After a short absence due to our many obligations at the pearl farm and also at the Gem Show in Tucson, Arizona, we continue to share our experiences in the pearl production. And for us, an important part of our aquaculture process is based on Environmental Sustainability: the production of pearls with full-respect for Bacochibampo Bay’s ecosystems.
An It is because of this reason that -through the years- we have carried out an active process of re-stocking of several native species, whose populations have become endangered because of the fishing activities carried out by the locals. Among these species we can list the following: the “Black-lip pearl oyster”, the “Lion’s Paw Scallop”, the “Pen Shells” and the “Sea Cucumbers”.
However, our efforts have not been effectively transmitted to the general public because we basically have a one-man PR department (me!) and that I do spend most of my time working (as expected!) either in the production of pearl oysters and their pearls OR in the process of selling pearls and pearl jewelry; and the little time left from these occupations does not allow us to carry out an effective social communication effort although we do have our website up-&-running, as well as this blog (in two languages), a Facebook page and a Tweeter account.
But this year we have the fortune of having two young, bright and hardworking students helping us out at the farm. These students of the Guaymas Campus of ITSON (a local Public University) are about to graduate as Bachelor’s in Tourism. Thanks to an academic program of this important local institution, this young pair will help us in two very important areas: Sales and Research.
In the Sales area we have the invaluable assistance of Miss Veronica Machado and in the production area we have the strong support of Jesus Antonio Mendoza. Jesus Antonio -known by his nickname “El Tigre”- is helping in data collection and analyzing the important biological information for several small projects, including the “Sea Cucumbers Project” and the bio-cleaning of pearl-cages.
I have asked Jesus “El Tigre” Mendoza to write a bit about his experiences of working in our pearl farm, as their training focuses mainly on tourism and he has a very different way of viewing our pearl farming activities: this is an entirely “alien concept”. And this is his first contribution to the Blogosphere. I hope you will be able to see things through the eyes of this young man:
From a very young age I have had great admiration and respect for nature, especially for all the natural resources that exist in the region where I live; I have always admired the contrasting combination found between the mountains, the desert and the sea. Despite of living in a place where the climate is extreme and where there is almost no rain, I’m always surprised how plants and animals have adapting to survive in these arid lands, and how our people have learned to survive.
I live in a very popular city located in northwestern Mexico: the famous port of Guaymas, located in the state of Sonora, which is situated on the shores of the Sea of Cortez (aka Gulf of California). This port’s economy is largely dependent on fishing, although in recent years has all fisheries have declined, due to over-exploitation, and thus this activity -in turn- came to be partially replaced by the maquiladora industry, but these do not provide the same quality of life –as fishing did- to our community.
It is until now that I have come to understand the great importance of the Sea of Cortez, not only for Guaymas but for the whole world: this sea has a unique biodiversity of marine species, all which are part of a large marine ecosystem on which we all depend for our survival. Species such as the vaquita marina, and the native species that are found at the pearl farm, such as the sea cucumbers, the many starfishes, the Cortez Angelfish, among others are just a part of a long list of flora and fauna that live in our waters.
The Gulf of California is also breeding place for beauty and rarity, the home of a Gem which is produced by a rarely-known pearl oyster species: the “Rainbow Lip Oyster”, an animal that produces pearls of intense and diverse colors: red, purple, blue, green and rainbow-like. Here at the farm they become high-end jewelry items, used primarily by women that visit this farm.
Soon –and thanks to the help of Veronica & Jesus- we will be finalizing details of our next “El Mechudo” video and we will have additional presentations from Jesus and Veronica.
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!
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…
Continuing with the subject of “pearl culture and the environment”, we will now talk about some of the reasons why a farmer will not want to culture his pearls for a longer period of time, and also of how a pearl farm can affect the environment: but remembering that this can be in either a positive or negative way.
Behind every great Pearl there is a Great Pearl Oyster…
By “growing” or raising young pearl oysters (usually known as “spats”)
- By means of the Fishing of Wild Fully-Grown Pearl Oysters (adults)
The Pearl Cultivation Period
Water pollution: oil spills, water runoffs with fertilizers/pesticides, etc.
Environmental disruption: that can be as dramatic as a tropical storm (hurricane) or a tsunami, or even something as subtle changes in ocean currents or extensive climate changes (such as those caused by a “El Niño” or “La Niña” year), which can range from the partial destruction of a farm (see our series of posts on “Pearls and hurricanes”) to massive pearl oyster mortalities, or that prevents their development, the growth of pearls or their lack of beauty.
Accidents: at times – and we do know of this – a commercial fishing boat may simply decide to fish on your farm, and become entangled with your aquaculture gear; this –of course- only happens if the ship’s Captain decides that he does not want to respect a no-fishing zone and does so at night, when there is no visibility. This has happened to us.
The “Right Time”: No more & No less
- Do some species disappear or some (new ones) appear?
- Are there are any changes in the ocean’s floor (smell, color, grain size)?
- Are there any physical and chemical changes (salinity, pH, dissolved oxygen) in seawater?
- Are your oysters healthy?
- By using “spat” or pearl oyster juveniles: this can be done by either collecting juveniles from the environment or through the purchase of “Lab raised spat”, produced in highly specialized production centers;
- Fishing for “Wild Grown (adult) oysters”: these animals are usually obtained by fishermen that will sell the wild-raised pearl oyster to a farmer (at a price that ranges from cents to some $15 US dollars per oyster, pricing depending on multiple conditions) or by pearl-divers that are employed by the farmer. The preferred oyster sizes range between 10 and 16 cm (4-6 inches) in diameter, which will allow you to grow larger pearls.
Just a couple of days ago a friend of mine –he is a retired Canadian farmer- and I were discussing the way the North American “Meat Industry” (beef, poultry, pork, etc.) had become misguided by the constant search of higher volumes of production (which, somehow, equal MONEY), but this was being done at the expense of both the animals and the consumers (all of us). Kurt began by telling me about his experience when dealing with local Animal Sanitation officers, about the indiscriminate use of antibiotics on cattle and the plain lack of “common sense” on the part of those involved in the industry. He told me: “I did not inject my animals with antibiotics, but instead I offered them land on which to forage, clean straw-bedding and care. My animals never developed the infections I was told they would suffer and they fattened better than those under the strain of antibiotics”. He cared for his animals and treated them with respect. Some in the industry seem to have noticed the same thing and have reverted to “the Old way”.
Just a couple of days later we were reading an “old” article written by Shigeru Akamatsu, a person with much influence in the Pearl Industry (being Counselor of the “Japan Pearl Promotion Society”, and he started as a pearl culture researcher under Kokichi Mikimoto’s leadership) and I felt this article tied in perfectly with the talk I had with Kurt, and thus this entry got its start.
The Reasons Behind the Changes
The article “Pearl Culture and the Biological Environment” (published in “Ship & Ocean Newsletter”#8G March 5, 2004) which can be downloaded in PDF format is quite interesting because it finally approaches the decline of the Japanese Pearling Industry in a way that is finally understood: the industry as a whole has to admit its guilt. No longer is guilt being laid upon the “wrath of Nature” in the way of red tides or mysterious diseases. And although Mr. Akamatsu does not mention it this way, I could read the word “greed” on certain paragraphs…but he never mentions this sin, rather handling it in a more political way by using a term like “in the pursuit of economic efficiency”.
Mr. Akamatsu states in this article’s first paragraph:
“Japan dominated the world’s cultured pearl industry for many years, but in recent times that state of affairs is changing rapidly. Though the rapid globalization of the pearl industry can be considered as one of the reasons, the primary cause is the deterioration of pearl farms caused by the occurrence of harmful red tides and the massive mortality of Akoya pearl oysters due to an infectious disease. Such phenomena relate not only to pearl culture, but also to BSE, carp herpes, avian influenza, etc., and may be the price paid for not treating animals as living creatures, in the pursuit of economic efficiency, as well as for incessantly changing the natural environment for the expansion of production.”
When pearl culture began in the early 20th Century, the overall idea was to produce a natural pearl substitute but that would keep the attributes of the pearl: beauty and durability. Initially, pearl culturing periods were long (2-5 years) but many in the industry noticed that pearls with shorter culture periods still looked nice (1-2 years) but then they saw that most people could not tell the difference between “instant pearls” (4-8 months) and those with a longer culture periods, thus shorter pearl-growth periods became more common…and profits increased. Why would profits increase? This is something that every pearl farmer understands, but let me explain it shortly: each pearl oyster in your farm costs you money, every day.
In order to cope with mounting costs (labor, equipment & fuel) pearl farmers can use many strategies, such as:
- Increase stocking density: you grow more oysters in the space you already have.
- Decrease your Work-force: substituting manpower with machinery and equipment.
- Decrease your Pearl Culture Period: you grow your pearls in less time.
Let us talk about the implications of each of these strategies.
Growing more oysters in the same space you had may sound efficient: If you can fit 10 books in a box that once only held 7 books –thanks to a more clever way of arranging your books- then you have done this in a more efficient manner. But it is not necessarily the same with living organisms: animals –even plants- will thrive under adequate conditions, but overstocking/over-crowding will yield unhappy critters…and this brings about stress.
Imagine you live in a 10 x 10 meter room (sounds like a prison-cell, doesn’t it?) and all of your basic needs are fulfilled in this space that has a toilet, lavatory, book-case, table and chairs, bed and TV set. Now imagine you have a new guest, it may become uncomfortable but livable, but now: crowd the cell with 8 more “guests” for a total of 10 people…1 per square meter. Life becomes unbearable for all: can’t eat, can’t use the toilet nor watch TV nor reach for a book, then there’s the lack of food, stress, the smell and finally disease. Not a nice option…would it be nice for an oyster? Our mollusks don’t have brains nor conscience so they will not suffer any psychological damage, but their bodies will indeed react to overcrowding by displaying less growth (become stunted), will be less healthy and will become sick (ultimately they will die) and their pearls will lack beauty.
We can actually tell when an animal did not enjoy a healthy life when we see its shell and pearl: unhealthy oysters will have dull shells, without intense colors (the trade-mark of our “Rainbow-Lipped Oysters”) and their pearls will have dull luster and light colors. But overcrowding oysters is not the only factor that will affect their health: the environment (pollution, climate change, hurricanes) and disease (caused by parasites), but these are not under the control of a farmer. It is up to the farmer to have healthier pearl oysters by means of adequate stocking densities.
Infections are a major headache for producers: infected oysters may quickly infect their sisters & brothers under crowded conditions, and since overcrowding makes oysters weak –due to a combination of lack of food and oxygen- and parasites can easily “jump” from an oyster to many others if the distance is short.
In our case we hold our “Rainbow Lipped Oysters” under more than adequate conditions inside Bacochibampo Bay: we use less than 1% of the bay’s entire area and there are no other mollusk farms in the vicinity (the closest one is an edible oyster farm in Kino Bay, some 180 Km/112 miles away). We are making sure that our fledgling venture will not follow the same course as others, but let us see what has happened in other pearl producing countries:
The Cook Islands: here we’ll cite information about pearl-farming mortalities caused by overstocking (you can read the whole article by downloading the PDF file from the link):
“In Manihiki Lagoon, one potential stressor which may have been related to the onset of mortalities was the high stocking density. Prior to the disease outbreak the number of oysters cultured in Manihiki Lagoon was reportedly at an all-time high. In conclusion, our data suggest that an unprecedented disease outbreak in P. margaritifera [the Black-Lipped Pearl Oyster] in Manihiki lagoon in November 2000 was associated with vibriosis caused by V. harveyi [a species of Vibrio virus] and other opportunistic vibrios.”
Japan: When we began our experimental pearl farm in 1994 we heard about a “mysterious disease” that was killing the Akoya Pearl Oyster and that nothing could be done about this “viral outbreak”. The blame was laid entirely upon an “unknown virus” and you can read some of the thoughts of the time (taken from “NOVA: the Perfect Pearl”) on the following paragraph:
“Experts attribute the initial oyster deaths in 1994 to “red tide,” a bloom of microscopic, toxin-producing animals in the ocean that proved deadly to the oysters. Even after several years of scientific investigation, the specific cause of the disease remains a mystery. The illness first makes itself known when the abductor muscle, which holds the two parts of the oyster shell together, turns a reddish-brown. Ultimately, eight out of ten affected oysters die from the affliction, which so far has only affected akoya oysters. Others feel the oyster farmers themselves might be to blame. “The Japanese have always tended to place too many oysters too close together” wrote Andy Müller in the December 1996/January 1997 issue of Pearl World.”
So, in both instances we’ve seen that over-crowding –both your cages and your bays- leads to severe problems in pearl production. Why do it at all? Many reasons there are, but they are one and the same: the COST of floats, equipment (pearl culture cages), more workers (salaries), of paying for more “sea-rights”, the costs of moving away from densely packed areas into remote areas (devoid of many necessary services), but in the end they are all translated into the cost of producing pearls. If pearls kept a high value you would not need to grow billions of pearls, thus by producing more pearls the industry shot itself in the foot and a vicious cycle began to turn and churn.
Many people believe this is a major solution to a company’s problems, but we believe this is really a big mistake. Companies are nothing if they don’t have people: they are made of people and one of the purposes of any company should be the production of well-paid jobs. Making money is not bad and should be a goal of every company, but it should not be the sole goal: there is a particular pride to producing pearls and the people that help you achieve this… become your trusted allies.
Farm-wise: without workers a pearl farm would just die. Pearl farming is a work intensive operation, involving divers, aquaculture technicians, farm-workers, mechanics, surveillance guards and many other people. Loose one link and the rest will follow. And pearl farmers usually work under very specific time constraints such as: the seeding season, the spat collecting season, harvest season, etc. This means that if you DO NOT finish a certain activity ON TIME you WILL NOT BE ABLE TO FINISH IT AT ALL and will have to move to the next one, ultimately this means it is highly unproductive and foolish.
And something I really want to stress here is that pearl farming is very artisanal in Mexico: very little machinery is employed. And we want to keep it that way for several reasons which many may approve and others will disprove, and it may be one of the reasons why we ended up with the Fair Trade Gems seal of approval (the only pearl –so far- in this list is the “Cortez Pearl”): we have very few jobs in Mexico. Our economy just doesn’t work because it is fueled by our exports (mainly raw-goods such as oil, agriculture goods and metals) and our cheap labor-force (which is also “exported” to other countries) in manufacturing for offshore companies. If we purchased machinery that would allow us to avoid hiring additional workers we would be a part of the problem, not a solution…so, even if this costs us more and makes us less efficient we will continue on this path.
In a future post we’ll explain a little more about our labor strategies.
Pearl Culture Period
The longer the pearl resides inside its “mother” or “host” oyster, the bigger it becomes and the more “pearl” (nacre) it will have…but this also means you must continue to grow your pearl oysters for longer time periods. Many sources state that the pearl culturing period in Japan took between 2 to 4 years to complete, the Akoya pearl ending up with a very good coating of 0.95 mm (Ward, 1995). This good nacre coating made it possible for the pearl to look beautiful, lustrous and have the endurance –basically, to pass the test of time- that all gems should have.
But many in the pearl-industry noticed that most consumers would not be able to tell the difference between a thickly-coated pearl and one with a thin-nacre coating. Thus, a bad practice was initiated in the industry and pearl culturing periods fell to –in some cases- down to less than 6 months (with a coating of less than 0.2 mm, once again Ward, 1995 is the source). This saved farmers a lot of money in wages & cages…but, was it really worth it?
This issue was addressed quite some time ago by many in the pearl industry, but a particularly strong voice was that of the late Australian Pearl Farmer & Consultant C. Denis George, who in 1971 stated:
“The Japanese technicians are insisting that this thin cultivation [of the pearl] does not make any difference in the appearance of the pearl, but in my opinion this is beside the point and does make a lot of difference in the principles involved and their material value in dollars paid by the customer in the belief she is acquiring a pearl of value… This resulted in many losing their trust in pearls, other withdrawing from the industry or going bankrupt; and many scores of thousands of women all over the world…became bitterly disappointed when their treasure faded.” (Excerpt from “The Black Pearls: History and Development”. 1971. Lapidary Journal).
From a farmer’s perspective, there are many situations that will make you consider against having longer pearl culture periods, such as:
- Global Warming & Hurricanes
- Age of your Pearl Oysters
But regardless of these situations, a pearl farmer should have set his farm’s goal for nacre thickness and stick to it as much as possible. For instance, our pearl culturing period ranges from 18 to 24 months (after the moment the pearl oyster is operated), and this allows us to harvest pearls with an excellent nacre coating of 1.5 mm around the nucleus, although many pearls will grow over 2.0 mm of nacre, some will grow less than the 0.8 mm minimum acceptable standard. You really have to stick to this minimum culture period because you simply cannot accept anything below the 0.8 mm thickness mark…if the pearl falls below this number it has got to go down the drain (pearly gehenna: the pearls must be cast to the deep waters of the Sea of Cortez, where bacteria will recycle their materials).
Compare this to the Tahitian Pearl Ministry’s quality check for Tahitian black pearls in the year 2001:
“…the minimum nacre thickness requirement for all exported Tahitian pearls at 0.6 mm went into effect on Sept.1. The assembly voted to bump that minimum up to 0.8 mm beginning July 2002.” (“Tahitian Government to Improve Pearl Exports” by Victoria Gomelsky in Gemstone News. National Jeweler. September 2001 page 28).
This actually means that many in the pearl industry are –or were- producing pearls with a nacre thickness that is simply not adequate, and this affects those producers that are interested in keeping a high quality standard in their pearls, because –in the end- all pearls are considered as equals by many customers. Not so.
- Pearl Oysters are an important species in their local ecosystems, but too much of a good thing can ruin things for all so it is really important that you do not disrupt your environment’s carrying capacity by overwhelming it with billions of pearl oysters: healthy oysters will produce exceptional pearls.
- Keep your Local Jobs: If we were all able of making our companies thrive, then let us keep our local jobs truly local, by offering good wages and good working conditions; we might lose money by NOT having workers in other countries do the work we could on our own, but we would fuel OUR economy. If we all did our part our economy would grow and we would not have people leaving this Country for the one up north.
- Keep your Pearl Quality High: Good pearls are the first to go! Pearl buyers are always looking for the pearl of a lifetime…the pearl that will make them gasp in awe! Low quality pearls are good for trinkets or for feeding your local bacteria. Would like to finish this subject with a mention from the Bible:
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”
So, what do you think about this subject? Should producers consider the Environment as their Ally or as a “bloody nuisance”? What should you -as a pearl buyer- consider as a good trade-off? Please let me know your thoughts…in the comments area.
On our next post we’ll detail some of the reasons for not growing pearls for longer periods of time and some of the ways how pearl farming can affect the environment…both in a positive and a negative manner.
One nice thing about writing this blog is that it has allowed us to dig into a treasure chest of memories that span all the way back to 1993…not a lot for some, but surely more than a lifetime for some. And during these last 18 years we have seen and done many things, but even more importantly: we have met and known many people. This is perhaps the most important thing we have done here, because we know we have been able to touch many people’s lives…hopefully in a positive manner.
In this sense, our “Pearl Farm Tour” has given our “Cortez Pearl” a great audience. In the year 2008 we gave tours to almost 15,000 people, and from 2002 to 2007 our average yearly visitors were some 9,000 men, women and children from an impressive list of nationalities: the United States of America and Canada (together being almost 85% of our visitors), Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Peru (the Americas) and from the Ole Continent we can list France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Italy, Belgium, England, Scotland, Norway, Sweden, Poland, Russia and Turkey. From Asia: China, Japan, South Korea, Philippines and India. From Oceania: Australia, Cook Islands and Tahiti. And we believe this is an impressive list for this “small destination” known as Guaymas.
And what made it all possible? Tourism of course!!! But this area draws a special tourist that caters for a “real” destination, not for the traditional “canned” destination. By this I don’t mean that a “real” destination is better than any other…just different, and there are people that will enjoy both kinds. An authentic destination will give you the whole enchilada: the sights, the sounds, the people…but also the smell, the taste, the heat and the cold & the insect bites. It won’t leave you feeling empty. And what a great opportunity it is to have this enchilada served with the best guacamole, refried beans and horchata: a packaged deal tour known as “The Copper Canyon-Sea of Cortez Tour”. You would get to see and experience the beauty of the Chihuahuan and Sonoran deserts, the Majesty of the Copper Canyon, the culture and flavor of towns such as El Fuerte or Álamos, and the peace and serenity of the Gulf of California in the town of San Carlos-Guaymas…this has been an incredibly successful tour since the 1990’s, drawing thousands of visitors to the area.
How the Pearl Farm Tour got its Start.
And this might come as a surprise to all the people that have visited us: it began as quite an accident. Back in 1994, when Enrique, Manuel and I were studying our Master’s Degree at the Guaymas Campus of Tec de Monterrey, we basically worked for hours (even until late at night, with only the moon as a light source) at the school’s dock, with our very basic tools and equipment: plastic buckets and trays, old kitchen knives, calipers and home-made culture cages. So, we spent countless hours getting a nice sun-tan and managing our small farm consisting of scallops, pen-shells and pearl oysters. Neither tours nor tourists…just us and our little critters.
The accident was this: for many years –can’t really say how many- our Campus had a Kitchen-Lab for those students of the “Servicios Alimentarios” (Food Services), and they made all sort of goodies there: bread, wine, fruit drinks, a complete meal and dessert. This was done for them to learn…but after the learning they had all these goodies and they sold them every Thursday at the “Restaurant”. So, many students had a chance to enjoy a nice meal, but the American and Canadian residents in San Carlos would drive to our school to enjoy this good and inexpensive meal as well! Many of these temporary residents would go back to their country of origin –usually during summer- and return when the weather got better, and they would once more visit the “Restaurant”.
But, in 1994, our school suffered at the hands of the vilest enemy you can imagine: a devastating economic crisis. The number of students was suddenly reduced to about 120, because most families were struggling and could not afford to pay tuition & boarding for their kids. So the “Restaurant” closed its doors forever. But, many of the previous visitors were not told of this…and they came back, only to find their favorite lunch spot closed and they just started wandering around the Campus. I mean, you drive some 30 minutes and then: nothing. You have to at least try to justify your fuel usage! And these good folk would just walk down to the dock and saw these 3 tanned, long-haired kids just scrapping and measuring some animals and began asking questions…and that is how the tour got its start!
I mean, we got asked all sorts of questions such as: are these for eating? Do they taste good? Why do they move like that? Whoa! Can they squirt water that far?!?!?! Does it hurt when it bites your fingers? Are you married? Or –my favorite- How can you get such a beautiful golden tan? (Answer: spend three years working under the sun for at least 8 hours a day). And the weird part is that many found our work interesting (we were yet to generate results)…so they told other Americans and Canadians, and –by word-of-mouth- many more came and we began to enjoy their company (bivalves are good natured creatures, but not very talkative) and one thing lead to another: quite unexpectedly we started giving “5 minute tours”, explaining what we wanted to do and how we were going to “Revive Mexico’s Pearling Industry”. But, you cannot seriously expect such a small thing to become a “Major Touristic Attraction”. Another ingredient was yet needed…
The Main Course
In the meantime, there were several major tour companies using the area for its attractions, but mainly focusing on the State of Chihuahua’s Copper Canyon (not really one canyon, but actually 6 series of interconnected canyons that are about 5 times larger than the “Grand Canyon” in the United States), and these companies realized the potential of using Mexico’s Northwestern States to have one huge “Copper Canyon Tour”, that would draw the attention of a larger crowd: it would grow to include the beautiful Colonial Town of El Fuerte in Sinaloa and include the Sea of Cortez at Guaymas-San Carlos, and utilize Chihuahua’s strong-points such as the Canyon at Divisadero, Creel, the city of Chihuahua, the ruins of Paquimé and the Mormon and Mennonite communities in Nuevo Casas Grandes. And their Tour Directors were looking for new attractions…and somehow they heard the story of these naïve researchers that had begun growing pearls in Guaymas, and so came the first “scouts”.
And the first to come were Sergio Corona and Carlos Gaytán (in those days they worked with Grand Circle Travel, now they work for “A Closer Look Tours”). They met with us, asked about our research and the things we were doing, saw our jewelry (at about that time -1996- we had already produced a line of Mabe pearls in Sterling Silver Jewelry) and they gave us a bit of “coaching” on how to present our pearl farming venture and ourselves to their tourist groups. And that is how this unique link between a group of Pearl Farmers and dozens of thousands of tourists was forged. Just a couple of years later we were included in these companies official brochures, websites and catalogues.
The Good, the Bad and…the Ugly
Once we had a good idea of how to promote and offer a Good tour, we took some steps to make it available not only to those travelers enjoying the comfort of a fully guided tour, but to ANY PERSON that wanted to enjoy the same experience. Thus the tour was offered for FREE and people just had to ask for their tour. And it happened: success!!! We were having more and more people daily and we would be inside our “pearl lab” and we would have people knocking on the door, the door would open and a human head would stick inside saying: “Is this the Tour???” Needless to say, we started doing tours over and over…sometimes up to 7 times a day per person, 6 days of the week. Enrique and I started hallucinating: sometimes I would dream I was doing tours in hell, and we would dread the sound of a knock-on-the-door (even when in our homes). We just could not keep up, it was unhealthy. This was the BAD.
The new strategy was to have just one tour every hour on the hour. This helped a bit, but it still took too much of our time –and concentration- when we were doing the seeding operation; under such conditions we would begin to make more mistakes in our seeded oysters, reducing the amount of pearls we were supposed to produce. A tit for a tat, some may say…but inefficient for us. So we decided to hire some help and have a professional guide (after months of training) to help us with the small tours and this was… a blessing!!! We finally could devote our time to produce beautiful pearls, without the pressure of taking care of every single person that came to our farm. This was the GOOD. And we had many people in this position, some good, some not that good, and some very good. So, using this small place I would like to thank three of the best: Rocío, Karla and Diana. I really miss you gals…
And just when we thought it was safe to keep touring the pearl farm…we were struck full-force with “Murphy’s Law”. It all began in early 2009 when our country –Mexico- was struck with the “Swine Flu Virus” or AH1N1, and this event paralyzed the country and scared many of the tourists away. It took months to see a small recovery in the number of visitors…and then we were once more hit by a pair of unbeatable foes: the World Economic Crisis –that begun in the United States in 2008 and affected the entire planet- and we shall not forget “Mexico’s Drug War” that has not been truly effective in destroying the drug cartels, but has been incredibly effective in DESTROYING our touristic industry, regardless of the fact that the State of Sonora is considered as a “Safe State” or that our National Homicide Ratio is smaller than those of many other countries, but I’m not really going into detail with statistics, I’m just going to lay it down the way it is: we lost 80% of our visitors in 2009 and the trend continued in 2010. This is definitively THE UGLY.
The New Situation
Yes, we continue to have tours thanks to many brave Canadians and Americans that are not fearful of the machine guns, grenades and killings that take place…in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. It is quite peaceful down here, regardless of the news. The cruise ships have kept coming into Guaymas (we’ve got 6 this year) and we still have one important tour company coming in with busloads of tourists: A Closer Look Tours.
But, the reality is that we have had to downsize and we began enjoying the Bad again and we cannot take the beating: we have a pearl farm to run and operate. So, we have once more had to focus our efforts and have introduced a minor change to our “Pearl Farm Tour”, in effect since March 28th of 2011:
- Weekdays (Mon-Fri): Guided Tours from 9 am to 2 p.m. One Tour every hour on the hour.
- Weekends: Saturdays the Tours are from 9 to 11 am (also on the hour). Sundays we are CLOSED.
- Tour Rates are $2 USD per person (children under 5 do not pay).
At any rate, if you purchase your Pearl Tour and you decide to purchase an item at the Pearl Store, you will be able to redeem this amount off your purchase.
So, our apologies to all: we kept our Pearl Farm Tour fully FREE for ONLY 15 years, but now we hope to have 15 more years to offer you a great, educational and entertaining Tour on the new schedule. I hope you didn’t find this Blog entry to be too lengthy or perhaps a bit boring…it has not been boring for me to share this abridged story to you: it has been a quite a journey –still in the making- for us and it was worth telling it.
So, to sum it up: if you do have the chance to visit our Pearl Farm please do so. If you haven’t been here in a while take the time to bring some friends over, if you have never been here…what are you waiting for?!?!?
Here we are back again with this topic that I find increasingly interesting, due in part because I have used it as a form of catharsis, allowing me to remember one of the reasons why we started a Pearl Aquaculture project -some 17 years ago- when we were still students at the Guaymas Campus of the Tec de Monterrey. In those days, we first wanted to understand the reasons or logic surrounding the origin of natural pearls and how they are created within the pearl oysters and -of course- there was this previous “knowledge” about the origin of pearls: the mystical, magical, whimsical and musical “grain of sand theory“, which is really just another “pearl myth”.
Another Myth that Afflicts Humanity
It seems that regardless of the time period or place, this sand-grain-to-pearl myth has become very popular: it can be heard almost in any country and language. In my case my grandmother told me, when I was just a child, that pearls grew in an oyster as a result of an irritation caused by a grain of sand, so that there was no better choice for the little animal than to coat the painful and offensive particle with soft layers of nacre. I, of course, assimilated this important information and used it wherever there was an opportunity –and there were not many I must admit- until it came time to put this theory to the test.
Back in 1991, our select group of friends – including Mauricio Atl Tahuilan, Carlos Navarro Serment and Jesús Gutiérrez – had helped us to collect some 70 Pearl oysters to start off our studies on Pearl oyster reproduction and culture. Most of the oysters collected were “Black Lips” (Pinctada mazatlanica) and only a few specimens were “Rainbow Lips” (Pteria sterna), so we use some of these few animals for a very simple experiment: use sand to produce natural pearls. And the result was simply disappointing: we did not obtain a single Pearl. Zero. Zilch. Nothing. Nada. And there arose the question of why didn’t it work? Because we all know that a grain of sand will induce the production of a pearl…thus, a thousand grains of sand should be capable of allowing for the production of a thousand pearls and a million grains of sand …well, a million pearls!!! It was just so obvious and foolproof.
But it was not. As much sand as we used, we could not produce pearls. Not a single one. On the other hand, when we took a peek inside our oysters we noticed that the oysters were perfectly clean, without a trace of sand. We could not know -for real- what really happened in those days because we simply did not have the time to sit there -in front of an oyster- for some 24 straight hours. Can you imagine yourself sitting, just watching an animal that -for some people- is as interesting as a rock??? Therefore, we came up with conjectures and hypotheses, but we never quite knew what was truly happening; anyway, we were “satisfied” with our guesses. Many years have passed now since those days, and the technology to help us is now available –and is also inexpensive- to perform these small experiments…and, of course, for the “birth” of this Blog to have the motivation to write and document the experiments.
We used a small fish tank with clean seawater to introduce two “Rainbow Lipped oysters” into which we had –previously- introduce one and a half tablespoons of sand. We placed a small video camera to take a time-lapse video for the next 18 hours to record what happens to an oyster which has sand inside. The results did not astonish us, and lived up to our expectations.
After 3 hours in the tank, oysters would quickly open and close their valves, in a movement and launched a “cloud” of sand out of their bodies. This action removed a great proportion of sand from their bodies, but for the next 8 hours the oysters continued to, slowly, releases small “sand packets”. These “sand packets” consist of a sticky mucus that the oyster secretes in order to “bind” or adhere the sand, and thus it is more easy for them to remove the annoying particles. By next morning, the oysters were almost perfectly clean.
While – at first view – the oysters seemed to be clean from sand (we could see the most of the sand laying at the bottom of the tank) an oyster was sacrificed in order to inspect its body thoroughly, and we still managed to find a very small amount of sand inside. Under natural conditions, the oyster would have managed to remove all remaining sand in some additional hours, but here it was necessary to see the “mucus in action”: our video displays how the Oyster uses its mucus to catch some sand particles and helps to eliminate them.
Pearl oysters are perfectly adapted to their natural environment – the ocean – which has an inexhaustible source of sand. Because of this perfect adaptation, these lowly creatures can – very easily – remove every single annoying grain of sand from their bodies; thus, we can discard sand as being able to help produce natural pearls. In my opinion this is highly unlikely.
Thus, we hope that with the information generated by this test and the proofs on video we will help –once and for all- eliminate the false myth of the “grain of sand”. We hope that this myth will not become resurrected –a zombie of its former self- and come back to haunt us in the future… I swear that if I have to listen –once more- the question of “Is it not a grain of sand that makes the pearl?” something very, very bad, will happen …. I’m just joking: I have already been seared in the flesh –and mind and soul- with this question for years and years, so I am certain I will be able to sustain it longer (but try not to put me to the test, please).
A Blister Pearl!
While inspecting the oyster that was sacrificed for the “grain of sand experiment” I found a worm-like mud-blister pearl. Since our last blog-episode was about these pearls, and I already had the camera rigged it was just natural to make this information available for you all. So, I simply used a scalpel to break the mother-of-pearl layer on this “small tunnel” and found a small orange colored worm. It was clearly a drill-worm (genus Polydora). This discovery can be seen in the video as well.
This Blog will continue to have more information of interest to you, but probably this information will become a little more “spaced” in time, since our farming activities become intensified during the winter season and we usually spend more time at the farm than at the office (where I write the Blog).
So please do not despair, I promise more posts in the near future and do continue to visit our Blog and send your comments and suggestions.
We want to share with you the experience of having achieved the production of two unique -exceptional- pearl necklaces made from pearls produced at our farm in Bay Bacochibampo, Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico.
Both necklaces –one made of loose cultured pearls and the other from keshi pearls- are made using pearls produced by the native Pearl Oyster known locally as “Concha Nácar”, also known as the “Rainbow-lip Pearl Oyster” or by its scientific name Pteria sterna. If you have checked any world pearl production data, you will find that this is the only commercial farm in the world that employs a pearl oyster of the genus Pteria. So, all other pearl farms of the world use the so-called “mother-of-pearl oysters”, which belong to genus Pinctada. Thus, simply because of their rarity, a necklace made of pearls from the “Rainbow-lip Pearl Oyster” is really a very special piece, completely out of the ordinary.
Finally, we could talk with technicalities about the beauty of these pearls… that their Orient or overtones are exceptional, that their chroma or color saturation is simply out of the ordinary, that their natural luster is very high, but I think that anything that is said about these two necklaces simply PALES before what we can capture with our eyes… so we offer some beautiful pictures of these items, and you… you will be the one to decide whether they are beautiful and exceptional pieces.
“Bacochibampo” Pearl Necklace
Previously known as the “Bicentennial” necklace, but once it passed into the hands of its new owners it received it’s new – and very proper- name: Bacochibampo. This is a word which means “Bay of the Seven-headed Snake” and refers to an ancient Yaqui legend (of which we will talk in the future). It is also the name of the beautiful Bay in which we culture these pearls, thus we found its name to be more than appropriate.
This necklace consists of 41 cultured pearls, but if you recall (see this note) the necklace originally had 43 pearls, but the “missing pearls” were used to make a beautiful pair of earrings to go with this incredible piece.
Additionally, it gives great pleasure to say that this necklace found its residence in Mexico, adding to the number of Cortez pearl necklaces in Mexico to 4 (1 more needed to equal the number of necklaces found in other countries).
“Mares Lucis” Necklace
Whose name evokes the natural phosphorescence which we enjoy in a warm and dark summer night. This is our first great necklace but made with Keshi pearls. It was made at the request of a client in the US and it turned out to be a very pleasant task.
This necklace has 61 Keshi pearls harvested between the years 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. It is a graduated necklace, which means that the size of the pearls gradually decreases from the Central Pearl – of greater size – towards the rear. The sizes of the keshis vary between 3.9 and 6.7 (central) mm.
It was truly a privilege to work in the production of these unique pieces of jewelry. These are durable pieces that are meant to become true family heirlooms. For us the making of these necklaces meant:
1. That we took care of at least four different generations of pearl oysters (2005-2008), each one being looked after for a period of 4 years (this means 12 years of care, work and dedication).
2. The operation of thousands of pearl oysters, so that of these thousands only 1% would give us enough Gem quality pearls, in the sizes and shapes required for the production of these jewelry items.
3. A selection process that involves saving the best pearls from each year’s harvest, so we can have the pearls needed to produce one pearl necklace of this quality, every year.
So when they ask us if we cannot simply make another necklace like these we have to say: “We’d Wish!”… And hopefully next year we also have the opportunity and privilege to produce another necklace like these two… never identical, always unique, but of this same Quality.
The only that remains for me to do is to invite you to watch a short video with additional photos of the “Bacochibampo” pearl necklace…
We now commence a new blog-delivery with a new subject: pearl quality. How can we view this from the client’s standpoint? Let us ask the following questions: Why should it should I pay more for higher quality? What do I get in exchange?
And the answer should be clear and concise: quality gives you value and beauty. In the case of gems this should be of real importance, because these products must keep their beauty and their value in 5 or 10 or 200 years. A gem that loses its beauty also loses its value
How can we measure pearl quality? That is a very interesting question and one we hope to be able to answer in an easy and precise manner. In the meantime, we will tell you about a critical indicator of pearl quality: nacre thickness and we will see why this indicator is this so important. But first let us begin this post with a couple of stories…
A Life Investment
For millennia, human beings have purchased precious stones and metals, as well as jewelry and ornaments – made with these materials- for their personal use and enjoyment. Jewelry items are not only used as adornments or to establish “status” amongst people; they can also serve as a manner of “safe-guard” in moments of crisis. As an example, in many countries women adorn themselves with lots of jewelry and this can be of a great advantage at times: imagine that at moments of social unrest or economic struggle, that a family has to flee for their lives, keeping only what the family is wearing? Of course, you may own a pair of fancy tennis shoes, but that will not be enough to feed the family or pay a ransom, but your mother’s jewelry may be enough to help the family get on its feet again. Of course there’s also the question of quality: it would be better to possess a single high-quality –valuable- item, than 20 kilos of costume jewelry (it will not even allow you to run faster). Under this logic let us examine a relatively well documented case.
On October 1917 -during the Russian revolution- the new Bolshevik government began arresting all Russian nobility. This meant that the aristocrats fled their country, leaving behind their palaces, land, clothes and furniture, keeping with them only those items which had great value and were easily carried and hidden. Amongst these Russian nobleman was Prince Alexander Yousopoff (better known for his part in the assassination of Rasputin) who fled to Paris with some family jewels. Amongst his most precious treasure he had a pearl necklace (that some assumed had many Sea of Cortez pearls, due to the voracity Russian nobility had for fine pearls) that might have belonged to his mother, Princess Zenaida Youssopova. During his final stay in France, his economic problems became greater and finally –in 1922- he decided to sell this pearl necklace (it might be the one that appears in his mother’s portrait, although without the famous “La Regente” pearl, also known as “Napoleón’s Pearl”, because this pearl has its own unique story). The sale was done by prestigious jeweler Pierre Cartier, who was able to sell the pearl strand to a rich American heiress at a value of $400,000 U.S. dollars.
To be honest with you all, this story might have some contradicting leads (which I believe just adds a detectivesque flavor to it) and you may want to dig deeper into the story…just like treasure hunting. Some -like this reference- lead us to think that the pearl necklace might have originally belonged to Catherine “The Great” of Russia, but the necklace could’ve been part of the Imperial Russian treasury, although it is said but the jewelry was found by the Bolsheviks, hidden within a wall in one of the imperial palaces of the Romanov dynasty. In order to have a more coherent story we are using the information found in the “Cortez Pearl” website as valid.
Nacre thickness and pearl quality
For us, one of the main attributes to take into consideration is nacre thickness. To understand what this is all about, we can ask the following question: How much of your pearl is really pearl? Let us analyze this.
Most marine –or salt-water- cultured pearls are produced by the introduction of a small shell-bead -by means of a special surgery- inside the pearl oyster’s body, and over a length of time –the culture period- the little bead will become coated by millions of thin nacre layers, deposited one over the other (in the likeness of an onion) until the pearl is harvested. Under a short culture period (4 to 8 months) the pearl will have a thin nacre coating, but under a longer culture cycle (18 to 24 months) they will possess an excellent nacre coating.
- X-Rays: these are used to observe the shell bead within the pearl, and we can also measure the pearl’s nacreous thickness. This is a method that is employed by many pearl producing countries, such as Tahiti.
- Cutting the pearls in half: we select a sample of pearls that will be cut in half to analyze their nacre thickness. This is the best method to determine nacre thickness…but it might be a bit destructive for most people.
- Inspection of the drill hole: this is a difficult method to use and that will not ensure you of the pearl’s nacre thickness, but it does help to identify pearls with a thin nacre coating.
Additionally, we have indirect methods that may be utilized by different pearl farmers. We utilize a simple technique which provides us with very good information regarding nacre thickness: we utilize a group of control oysters in wish we only insert shell beads with a single size. Thus at the end of the culture period, we can measure the harvested pearls and determine their nacre thickness by means of the size difference between the shell bead and the resulting pearl (if we use a 6 mm shell-bead or nucleus, at the moment of harvest the pearls will at least measure 8.2 mm), but we can also gauge both the maximum and minimum nacre thickness in a given lot of pearls. Utilizing a combination of these methods we can feel assured of the nacre quality of our cultured pearls.
Harvest 2010- Nacre Thickness
We feel are grateful for this year’s harvest especially with the resultant nacre thickness, which was excellent. The range we consider typical of a Cortez Pearl is a minimum of 0.8 mm, with an average thickness of 1.2 mm and, in a rare occasions, exceeding 2.2 mm. With this nacre thickness, Sea of Cortez pearls are just as good –and sometimes better- as most South Sea pearls in the market today.
In the image above you can appreciate the nacre thickness of a group of pearls that was cut in half to evaluate their nacreous coating. Those with a thinner coating (left side) have a thickness of 0.9 mm, the average ones (central portion) measure 1.5 mm and the thicker ones (on the right side) may even reach up to 2.8 mm (in all instances I am just mentioning the thickness on one of the pearl’s sides, as seen in the following photo).
Sea of Cortez pearls: Our guarantee
A thick nacre coating means that the pearl has what it takes to display good natural luster -thus it will not be necessary to polish it- and for the pearl to have durability -to endure the passage of time- and to become a family heirloom. On the other hand a pearl with a thin nacre coating will seem dull and unappealing –unless the pearl is polished- lacking real beauty and devoid of orient, it will not be durable and can easily peel and crack.
The pearl we produce is guaranteed for life against natural defects if the pearl suffers any damage (not due to the wearer), then this pearl will be replaced by another one of the same quality for value. In most instances, any damage from the pearl is caused by the wearer such as scratches, damage caused by jewelers, and –sometimes-even being run over by a car, but these are exceptional cases.
If we take into consideration that a thinly coated pearl can have a “useful life” of only a few months to perhaps a couple of years, then a pearl with a value of $10.00 U.S. dollars becomes an expensive product:
- $10.00 divided by 8 months = $1.25 per month
- $10.00 divided by 24 months = 42¢ per month
But if the pearl has a thick nacre coating, then it has the potential of a long, useful life, well in the range of hundreds of years; but since this is something really hard to estimate, let us say that with a lifetime guarantee we are at least talking about 80 years. Thus if we have a pearl valued at $1,000 USD we are talking about a good price:
- $1,000 divided by 80 years = $12.50 per year = $1.04 per month
So, you get the idea: quality pearls actually give you more of everything. And, now let us go back to our question of “why should we be interested in a pearl’s quality?” but now analyzing it from the viewpoint of the pearl producer: Why should we invest more time to in order to obtain a higher quality pearl? What do we receive in exchange? The main thing you obtain is prestige to a proven quality and second: it’s a matter of personal pride (you can actually feel good about what you are doing).
Investing in quality is well worth it. In the future, we will continue to talk about other aspects of pearl quality.
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 …