde Newberry, Wendy Weaver, and Marianne Carter…
All these activities are conducted in a relaxed atmosphere that made you feel as if in a group of good old friends instead of a formal, business-like meeting… this was –of course- a matter of pleasure for us all: the pleasure of talking and sharing our passion for all pearls.
By the way, Sarah Cannizzaro also made her own Pearl-Ruckus blog entry, which you may enjoy here!
Pearls and More Pearls
We all had the opportunity to showcase our best pieces: pearls from all corners of the world … Josh had his "Kamoka" black pearls, including a huge 18 mm diameter cultured black pearl, Sarah Cannizaro designed a uniquely-original “pearl tiara” incorporating various types of pearls: kasumi pearls from Japan, Chinese freshwaters and even a Cortez Mabe Pearl (by the way: the tiara had a tremendous success among us), Douglas had a pair of very special pearl necklaces and a group specially “Cherry picked” Cortez Cultured Pearls from the 2011 harvest, Patty had a very long string of Cortez pearls (measuring some 50 cm in lenght!) and she also had a very nice necklace made with "Osmeña Pearls" (made from Nautilus shell) and -of course- Jeremy had the opportunity to show us the reason why he is sometimes considered as the "King of Pearls": not only because he travels the world in search of some of the finest pearls, but because he had 6 kilos of the so-called "Edison pearls" (which I prefer to call “Metallic Pastels”).
A touching moment occured when Jeremy thanked Caitlin for her hard work at the Pearl forum and gave her a beautiful necklace made with natural “Basra” pearls from the Persian Gulf region, complete with certificate of authenticity.
To all who attended and made this the very best "Pearl Ruckus" ever. And, very importantly, I want to Thank our hosts Jeremy Shepherd and Hisano Takei, who made us feel –at least for a couple of days- as authentic "Pearl Kings and Queens”. Next year’s Pearl Ruckus is rumored as if it could take place in the Philippines, with Jacques & Christopher Branellec –of Jewelmer fame- acting as hosts … but this is still an unconfirmed rumor. Where will the Sea of Cortez Pearl go in the near future? We’ll just have to wait & see…
Finally, and totally out of the whole “Pearl Ruckus” theme… I took this picture of a sculpture made from scrap-metal parts (motorcycle parts, gears, automotive engine parts, etc.) made in the image of the famous movie-monster "Predator" as it harpoons another terrifying movie-monster "Alien". We never knew the name of the owner of the Hollywood mansion were the gathering was hosted, but I assume –based on the presence of this "altar"- that somehow he might have been involved with this film series. Maybe.
I’ve just returned from a dizzying trip to the always impressive Californian metropolis, where I joined a select group of “Pearl-People” (people linked to the pearl industry) to discuss a subject that we always discuss: pearls, pearls and more pearls. The interesting thing about such events is that they involve people who are in different areas of this field: pearl farmers, nuclei producers, wholesalers, retailers, designers, gemologists and collectors. In all: quite an interesting array of areas of expertise and depth of knowledge.
A total of 16 people were invited to the “Pearl Ruckus 2010″, an event that was promoted by Jeremy Shepherd, CEO of “Pearl Paradise“, by “Jewelmer” and by “Classical Wines of Spain”. The event included five conferences, as well as several social events where the pampered guests would enjoy fine Spanish wines, exquisite sushi and even indulge in a bit of Whiskey tasting. We were treated like royalty…and as such, pearls adorned all the fair ladies at the event.
Conferences – Saturday 24
Beginning at 10:30 am and ending at around 4 pm, we were fortunate to attend the presentations by the following lecturers:
Blaire Beavers (GemGeek): A comprehensive lecture on “Exotic Pearls”, among which Blair talked about the New Zealand’s Abalone Mabe pearls, the large orange-colored “Melo-Melo” Conch pearls, the giant pearls of the Tridacna, the beautiful and elusive Nautilus pearls (a relative of “Paul the Octopus“) and, of course, the “Cortez Pearl”. I do have to point out that GemGeek recently visited our farm (last May),but she seemed fascinated by our local fare of regional seafood, and this was quite evident in the presentation, which included pictures of the fish tacos and other delicacies.
Michael Rivers (Mikeyy): Mike’s lecture gave us a very comprehensive, interesting and detailed description of the mother-of-pearl industry of the United States, from the early 20th century to the present; it included pearl mussel fishing methods, the production process of mother of pearl buttons and of the core of most cultured pearls: the little nacre bead. The talk ended with a discussion on the future of this industry.
Renné Newman: This renowned gemologist gave her presentation on the “Zhuji Pearl Market, China” and -much to our delight- she presented the 5th Edition of her famous book “The Pearl Buying Guide“. I must admit that we learned a lot about pearl quality by using the first edition (1992) of this book and that it made us very happy to see several new sections and photographs about our “Sea of Cortez Pearls” in this new edition.
Steve Metzler (smetzler): who has made an incredible effort towards the identification and certification of two types of extremely rare natural pearls: the pearls of the “giant clam” (Tridacna) and those of the cephalopod Nautilus. This research is carried out by specialists from Spain (Dr. Checa & Dr. Cartwright) and we cannot yet disclose information any about it … the information will be published within a few months. Steve’s collection of natural Tridacna and Nautilus pearls is simply unparalleled.
Douglas McLaurin (CortezPearls): Who, as always, was enjoying himself with his presentation about the “History of the Gulf of California Pearl”, with information ranging from the pre-columbian period to the present, including details of the pearl fisheries made by Spanish-Soldier-turned-Millionaire Manuel de Ocio, the farming methods of Don Gaston Vives and the short-lived farm of Don Manuel Lozano Gallo, then easing into the 1990′s research stage and, finally, the commercial aquaculture in Guaymas, Sonora.
What I can say I that I did not mentioned before? We had the most excellent hosts in Jeremy Shepherd and lovely Hisano Takei (who wore a beautiful kimono), we had Sushi chef Hitori Hirata preparing delicious sushi, the best caviar I’ve had, a fine selection of Spanish wines, including a delicious Galician Albariño wine, we had a “Scotch Whiskey Tasting event” with the help of Michael Udhe, and to wrap it all up: the excellent comradeship amongst the guests at this unique event.
I consider myself fortunate to have been invited this year and, God willing, there will be more Mexican Pearls at the 2011 Pearl Ruckus next year …
Once more we are here, sharing our thoughts and hearts with you…hoping you will allow us to guide you into the history of the Gulf of California Pearl. I hope you find the story of Dr. Gastón Vivés feats as enthralling as we did when we first learned of his existence in 1991. So this week we continue with the most important area of the “CCCyP” or “Pearl Farm”: the “Raceways” or aquaculture channels.
When flying over Isla Espíritu Santo you will easily be able to distinguish the little bay and estuary where this famous pearl farm once stood, this because you can clearly distinguish the man-made shape of the culture station. This part of Dr. Vivés’ operation was a special as all others, but this one is the one most people can see, touch and easily comprehend in its operation. After almost 100 years of abandonment, harsh weather and even hurricanes, this area is still in good condition but slowly being overtaken by the mangrove forest.
This little “ensenada” or harbor has a small mangrove forest growing in typical estuarine fashion: you have a little inland lagoon with its sides all covered with mangrove trees. Gastón Vivés must have “cleared” some of the mangrove forest in order to improve the pearl culture environment, because pearl oysters are not commonly found inside these lagoons. The problems you usually have when you work in an estuary such as this one are the following:
- Increased salinity levels during summer months
- Decreased salinity levels after the rainy season
- Higher/Lower temperatures than those in the ocean
- Reduced oxygen levels.
- Lots and lots of mosquitoes and some terrible little -almost invisible- bugs we call “jejenes” (No-see-ems???)
But on the other hand you also have important benefits such as:
- Higher than average productivity levels (food)
- Easier handling of animals in shallower water
- Secluded area, easier to protect
So, it is obvious Dr. Vives decided to remove a portion of the mangrove forest and use it to grow his black-lipped pearl oysters (Pinctada mazatlanica) instead. It is hard to know if they dredged the bottom of the lagoon in order to remove the usually black-muck (highly organic mud) that is commonly associated with these forests. It could have been, but maybe they just closed the communication between the ocean and the lagoon…then they cut the trees, allowed the bottom to dry and have workers remove the anoxic muck and then prepare the bottom with more adequate conditions such as “tepetate” rock. This also gave them time to work with the masonry.
I can imagine this was a very intense workload for those involved. Why? Let us go back to 1890 and imagine that the World was different: sailboats on the remotest part of Mexico, a desert island with little or no food and fresh-water available, high temperatures of 45 Celsius (over 120 Fahrenheit) during midday, poisonous snakes and arthropods, mosquitoes, no medical help…you can keep adding it up. So, you not only needed workers, but logistics that are similar to those needed to fight battles and win wars: those that cannot supply their armies are the ones that will loose. And it was an army that Gastón Vivés had to take care of: at the height of the farm’s operation it is said it had over 1,200 men working on the Island.
So, among all the things he had to do is have his workers build barracks and other areas needed to establish and serve a large contingent of people. The docking area would have been important as well, because you need constant transportation of people and goods from La Paz to Espíritu Santo, and drinking water would have been a problem (although several fresh -and some briny- water springs are identified on the island). In order to obtain meat, goats were introduced and allowed to forage the desert shrubbery…something that nowadays is considered an “ecological nightmare” (but in those days the notion of “ecology” was non-existent). Once the whole site was constructed it would no longer be the peaceful island but a noisy bustling place of activity (heck! we’ve got towns in the “sierra” that have only some 88 people… and this place had hundreds of workers!): cooks cooking, iron-smiths bashing iron, carpenters nailing planks, divers, packagers…everything but plumbers and electricians.
The Nursery System
About the Masonry work: marvelous. He had great stone-smiths (for a lack of a better word) that -in my opinion- were serious artists and cared about quality. They used dark/red volcanic rocks to form the canals. Their amazing masonry work looks quite sturdy in most places, but the roots of the mangrove are slowly destroying them…
Inside the canals or water-channels it was possible to see some fish darting in and out (usually the common “Lisa” or “Mullet”), as well as an aggressive little Blue-Crab (Callinectes bellicosus). The water is mainly murky-green: thick and rich with nutrients. The water is shallow and has very little movement, the bottom seems more sandy instead of the black pudding-like muck you find at other estuaries (maybe I just needed to stand there until I sank…but did not have much time).
This place would have looked somewhat different some 100 years ago, because this part of the farm was entirely covered: it had a great “palapa” roof made with palm fronds (I did not see a single palm tree here, so the fronds would have been transported from the mainland as with most other things such as wood) and wood beams (very much like the palapa we employ at our Guaymas pearl farm today).
The reason for these roofs is simple: the sun is strong at this latitude and it warms the water; warmer water usually holds less oxygen and some creatures can suffocate… so, just add some shade and the water’s temperature will be cooler. Smart man. In winter you would have the opposite problem (cold water) so you can remove the palm covering and the water will warm up.
This raceway or canal system was very important because it was the “nursery system”, the place were the delicate little juvenile black-lips would be kept under constant surveillance. Why? Well, he did choose a lagoon…and these are well stocked with blue-crabs and these just adore little oysters for their “botana” (tastier than nachos). So, guards were places on top of the canals, armed with fork-like lancers and ready to defend the little pearl oysters. But many other creatures could have wanted to enjoy a free lunch as well: but mainly the octopus, snails and starfish.
The canals had wooden planks to allow the guards to move easily from one place to another and chase the intruders. Also, when the water from the canals was taken out (during the low tide) people would be able to jump inside and work with the animals, perform close inspection and even remove some predators that could have escaped from the guard’s watchful gaze.
The bottom was “conditioned” as I mentioned before, but the little juveniles were not left on the bottom just sitting. Nope. This was all worked out in detail. The little oysters were introduced inside small metal mesh cages, shaped like rectangles. We found the remains of several of these cages at the island…all oxidized, but of course plastic was unavailable in those days.
These juvenile oysters were obtained using special “spat collectors” (of a special design, and we will talk of these in the near future), and the little creatures must have measured some 3 cm (about 1 inch) when caught.
At this stage, the oysters are quite delicate because their shells are not hard enough to protect them and they have a special “anchoring” system (the bissus) they employ to grab a hold of a rock or coral and it is quite delicate: you should never pull them. Also, their small body size does not give the oyster enough protection from sudden temperature changes (they can heat easily under sunlight, and if placed rapidly in cold water the shock can kill them)… so it seems very likely Dr. Gastón Vivés’ medical training might have given him a very sound foundation to understand the oysters and give them the best possible conditions to improve their growth and survival.
By means of the mesh cages, it was easy to handle many oysters at once and protect them from most predators and he would have been able to reduce mortality rates to very tolerable levels (5-20%) at an age when -if you don’t do the right things- you can have a mortality rate of up to 80%.
Truly a revolutionary man and way ahead of his time… let us continue with this account in the coming weeks. In the meantime, you can watch a small video about our visit to this historical site. The video has titles in Spanish only, but if you read this entry you will be able to grasp the meaning…I will add sub-titles to the video in the future.
Well, it took a few years for our Cortez Pearls to arrive back to our farm in Guaymas, but they did arrive safely and -most importantly- with the experience of “seasoned travellers”. The pearls were all produced using our native “Rainbow Lipped Pearl Oyster” (Pteria sterna)… a very special creature capable of producing the most varied colors and overtones.
This was the lucky group of cultured pearls from the 2000 harvest consisting of:
- 4 loose pearls (sizes from 9 to 10 mm)
- 8 Mabe pearls (in different shapes: from “classic” -hemispherical- to blister-drops)
- 12 Keshi pearls (sizes from 5 to 8 mm)
The pearls were destined for the “Pearls: A Natural History” museum display at New York City’s “American Museum of Natural History” (AMNH). This was an incredibly successful exhibit that opened on October 13th, 2001, and closed on April 14th of 2002… but after this date it went on a “Grand World Tour” to cities like Chicago, Paris, London, Tokyo and Sidney. The Museum produced a book aptly named “Pearls: A Natural History” under the authorship of Neil H. Landman & Paula M. Mikkelsen (a splendid book with very nice photographs) that covers the most important aspects that surround our favorite organic gem: history, lore & culture, biology of the creatures that produce pearls and even its gemological attributes. One of my favorite pearl books written in this Century.
The only thing I did not like much about the book is that our pearls are not prominently featured… wish I had a better digital camera those days (had a very good Sony Mavica with 640 x 480 resolution)… guess the book needed better photos. Mea culpa!
Anyway… the pearls are back home -but no longer as naive but as more experienced pearls- and will reside inside a special display case at our “Customer Attention Center” in Guaymas so they will continue to greet our visitors in all the languages they learned. So, when in Guaymas… come say “Hello” to our beautiful traveling pearls…
And now we will continue with last month’s story about our visit to ruins of the World’s first pearl farm and we will go and revisit each area step by step.
Our boat came to rest on the beach, but not a sandy beach but more of a rocky beach full of large oval-shaped water tumbled rocks that make walking quite difficult. Any of you that have visited the local beaches of “Las Saladitas” and “Piedras Pintas” in Guaymas will understand what I mean: the rocks just slide from under your feet and may make you fall. Our boat remained in the water, in an area that once had some concrete and rock slabs that were used as a ramp for loading and unloading boats and other aquaculture equipment.
And it is quite interesting to notice that even tough the ramps are not there anymore (maybe underneath many kilos of rocks there could be something) -or they are simply not noticeable- you can still find indications of their whereabouts thanks to the useful tool known as “Google Earth”. Yes, if you examine the satellite images from Ensenada de San Gabriel you can see some areas -inside the ocean- where some lines are perpendicular to the coastline: one of these being the ramps -they had a lot of use, because they were needed for the farm’s aquaculture operations and to provide food and water to the thousand employees they had on this desolate island.
Another thing of interest is that, after almost a Century of abandonment and being exposed to countless hurricanes, you can clearly what is left of masonry work and even of the more modest wooden buildings.
Walking to our right (to the west of our landing site), at about some 100 meters from the coastline we found a heavily impacted land area: scarce vegetation, some “Chivato” bushes (Calliandra sp) and “Choya Cactii” (Opuntia sp), a marked difference with the typical Sonoran desert vegetation found in the surrounding area: large columnar cactii -mainly Organ-Pipe catus and Barrel Cactus- and spiny shrubbery. Clearly, this land was compacted for use as sheds, shaded storage area and maybe even for barracks for the farm’s workers.
This small video (part 1) of our visit to the farm may give you better insight:
For the most part, the storage sheds must have been built with commercial wood (which we found in a very deteriorated state, possibly cedar wood) with the roofs being built with palm fronds and/or wood planks. What was stored under these? You can imagine that many were used to house your average tools, such as axes, saws, mallets, etc., one of them must have been a small forge to produce nails and work on chains and cages, some used for living quarters and cooking, but what was the purpose of this unique farm? To produce a valuable commodity: mother-of-pearl shell (MOP). We have fist hand information (from writings by Dr. Vivés himself) that shed some light on this beautiful natural product (plastic became an alternative for MOP shell, thus many nacre/MOP producing regions closed-down).
The MOP produced at this farm came from the farm-raised Black-Lipped Pearl Oysters (Pinctada mazatlanica). The company had 4 different grades (or qualities) for MOP shell. This is the information they provided at the end of the Mexican Revolution as to the value for MOP at the International markets:
- “Extra” Grade: made up of large shell (over 15 cm in diameter), with very regular/uniform shapes, without spotting nor drill-worm holes.Valued at $1,000 USD per metric ton.
- “First” Grade: shells with sizes between 9 to 14 cm, without spotting nor holes. Valued at $400 USD/ton.
- “Second” Grade: mainly small shells (sizes between 7 to 9 cm) and “clean” (no spots nor holes), but also mixed in with larger shells (9-15 cm) but with defects and imperfections. Valued at $200 USD/ton.
- “Third” Grade: Mainly consisting of broken shells or with shells with considerable damage (spots & holes) in at least 50% of its surface. Valued at less than $100 USD/ton.
We did find evidence of MOP shell mounds throughout the entire area. Most of the shells having suffered from weathering effects. It is hard to say if these shells are all that was left behind after the destruction of the pearl farm in 1914, or if these are more “recent” shells (no older than 30 years) left behind by fishermen that were illegally fishing them for their pearls. The shells are brittle, have a warm coppery color and most of their protein coating (periostracum) has dissapeared…but are still beautiful and shinny.
MOP shell had a very important economic value before the use of plastic and was used intensively for the manufacture of buttons, jewelry boxes, knife/firearm handles, jewelry (cameos), chess-sets and even for traditional Asian medicine. Several places flourished economically due to this demand: Broome in Australia (using the large Silver Lip Oyster or Pinctada maxima), Muscatine in the United States of America (using many species of pearly mussels) and -of course- La Paz, Mexico.
As a matter of fact, the main economic source for the farm was the production of MOP shell…the pearls were a much welcomed by product: a gift from God or Nature. In those days only natural pearls existed (cultured pearls were in a research stage in Australia and Japan). Some sources state that the quantity of MOP shell that was exported from the Gulf of California (mind you: these figures do not include the shell that remained in Mexico) between the period comprised by the years 1580 and 1857 was of 95,000 metric tons, roughly converted to 277 tons per year. If we converted this volume to monetary value -using a 3rd grade figure- we are talking about $28,000 USD of 1910 (we would have to convert this figure to its present economic value) which is not bad for those days: $101 USD per ton or…
|$2,350.00||using the Consumer Price Index|
|$1,770.00||using the GDP deflator|
|$10,100.00||using the unskilled wage|
|$15,100.00||using the Production Worker Compensation|
|$12,900.00||using the nominal GDP per capita|
|$43,100.00||using the relative share of GDP|
I would personally stick with the “Unskilled wage” indicator… but would really appreciate hearing from others and see if we can come up with a better figure or even for a “real market price” for MOP these days.
Let us try some math here again. This pearl farm (CCCyP ) is said to have had between 8 to 10 million black-lip oysters under culture conditions. Documents from the farm and Dr. Gastón Vivés state that the annual harvest consisted of some 5 million oysters. An average 4 year-old shell measures some 12 cm in diameter and weighs 10 grams and each organism has two of these (=20 grams of MOP per oyster), thus if we extrapolate we will have 200 kilos per thousand oysters, so 1 million oysters might have produced 200,000 kilos and multiplied by 5 we get 1,000 tons of MOP per year. Of course, this information is not accurate because we lack information on the percentage of shell that was discarded due to low-quality (and some other figures that would help have a better price estimate, such as the percentage of their sizes and their grades) but what I want you to NOTICE is how this one farm could have been able to supply the entire export of MOP shell and the domestic market as well, WITHOUT fishing out the local pearl beds.
A pearl farm can indeed have a positive impact on the local environment if managed in a sustainable manner.
On this occasion I would like to talk about the experience that Enrique and I had whilst visiting the ruins of what once used to be the First Commercial Pearl Farm in the World. My friends Enrique and Manuel always mention that this farm was more of a “Mother-of-Pearl Shell farm” than a true “Pearl Farm”…but I have always considered this to be the World’s first Pearl Farm and -perhaps- you may concur with me after you read the entire thread, which I will separate into sections, with this one as an Introduction. Let us begin with this new story.
On July 24th, 2009, we had the opportunity to travel to La Paz, Lower California, in order to be at the most important gathering of Mexican pearl farmers and researchers. This meeting being one of many to follow and promoted by the Federal Fisheries Administration (Instituto Nacional de la Pesca). The reason for the meeting? To establish a new regulatory scheme in order to protect our native pearl oysters -on the coasts of the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico/Caribbean Sea- from unethical human intervention: no more fisheries, avoid the introduction of exotic pearl oysters and displacement of genetic populations, and -very importantly- find a way to maintain our Quality standards and avoid the hazards that have plagued other pearl-producing regions like Tahiti or the Cook Islands. We will write about this subject in a future post…right now I am detouring.
So, once more on the path, we visited La Paz…and it was necessary to take the time for our pilgrimage to the ruins of the greatest Mexican pearling emporium.
Using the services of a local tour operator –”Espíritu & Baja Tours“- we enjoyed a most pleasant trip to the Island of Espíritu Santo, just outside the Bay of La Paz.We arrived at the “Ensenada de San Gabriel” and you could immediately notice that the calm & clear waters are a perfect place for raising Black-Lipped Pearl Oysters (Pinctada mazatlanica): the beautiful white sand contrasting with what seemed to be large emerald green rocks, but are in reality a normal Gulf of California inhabitant: the Porites coral. Our local black-lip has commonly been associated with these corals.
It is more than likely that the man that selected this site as propitious for a sustainable pearl farming venture was none other than the famous Dr. Joseph Gastón Vivés Gouyorieux, a Mexican citizen of French ancestry and the main promoter of the once famous “Compañía Criadora de Concha y Perla”. I will not spend time on a biography of this very notable individual, because this has already been done and because I simply do not have the time for this…our intentions are to describe our findings at this often forgotten historical site. The first “man-made” features we might recognize from the photos are the zig-zag pattern of the “aquaculture-channels” (I would call them “raceways”), that are being reclaimed by the mangrove forest (that we found in excellent health!). Another area is almost barren and with just mounds of sea-shells, rusted metal remains, and dried wood remains. We will talk about each area -and our findings- individually and in different posts.
BUT, before we proceed with the details I would like to jot down my general impression of the site. SILENCE…blessed silence that seems to permeate into every detail, silence that seems to drown the sound of your footsteps…similar as to when you enter an ancient temple and you feel that it demands respect from you: leave it all as it is, do not disturb our slumber…similar to what I once felt when visiting the old graveyard in Álamos, Sonora, but without the aggressive sensation. Yes, it felt very much like a cross-less graveyard, with only porous mounds of shells, rusted metal and decaying wood to serve as gravestones. Everything at Peace, and, there we were…disturbers of this peace, like treasure hunters, but instead of searching for pearls and treasure we were looking for questions and answers…the kind of “treasure” that would not elicit much response from a text-book historian, but that to Us represents wisdom, cunning and a part of our almost forgotten regional lore.
Until the next post…
I believe that throughout the years we have been able to rely on the helping hands of many people in order to continue our journey trough uncharted waters. Yes, we have been fortunate enough to have found more friendly faces on our path than sour and dour ones, but this is not the Time -although it is indeed a good place- to Thank everyone that has made it possible for us to survive in this exceedingly difficult task of “reviving” the Legend of the Sea of Cortez Pearl, but rest be assured: we will give proper thanks to everyone. Now, since this is a very recent event we do owe a BIG THANK YOU to Monsieur Hubert Bari (French Gemologist and Curator of the Pearl Exhibit at Doha, Qatar), for his invitation to join him at Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art for his “Pearls” exhibit. Our “Sea of Cortez Pearls” are now part of a very exclusive group of pearls (including many fantastic pieces of pearl jewelry and rare natural pearls), amongst which the visitor may admire the following:
- 5 “AA” grade Cortez Mabe Pearls
- 5 Natural Pearls (measuring 4-7 mm)
- 10 “Gem Quality” Cortez Cultured Pearls (9-11 mm)
- 1 blue colored Cortez Pearl Ring, set in an 18K Gold & Fair Trade Diamonds design by TriGem Designs.
Enrique Arizmendi, our General Director, traveled to Doha to be at the inauguration of the Museum Exhibit and also for another grand event: the presentation of Monsieur Bari’s and David Lam’s new “Pearls” book (to be sold at stores this summer). The book is surely to become the most sought-after reference book in all Pearldom: its information is both detailed and scientifically precise, but written in layman’s language. It also has some of the most beautiful photos of pearls, paintings and pearling I have ever seen in one single book, the diagrams are crisp and detailed. A masterpiece with over 330 pages and 3 kilos in weight. A most serious contender for Elisabeth’s Strack’s “Perlen” book.
This superb book includes a special chapter called “Gentlemen Farmers” that includes a more detailed explanation on the operation of several important pearling ventures such as: Japan’s “Mikimoto Pearls”, Indonesia’s “Atlas South Sea Pearls”, the Philippines’ “Jewelmer” and Mexico’s “Perlas del Mar de Cortez”. The book points out how our operation is the only one in the world that has been able to utilize a Pteria genus pearl oyster (as opposed to the Pinctada species employed by all other salt-water pearl farmers).
Also, I wanted to also thank our photographer friends Paco de la Rosa of Cancún and Alberto Tirado of Guaymas for the excellent photos they took and that now embellish this incredible book. Kudos!!!
Well, this is the “wrap-up” for “The Virgin’s Pearl” story. At this point I must -once more- ask you to focus on the fact that all of these coincidences happened at very different moments in time, and it wasn’t until very recently that we realized there was a connection at all. Weird? Disturbing? Fun? All of the above…but let us say that we now believe there are things well above the realm of mere chances.
So, what I am about to tell you happened almost one year ago, during the winter of 2008. It was the middle of the “Pearl Seeding Season” and Enrique and I were placidly operating our “Rainbow Lipped Oysters” (Pteria sterna). Just another “normal” morning in the life of a pearl farmer…telling jokes or talking politics, but Enrique became silent first, his eyes widening and then: a frantic babble of words, one hand holding the oyster the other pointing at something inside the oyster’s dark body mass: a pearl.
But it wasn’t just “a pearl”, I mean we ARE in a Pearl Farm so you do expect them, but this was a NATURAL PEARL: the largest most perfect black pearl we have ever laid our eyes on.
Here are its specs:
- Shape: Near Round
- Color: Jet Black with cobalt blue overtone.
- Size: 9.9 x 10.1 mm (diameter)
After only 16 years of working as pearl farmers…the grandest of treasures appeared. And of course this was just mere chance. Or was it? Of course, just some time later I reported this find on the Pearl-Guide forum.
The thing is that this pearl was found on December 18: the very same day dedicated to the “Virgin of Solitude”, of which we knew nothing at all at that moment.
So, here is our coincidence list:
- The “Virgin of Solitude” (“Virgen de la Soledad”) of Oaxaca had been given a large -very likely natural- pearl to grace her forehead. It was very likely a Sea of Cortez Pearl, and maybe it came from Mr. Gastón Vivés’ pearl farm in Lower California. The Virgin’s garments and attire were stolen.
- A replacement pearl was needed, to resemble as closely as possible to the original; so a replacement pearl was found: It was a cultured pearl grown in our pearl farm in Sea of Cortez. Our records confirm that the Virgin’s new pearl was obtained from a pearl oyster that had been operated on December 18, 2007.
- A pearl of a find: an exquisite natural black pearl was obtained from one of our farm raised pearl oysters. The date of the find: December 18, 2008.
Please keep in mind that December 18 is a special date: it is the day that was dedicated to the Patron Saint of Oaxaca, Our Lady of the Solitude or the “Virgin of Solitude”. This is the date that ties in these matters into a knot. We leave you to make up your own mind…but, for us, we don’t believe in “mere coincidences” anymore.
Special Note from Douglas: I do not worship nor adore any “Virgin Mary” image, nor do I revere them…for me these are historical images, a part of Mexico’s cultural heritage and thus I believe in their preservation.