Well now, 2010 has finally arrived…this year at least promises much more “excitement” than last year. We do wish you all a great new year… and I hope we’ll have more time on our hands to write down many more stories that we’ve had the intention of sharing, but in the meantime an update on the “Virgin’s Pearl”:
1) On December 18th, 2009, we found another Natural Pearl. Yep! And this one was the ONLY natural pearl we were able of harvesting from our farm-raised Rainbow Lipped Oysters (Pteria sterna). We caught the moment on video and have shared it on YouTube.
Once more, just like in 2008 and in the same day: the Day of the Virgin of the Solitude of Oaxaca. This pearl measures 8.5 x 8.7 mm (diameter), and weighs in at 0.9 grams. Not exactly a huge pearl, nor was it perfect…but there is too much a coincidence there.
2) The Virgin’s new gold & gem studded attire is almost ready for her new “coronation”. Our friends from Oaxaca were kind enough to send us some photos of our pearl (have to get used to say “Her Pearl”) on its brand new gold setting. It looks very nice…an excellent job!
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.
This is the part where the story of the Virgin of Solitude’s new clothes meets us at the Pearl Farm in Bacochibampo Bay. But even if this retelling of the story may sound like a made-up story it is not: be it coincidence or luck or predestination we may never know. The only thing I can tell you is that it happened, and we made certain “connections” only until we had become more involved in this issue.
It was the month of June when Enrique received a phone call from Oaxaca, from a person (names withheld for privacy, but he’s the man on the left side of the photo) in charge of the remaking of the Virgin’s 18K flower (an Annunciation Lily flower). He had visited our pearl farm a couple of years before and he thought about us as a possible supplier for the missing large pearl. He clearly stated his purpose and we immediately offered our help by offering him 3 suitable pearls (we had not seen an image of the pearl). Photos were delivered via e-mail, but our offering was refused because the pearls were “small” (9-10 mm) and too colorful. “You need to search harder” we were told. The three of us knew -we just knew, we had finished harvesting some pearls- that we did not have a larger, rounder and less colorful pearl available, but Manuel went back to the safe to take another look at the bag with the large pearls: there was no harm in just going to make extra certain of this fact. Actually, we were very reluctant to go back to the pearl stash, but he just said “Please, go look again and ask the Virgin to help you find a suitable pearl”.
A couple of minutes later -Enrique was still on the phone- Manuel came back (his eyes all wide) holding a large oval pearl of light gray-green-blue color, very suitable for the task. Enrique told our new friend from Oaxaca about the find and he answered very matter-of-factly: “Of course…the Virgin requires this of you”. Once again, photos were sent and the pearl was considered the best option by the group in Oaxaca.
The new pearl is a farm-raised or cultured pearl produced in our Pearl Farm in Bacochibampo Bay, Guaymas, Sonora. Unusually large (12 mm) for a pearl produced by our Rainbow Lip Oysters (Pteria sterna) and not as intensely colored, having a more subdued nature which makes it more similar to the original one.
Anyway, we traced the pearl’s history (yes, we keep track of each oyster and pearl in our farm) and found some information to be very valuable: the pearl oyster had been seeded by Douglas on December 18, 2007…almost two years before, but on the very day consecrated to the Virgin of Solitude (remember I mentioned that date on post 1?).
But there are still some other things to mention here, on the next post.
At this point we proceed by furthering details about the Virgin’s pearl. It has been described as a large oval shaped silver-white pearl. But we know so little about this pearl, not even its real size (we guessed it at 12 mm)…its origin is important because the people of Oaxaca want to replace everything to the most minute detail.
We know that the gold and the gemstones were all donated by local families -some of them very wealthy but many were also very poor- and since her original coronation took place in 1909 we have just a couple of leads here:
- The Pearl was a Natural pearl.
- The pearl was an Imitation (fake) pearl.
- The Pearl was NOT a Cultured Pearl.
Let us consider the possibilities now:
We know that Oaxaca’s coasts were used by the natives to obtain natural black pearls and one important reason for the Spanish conquistador’s military invasion to Oaxaca was its abundance of pearls. So, the pearl could have been a Natural Pearl fished from a large Black-Lipped Oyster (Pinctada mazatlanica), and gifted by a wealthy Lady or by a poor local fisherman.
In 1909 Mexico was still one of the World’s main supplier of natural black pearls. As a matter of fact, the world’s only commercial pearl shell farm was located in La Paz, in the lower California peninsula, and was owned by a Mexican-French Doctor by the name of José Gastón Vivès. His farm raised some 8-10 million pearl oysters and he had some 800 permanent workers (more about this farm in future posts). So, the pearl could have been secured at this site.
We don’t believe it was a fake or artificial pearl either. Why? Consider the facts: She is the Patron Saint of Oaxaca, she is a Queen in her own right. She is given 15 kilos of Gold for her crown and attire…emeralds, rubies and pearls. Would you bring her a faux pearl? Certainly not!!!
It was certainly NOT a cultured pearl because in those days -1909- Kokichi Mikimoto’s cultured pearl production was incipient and mainly devoted to the production of Mabe or Blister pearls. The oyster Mikimoto was using was the Akoya-gai (Pinctada imbricata), a very small pearl oyster that was -originally- only able of producing very small pearls (for today’s standards): 3 to 8 millimeters at the most.
So, this basically means the pearl was Mexican. The people of Oaxaca needed a suitable pearl for their Queen…and this is where another connection is made.
In the Spanish language there is a very old and common saying that states the following: “Pedir las Perlas de la Virgen” or “To ask for the Virgin Mary’s Pearls”, meaning -basically- that you are asking too much. This very recent story has to do with this popular phrase, but it is intertwined with many other stories. To some it may be overly simplistic, yet it is truthful.
Our story begins in the city of Oaxaca, a beautiful city full of history and traditions. This city is the home of “La Virgen de la Soledad” or “Our Lady of Solitude”: Patron Saint of the City. The local story states that the virgin was inside a crate that was to be delivered to the city of Guatemala, but the wagon that transported her broke down, the crate was impossible to carry to a new wagon so the Virgin clearly stated her desire to remain at that site.
I will briefly mention that this Virgin’s abode is the church that bear’s her name: “Basílica de la Virgen de la Soledad”. This beautiful temple has declared a cultural heritage by UNESCO in 1987. This temple was built on the exact spot where the Virgin decided to stay, this moment dating back to 1543. I will also mention here that the day dedicated to this particular Virgin is December 18, since this will be important in future posts.
Anyway, back in 1909 -exactly 100 years ago- the Virgin of Solitude was “crowned” in a special ceremony. She was gifted with a regal attire consisting of a cloak, a flower, a rosary and a crown: over 15 kilos of 18K gold in it, as well as many precious and semi-precious stones, including emeralds, rubies and many pearls (mainly found on the crown, the flower and the rosary), including a large nacreous orb (a big pearl) that hung on her forehead. I mean, this venerated wooden statue depicting the Holy Virgin Mary is not a small figurine…but a large, life sized human figure.
As you can imagine, this regal attire presented certain problems: it can attract the greedy, not only because of the wealth it represents but also because its artistic value (“Sacred Art”). And in January 10th of 1991 the Virgin was bereft of her garments. The crime is still unsolved.
The Virgin’s Coronation’s 100th anniversary takes place this year, and a group of people and the Catholic Church have worked towards the restoration of their patron Saint’s attire: they have already finished the golden flower, the new crown and are finishing the robe, all in full detail: including the large pearl that hung on her forehead.
This is were this story links with our story…