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!
Oh yes! There is simply no easy way to avoid doing what everyone else is doing these days…every “Marketing Guru” out there says you have got to have a Facebook page for your company/brand and everyone needs a Twitter account. OK then…we’ve done it and have both.
If you feel the urge to follow us on Twitter then, just look for us as @CortezPearls. If you feel more like interacting with us using Facebook then head for our “Cortez Pearls” page (and while there, please do “Like” our page).
So, this is an open invitation to the over 1,200 monthly visitors of this unique Blog…do come in and join us and find out what this “social media rage” is all about.
Both accounts will be BILINGUAL (English & Spanish) in order to avoid the hassles of having way too many accounts to manage…my primary job is still PEARL FARMING and for the likes of us farmers this does take some of our time away from our “wet & salty” obligations.
Anyway, we hope you enjoy this new channel of communication and that you will use it to your advantage. Hope to “see” you there soon!
I Finally I have the data from this year’s pearl harvest and it is a positive report but not a spectacular one. As it has happened for several ongoing years, environmental changes -possibly caused by global warming and other natural processes- have directly affected the outcome of our pearl harvest. This year was no exception since 4 years ago we had a very poor “spat collecting” season of "Rainbow Lipped Pearl Oysters" (Pteria sterna), which did not allow us to have an adequate amount of mature (2 year old) pearl oysters to “nucleate” or “implant” two years ago (2009) and the amount of pearls we obtained was of only 1.7 kg when our goal is to reach 4 kilos (roughly: 4,000 pearls)
However, the number of nucleated oysters would have given us only 1 kilo of pearls this year, but thanks to improvements in our nucleation technique we were able to achieve a 70% higher amount of pearls, and the colors and quality of the pearls were truly good. I will now proceed to to review each type of pearl produced this year in our Bacochibampo Bay Pearl Farm… We harvested 1,783 cultured pearls with an average size of 9.0 mm (in diameter), the smaller size of the pearls was 8.3 mm and was larger at 12.9 mm. The predominant shapes were baroque (asymmetrical), followed by semi-baroque pearls (symmetric) and with a small minority (2%) of round and near-round shapes. In the next photo we can see the two plastic bags on which the entire 2011 crop is placed until the time comes for its separation by size, shape and quality (pearl grading). I proceeded to "liberate" the pearls to appreciate their shapes, colors and sizes… And these from bag # 2… I also “cherry picked” some pearls that had something that made them all the more strikingly beautiful or unusual and these are some pictures of these pearls: However, these are not the only beautiful pearls, their colors are just much more intense, but these are other rare gems: Now for the next sub-topic within the crop: the production of Mabe Pearls or “Half-Pearls”. This kind of pearl is “harvested” (extracted) from the shell of the oysters and -unlike loose pearls- they must be processed before being sold. In fact, this entire process is quite elaborate and I want to explain it in detail in a future Blog entry. I hope I can do this by September, as I am preparing a video of the process as well. Since I am going to explain this in the near future, I will avoid going into much detail, but each pearl oyster has the potential to produce up to 3 Mabe(some rare ones up to 4), but we consider that only 50% of the extracted Mabe pearls will have the right quality to become a "Cortez Mabe"; what about the remaining pearls?… they will visit the mermaids (cast into the water’s depths). Why? Because we will simply not sell "junk pearls" to our customers and our pearls are guaranteed for life: we just don’t want people coming back to exchange a defective product, we want them to come back for more beautiful & enduring gems. How many Mabe pearls did we harvest this year? According to harvest data we obtained 6,158 “raw” (or “in the shell”) pearls… from which we will further inspect and will end up with only 3,000 pieces of varying qualities: from "B" to "AAA" grades, and possibly some 6 “U” grade Mabe pearls. Once mounted in jewelry, mabe pearls take on a completely different look … The natural pearl harvest this year was quite low, barely reaching 3 pearls with a size of at least 5 mm in diameter. This is a good number, considering that the norm in nature is of just 1 such natural pearl per every 10,000 pearl oysters. Keshi pearls -a type of cultured pearl- were also very scarce, with an output of just 33 grams. I hereby terminate this report of the Cortez Pearl Harvest of 2011. The next blog post will be up by mid-September and will have information about the third edition of the "Pearl Ruckus" organized by Jeremy Shepperd (of “Pearl-Paradise.com” fame) which took place in Hollywood, California.
These are from bag # 1…
Keshi Pearls and Natural Pearls
Until next time!
However, the number of nucleated oysters would have given us only 1 kilo of pearls this year, but thanks to improvements in our nucleation technique we were able to achieve a 70% higher amount of pearls, and the colors and quality of the pearls were truly good.
I will now proceed to to review each type of pearl produced this year in our Bacochibampo Bay Pearl Farm…
We harvested 1,783 cultured pearls with an average size of 9.0 mm (in diameter), the smaller size of the pearls was 8.3 mm and was larger at 12.9 mm. The predominant shapes were baroque (asymmetrical), followed by semi-baroque pearls (symmetric) and with a small minority (2%) of round and near-round shapes.
In the next photo we can see the two plastic bags on which the entire 2011 crop is placed until the time comes for its separation by size, shape and quality (pearl grading).
I proceeded to "liberate" the pearls to appreciate their shapes, colors and sizes…
And these from bag # 2… I also “cherry picked” some pearls that had something that made them all the more strikingly beautiful or unusual and these are some pictures of these pearls:
However, these are not the only beautiful pearls, their colors are just much more intense, but these are other rare gems:
Now for the next sub-topic within the crop: the production of Mabe Pearls or “Half-Pearls”.
This kind of pearl is “harvested” (extracted) from the shell of the oysters and -unlike loose pearls- they must be processed before being sold. In fact, this entire process is quite elaborate and I want to explain it in detail in a future Blog entry. I hope I can do this by September, as I am preparing a video of the process as well.
Since I am going to explain this in the near future, I will avoid going into much detail, but each pearl oyster has the potential to produce up to 3 Mabe(some rare ones up to 4), but we consider that only 50% of the extracted Mabe pearls will have the right quality to become a "Cortez Mabe"; what about the remaining pearls?… they will visit the mermaids (cast into the water’s depths). Why? Because we will simply not sell "junk pearls" to our customers and our pearls are guaranteed for life: we just don’t want people coming back to exchange a defective product, we want them to come back for more beautiful & enduring gems.
How many Mabe pearls did we harvest this year? According to harvest data we obtained 6,158 “raw” (or “in the shell”) pearls… from which we will further inspect and will end up with only 3,000 pieces of varying qualities: from "B" to "AAA" grades, and possibly some 6 “U” grade Mabe pearls.
Once mounted in jewelry, mabe pearls take on a completely different look …
The natural pearl harvest this year was quite low, barely reaching 3 pearls with a size of at least 5 mm in diameter. This is a good number, considering that the norm in nature is of just 1 such natural pearl per every 10,000 pearl oysters.
Keshi pearls -a type of cultured pearl- were also very scarce, with an output of just 33 grams.
I hereby terminate this report of the Cortez Pearl Harvest of 2011.
The next blog post will be up by mid-September and will have information about the third edition of the "Pearl Ruckus" organized by Jeremy Shepperd (of “Pearl-Paradise.com” fame) which took place in Hollywood, California.
There are few moments as exciting to a Pearl Farmer as that of the time to harvest his pearls. This means the culmination of 4 years of taking care of your pearl oysters, years of worries caused by natural phenomena (the "Niño" and "Niña" years, as well as from hurricanes and tropical storms) or human causes. It is at this moment when we can take a deep breath and feel our pressure lowering in relief, only to be replaced by heavy-breathing and an increased heart-rate, but this time caused by the hope of finding that pearl that John Steinbeck referred to as the "Pearl of the World", as described in his novel “The Pearl”, that huge, beautiful & flawless pearl that Kino finds after years of pearl fishing.
And apparently, we are not alone in expecting such a yearly precious event –since it only takes place during the month of June- because this year we were truly honored to be visited by the great German gemologist Elisabeth Strack, author of a book that is considered –by most- as "The Bible of Pearls”, a book for all lovers of this amazing organic gem: "Perlen" (in German) or "Pearls" (in English). Unfortunately there are no editions in other languages, but this is an awesome book that has a great quantity and quality of information about all types of pearls.
And, at this point I don’t know if I can say if you do not say whether Elisabeth had bad or good luck -it will depend on her personal opinion- during her second visit to our pearl farm, because she arrived on the first day of June, and at that time we also had the visit of Mexico’s President, Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, in Guaymas; this due to the fact we were also celebrating the “Day of the Navy”, so she had the chance to see a whole array of sailors, armored vehicles, navy helicopters and warships in Guaymas. Regardless of her opinion, she did bring us "good luck", as this year’s pearl harvest seems as it will become the best of our history, at least in color and beauty of the harvested pearls.
Elisabeth Strack visited us because she has been working on her book’s second edition, and updated data and information is much required and this cannot be gathered just by hearsay. When at the first day of harvest with us, she noticed that some of the colors on our pearls just seemed to be impossible: because she just could not believe some of the colors she was seeing… even when she saw the pearls just coming out of our pearl oysters. And I assume that is a normal reaction for people who have seen pearl harvests in other types of pearl oysters, such as those from the Pinctada genus, or from pearly-mussels (Family Unionidae), but this was her first time watching cultured and natural pearls come out from our "Rainbow Lipped Pearl Oyster” (Pteria sterna). This incredible color saturation is observed even in the shells of this year’s oysters.
Cortez Pearl Harvest 2011
And I was wondering if you’ve seen how pearls are harvested here in Guaymas? We have several videos available on YouTube, but this is probably my favorite from the 2009 harvest:
And mentioned that Elisabeth was amazed with the natural colors of our pearls as it is rare to find such a variety of colors on a single crop in just one location. The "black pearl" of French Polynesia are mainly dark, but each atoll can produce a certain range of colors. Here in Guaymas we have been blessed with every imaginable body-color and overtones on our pearls. And as a sampler we have some photos…
On the photo above, a beautiful dark purple pearl, with three pearl behind it: one green, a “red” one and a blue colored one.
A couple more photos, now one with our so called “Yori” or “white pearls”, always displaying green and pink overtones.
And I must make it very clear that the pearls came out with the colors you are seeing, they were not processed in any way: not polished (to improve their luster or "make them shiny"), there were not "bleached" chemically to make them white, nor stained/dyed to darken them. They are simply the result of an amazing natural pigmentation process.
These pearls belong to the group of “Green” pearls, but our “green pearls” are very different from the typical Tahitian "green” pearl because Cortez Pearls tend to be brighter, not the “dark-black” color. Our greens also mix with other colors, making them uniquely different.
These last pearls have a reddish body color (violet) with green overtones, leaning towards the “Peacock” color of Tahitian Pearls but not exactly…they are also unique. It seems that this year this Red color will be rather generous. The "red pearls" or "Cranberry” are incredibly rare, so most of those seen for sale have an artificial color (and you can tell it is), but here in Guaymas we are fortunate enough to produce a dozen or so with this “cranberry” color per year.
And Elisabeth returned to Germany, but before she did she also updated her knowledge on Authentic Mexican-Sonoran Food (unlike the variety they serve in Germany), allowing her taste buds to indulge in the sinful dishes served at our favorite restaurant ("Los Arbolitos de Cajeme"): a “tower” of fresh sea-scallops, fresh tomatoes and avocado slices with some spicy olive-oil dressing, shrimp and smoked-marlin “Toritos” (Banana Peppers filled with these delicacies), a fresh crab meat “tostada”, a savory seafood “machaca” (made with finely minced squid, shrimp and scallops) and an extravagant fish fillet covered with a hot cactus, onion and pepper topping… I surely hope that Elisabeth will have additional reasons to return next year to Guaymas.
I hope this entry about the 2011 Cortez Pearl harvest was of interest to you. I will eventually write-up this year’s harvest’s full information (quantity of harvested pearls, size of harvested pearls, shapes, colors, qualities, etc.) since we still have 30% of the harvest yet to reap and we are still hopeful, as we are every year, to find the "Pearl of the World .
Until next time…
Orient & Overtones on Pearls.
Orient:A remarkable phenomenon produced by light being reflected and refracted by the pearl layers, which produces an inner glow. The finer the pearl layer (aragonite crystal), the better the orient of the pearl. (Source)
Water Test on Light Colored Pearls.
Water Test on Dark Colored Pearls:
Comparing light and dark pearls in Water:
Imitation or Fake Pearls:
Pearls from the Sea of Cortez:
Learning tricks of the trade is something that we have done since we began researching, back in 1993, and this of course not only involves pearl oysters, but their magnificent product: the pearl. But a thing that has always bothered us are “fake pearls” or imitations. For this reason we have come up with this series. Some time ago, back in 2004, Manuel, Enrique and I took several pearls and imitations and filmed a video of their reaction to the famous “flame test”. Bibliographic sources mentioned that the artificial or false pearls burn on contact with fire, while real pearls can survive this process without damage or with minor damage. So, are we to just blindly believe in this? Let’s try it and see what happens!!! And this video was the result of this experimentation. The results surprised us too, but if we obtained important information. So please watch this video first:
We learned several things when “playing with fire.” The first one is that pearls, both authentic and imitation, obey “Murphy’s Law” in the sense that even if they look “OK” to touch they are not: they become extremely hot! and thus are difficult to manipulate with your fingers right after the 7 seconds under an open flame. So, if you plan to perform this little experiment on your own, use some tweezers and caution to manipulate the pearl. But for now, let’s describe the results, pearl by pearl:
The first pearl to undergo the flame test was a freshwater-pearl of Chinese origin. This pearl was submitted to artificial staining to acquire a dark color and it even had a good appearance, since it even had good iridescence. But after only seven seconds under fire we noticed the following changes:
1. The pearl’s drill-hole was severely affected, its nacre becoming almost pulverized, this in effect extended the drilling area (made the drill hole larger). The pearl’s surface was seriously damaged, like the damage caused by the sun and the environment in an oyster shell after about 10 years of exposure.
2. The pearl displayed small cracks in various parts of its surface, which radiate or spread from small “bubbles” that formed in the pearl’s surface. Before the flame was applied, these were non-existent.
3. The pearl lost much of its luster and color, becoming duller and less appealing.
So we can conclude that artificially colored pearls (or those that have been subject to some types of processing such as bleaching) are more sensitive to fire and can be destroyed with the flame test… but not burned. The ash or soot on the pearl is easily removed with a rag.
Test Results: Not Passed (or 50% passed).
Naturally Colored Cortez Pearl:
Our Pearls are never subjected to any “embellishment” processes; this actually means that they are never polished, nor bleached, nor dyed … so it was not strange that the “flame test” -in the same 7 seconds time-span as that of the Freshwater pearl- had no visible negative effects: we could find no cracks, no little “bubbles”, no change in the pearl’s appearance. What was most striking was to see that it was more difficult to remove the soot from of this pearl. Finally, there was no perceptible change in the of nacre around the pearl’s drill hole, nor in the pearl’s luster or its color.
Test Result: Passed!
Imitation pearl: “Shell Pearl”:
Before discussing the results I want to explain something about these imitations. They are the best imitations we have had a chance to see and analyze. Many suggest that “Mallorca pearls” are the best, but we believe these imitations are superior for several reasons:
1. Have a center of ceramic, which gives them a good weight … like a pearl.
2. They have several layers of paint or varnish. Each layer is of characteristics and two of these layers are semi-translucent so give an effect that is added on the base color layer. The final layer is apparently a protective layer and gives the “sheen” or luster to the pearl. Layers of “color”, in green and purple-are printed in a translucent coating using a “newspaper” or dot-matrix style, thus these two colors seem to “float” on top of the jet-black color that coats the ceramic bead. What do I mean by this? Consider using the image below for better understanding.
These imitations (for information on their manufacture process, see here) caused a “craze” in the year 2000. In that year, they were successfully introduced into the market through the famous Gem, Watch & Jewelery Fair, and many were misled by these very good imitations. Pearls that were “affected” by these imitations were the Tahitian black pearl and white South Sea Pearls of Australia. As you can see in the photos, it is very easy to confuse these pearls with a naked eye.
And although they are very good imitations … they do feel fake when you touch them: this is where they just “lost their magic.” Certainly, a high quality pearl is difficult or impossible to imitate, but for most pearls … specially those that are subject to rutinary processing and end up with a uniform look, imitations will be somewhat easy to produce.
Well, let’s get to the results: the “Shell Pearl” required twice the length of time (14 seconds) under the influence of the flame in order to burn in a manner proper for imitations, this due to its protective outer-cover, which protects it from chemical and mechanical damage, and it seems to have a fire retardant effect . However, this outer-coating can become damaged easily (with scratches) and this facilitates the burning of the “pearl”. In the video you can see how this imitation suffers from severe damage on its surface layers and a yellow-colored area affected will be seen on the area affected by heat.
Test Result: Failed!
Cheap Imitation Pearl (Plastic)
This kind of imitation is the one usually found in most economic products, such as in rosaries, small girls “jewelry” and economic bijoux jewelry. In this case the product is made out of plain plastic beads (polyethylene) with a simple paint covering. They are recognized immediately as false by their appearance, for its light weight and the presence of tell-tale “chips” (since these are usually made with molded plastic, they will have these), worthy of any product of very poor quality.
There is really is not worth talking about these imitations … in just 7 seconds under a flame they will burn and light up, we’ll have thick black smoke and the piece will end up as a small mass of molten plastic. The they are are the most fun to burn!!!
Test Result: Failed!
Mallorca or Majorica Pearl:
This is the famous “pearl”, which everyone wants to try with this test. First of all an external analysis: I can tell you that the external texture of these imitations is usually rougher than that of a real pearl. This imitation is quite successful with “Akoya” pearls (produced in Japan and China), since these pearls have little variety of colors (mostly in the white, yellow and cream-beige range) and their shape is almost always round and in sizes from 6 to 9 mm indiameter. Again: the more “clone-like” the pearls become after processing, the easier it is to imitate them.
The “Majorica Pearls” are made with a glass bead that -supposedly- has been made using “real pearl powder”. Even if this were true, it hardly matters because this can never be observed under the coat of paint. The “paint coatings” of these imitations are made using a “special recipe” which includes sardine (fish) scales (using a “special treatment”) which is referred to as “Pearlescence”, and several coats of this varnish are applied to this glass bead, which also must be “baked” or dried using special procedures (including UV light). This matters little after 8 seconds under fire: the layer of varnish is burned and left with a terrible appearance… leaving exposed areas of a white glass bead behind if you try to remove the sooth and carbonized paint.
Test Result: Failed!
This video (in Spanish) depicts the manner in which these “faux pearls” are made (and it seems that they are no longer producing these imitations in Mallorca, Spain):
- The “Flame Test” can be very destructive on pearls, both with lower quality (processed) pearls and very especially on “faux perles” or pearl imitations.
- Pearls and Imitations can become Hot after the use of the flame test: handle with caution.
- Pearls can become damaged with heat and fire: they are organic gems and they have some water in their composition, so do avoid these to ensure for proper care of your pearls.
Coming soon: Demystifying other pearl myths …
Welcome to our “Sea of Cortez Pearl” Blog-site. We are a group of Pearl Farmers located inside the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California, Mexico) and our plain intention is to open up a channel of communication between us and those of you that have been -or will be- our guests-visitors at our website and pearl farming facilities, a place where we can talk about subjects that revolve around our beloved marine gem: the environment, quality, cultural heritage, stories & myths, jewelry and jewelry designers, pearl farming and our pearl oysters.
Welcome! and stay tuned for new posts.
Manuel, Douglas & Enrique – Owners and Founders of Perlas del Mar de Cortez