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 once more with the intention of sharing information about these beautiful marine gems. On this occasion will continue with the subject of natural pearls and specifically about how these gems are created in nature.
During the era scientific enlightenment in the late 1800′s, scientists from all over the world were searching to understand how pearl oysters were able of producing pearls, and their discoveries were fascinating. But some of the first things they discovered at to do with the internal structure of the pearl, since in order to obtain the truth it was necessary to cut open pearls and inspect their core. And what they found is that pearls are very much like onions, at least structurally.
When an onion is cut in half what we see inside are numerous concentric layers, each stacked on the previous one, and in a similar manner pearls are produced: the original seed that caused the pearl to originate will be found at its core, surrounded by millions of micron thin layers of Aragonite. Perhaps this is a reason why the ancient Greeks gave the name “Margarita” to the pearl, since this is also the word for “onion” (hence the name “Margaritifera” that was given in early times to many pearl producing mollusks, meaning “pearl bearer”) in that language.
In the above images of an onion and a natural pearl (both cut-in-half) we can see their internal resemblance, and going further into the deeper core we can also appreciate how their core is not round, but with each additional coating of nacre (in the case of the pearl) the shape becomes rounder, softer, although most natural pearls I have personally seen are rarely 100% round, most being baroque and a good proportion of them being semi-baroque in shape (mainly in the shape of buttons, bullets and drops).
But of course we do have several types of natural pearls. Many don’t look like the image that we have in our brains as being a pearl, but they are nonetheless pearls. We basically have two major groups of natural pearls: blisters and loose pearls. Of these two groups we would have subgroups as well. Let us begin with the pearls that could be considered the most common.
Perhaps some of the most common natural pearls are those usually referred as blister pearls in English, “ampollas” in Spanish or as “ampulles” in French, and we could even say that these laid the foundation for the eventual production of mabé pearls (also known as blister or half pearls). These pearls are commonly found formed on the pearl oyster’s shell, as a response from a very active “Bio-terrorist” (usually an animal that actively drills through the oyster’s shell). The reasons for this active attack on the oyster’s shell are varied and depend on the species that attacks the oyster, blister pearls being the result of the oyster’s defense mechanism against these intruders.
The varieties of organisms that “attack” the oyster’s shell are huge and include animals such as sponges, polychaete worms and drill mussels. Many of these creatures are not really after the oysters flesh, meaning there not there to actually eat the oyster but that they are actually just looking for a “home” and have been known as “domiciliares” because they usually make their homes inside the oyster’s shell and -unfortunately for the pearl oyster-these actually weaken the shell, making it really brittle and easy to break. Of course, these “Bioterrorists” will also come in direct contact with the oyster’s flesh and this interaction will almost certainly produce blister pearls.
There’s a variety of sponge known as, usually colored with a bright orange red or yellow with a sticky consistency, which grows on a large variety of shellfish here in the Sea of Cortez, and it seems to have a preference for the black-lipped pearl oyster (Pinctada mazatlanica). It can cause small lump like blisters, but I have never seen any pretty specimen of pearl caused by this sponge.
Another creature capable of causing blister pearls is the infamous drill mussel or pholids. These creatures –and here I also have to include the Cliona sponge- are actually filter feeders just like pearl oysters are, so we can be sure that they don’t attack the shell to eat the oyster’s flesh, but they have brittle shells so they need the protection of a hard substance around them. These little creatures can actually bore stone, wood as well as sea shells. We have seen numerous blister pearls formed by the attack of these agents, as well as in one loose pearl. These creatures also have a preference for black-lipped pearl oysters, but may occasionally attack older individuals of the rainbow lipped pearl oyster variety (Pteria sterna).
The group of organisms which we find more interesting in the case of pearl formation of the polychaete worms, mainly those of genus Polydora: slender worms usually with a bright red coloration. These worms have the capacity to infest pearl oysters to the point of weakening them and causing their death and in the process making the oyster produce numerous “mud blisters”, which may eventually become coated with nacre.
We have examined several varieties of the so-called mud blisters and in most instances where we have found are the remains of dead drill worms, as well as good quantities of very organic mud. It would be difficult to fully identify what causes this variety of blister pearl, but I believe that it is safe to say that it is a combination of the worm´s drilling activity and the entrance of mud due to the disappearance of the drill worm. What caused the drill worm to disappear? Well, we have also seen large numbers of predatory polychaete worms on the oyster’s shell and these may very well go after the drill worms and kill them, leaving their home vacated.
When removing a mud blister and cutting it in half we usually find a protective coating of protein secreted by the pearl oyster that that helps to coat the organic mud and that is in turn coated with nacre.
Unusual blister pearls
Some very unusual specimens have been found that include other varieties of animals as the cause, these include fish and crustaceans. Perhaps the most interesting specimen is that of a small fish that was found in the shell of a Mexican black lip pearl oyster that was fished in Baja California during the last days of the 19th century (this specimen is still kept in the American museum of natural history in New York). The fish was identified as a “pearl fish” (family Carapidae), which are usually associated with many species of clams and oysters and sea cucumbers (please use this link if you want to see an animated diagram of a pearl fish, if you’re a proctologist you will enjoy this). And although we have seen these fish inside oysters we have never had the fantastic opportunity of finding a “fish pearl”.
Pearl fish are not parasitic but instead they find shelter within the oyster’s shells. I believe most oysters would not be offended by the presence of this little fish, but in this particular case may be the little fish died and the oyster preceded to rapidly coat it with pearl or nacre, I don’t believe this could’ve ever happen with a live fish.
Other possible sources for blister pearls
Other organisms that could be turned into pearls -but that I have never seen turned into pearls- are the little shrimp and crabs that are found inside pearl oysters. The little translucent “pearl shrimp” are also found in many other species of clams, such as pen shells, and are typically found within the large Pinctada oysters. The species we find in the Sea of Cortez is Pontonia margarita, and we can usually find two individuals within an oyster (one male and one female, the male usually being the smaller of the two), this species does not seem to affect the pearl oyster.
Another type of crustacean we have seen inhabiting the oyster’s body is the “pea crab”; these little crabs are somewhat soft and quite clumsy, no wonder they need the protection they find inside an oyster’s shell. These little crabs have only been reported as found living inside the Australian silver lip pearl oyster (Pinctada maxima), but the Sea of Cortez has a variety that is only found within the rainbow lipped pearl oyster (Pteria sterna) and this will be the first time this will be reported in writing. The name of this species is still unknown (Pinnotheres sp.) and we usually only find one inside an oyster. We have seen some crabs causing a disturbance within the oyster that could eventually lead to the production of blister pearls, but we have yet to find a “crab pearl”.
So, what do you think about all the life-forms that depend or use a pearl oyster -in a way or another- for their survival? Life is indeed a web, and if you can save one species you will be offering an “umbrella” of protection for many others…
In our next chapter will continue talking about natural pearls and their possible origins, in the meantime I will continue hunting for additional facts and -of course- searching for more mythical pearls: I can clearly see myself wearing a pea crab pearl pendant.
Taking a small detour on our discussion about methodologies to identify between fake/imitation pearls and genuine pearls, we’re going into a more “historic mood”. We recently had a lively discussion with some friends about the name of our beautiful sea: the world-famous “Gulf of California” or “Sea of Cortez“.” Thus, we believed that this information would also be of interest to others who enjoy a more historical theme and because this year -2010- we celebrate the Mexico’s Bicentennial, which makes it all the more appropriate. If you want to be part of this debate, do take some time to place your comments.
Where do we get the name of “Sea of Cortez”?
The answer is almost obvious, although there are those who want to “forget” that Mexico is a country that resulted from being conquered by Spain about 500 years ago. This conquest was military and cultural, and gave origin to the country we now know as “Mexico” (although it is officially called “Estados Unidos Mexicanos” or “United Mexican States”) and the reason to why the official language is “Spanish” (or “Castillian”), the dominant religion is Roman Catholic and our “race” (or “races” some would say) and culture, including our renowned cuisine, is of “mixed-ancestry”: a multi-regional fusion of races and cultures. The name of “Sea of Cortez” then, pays honor to the Conqueror of Mexico, Don Hernán Cortés, a man very much interested in expanding the borders of the Kingdom of “la Nueva España” or “New Spain” and exploit its newfound wealth, including its “black pearls”.
“Official” versus “Popular” Names
Now, the debate arose because some feel that this name – “Sea of Cortez” – is not official and therefore must not be used or even be “remembered”, other consider that it should be “wiped out” unto oblivion. Our answer would be the following: we (Mexicans) have an Official Country Name: “Estados Unidos Mexicanos” which is used before international organizations (such as the United Nations) and even in a few federal institutions (such as INEGI), but we also have a common use or “Popular Name“, the latter being the one in the heart-and-minds of the common folk. Popular names are the ones meant to be savoured when used.
For us, it really would be the same case as in the use of “Mexico” and “Sea of Cortez”. There is really no reason to exclude one name over the other… both name can be used and they are in no way mutually exclusive. Thus it is almost impossible to imagine celebrating one of our National Holidays (such as “16 de Septiembre” or “20 de Noviembre”) to the cry of “¡Vivan los Estados Unidos Mexicanos!” (“Long Live the United Mexican States!”) instead of the most widely used “¡Viva Mexico!” (“Long Live Mexico!”).
Verifying the name of “Sea of Cortez”
This was the most heated debate point because it should focus on historical references on the use of the name of this area, and there are many references to varied names used by a large number of historical figures who visited this region during its exploration. Amongst these different names, we find some that specifically point to certain areas within the Gulf of California and do not make reference to this geographical area in general (the Gulf). Just to mention a few: “California” (which refers to the peninsula with the same name), “Calafia” (in reference to a mythical Queen of the exploits of “The Sergas de Esplandián“) and even other less popular as “Sea of Anian” (in reference to a mythical “ Strait of Anian“) and “Island of Pearls” (a very popular name for many great pearl producing areas). Under this frame of mind, another very appropriate name should also be that of “Sea of Seas” (using as a reference the name of “Puerto de Puertos” or ”Port of Ports” given to the Bay of Guaymas by Francisco de Ulloa in 1539). Which of these –then- is the most appropriate reference?
The answer cannot come neither from myths or tales… these were all necessary to inspire the “Conquistadors” unto action, but our references should have greater solidity. Who in New Spain had the skills to write down and record important events and references? Would the Spanish “soldadesca” (grunt soldiers) have these abilities? Probably the most robust and strong references would be found within religious missionaries (mainly Jesuits) and the public notaries that accompanied the conquering armies of Spain.
We therefore present an indisputable historical reference: a document written by the Jesuit priest Miguel Venegas, originally written in 1739 (although published in Madrid until the year 1752). This manuscript consists of 5 volumes and is entitled “News of the California and their temporal and spiritual conquest to the present time” and in volume 1 it records the following reference to this geographical area in general:
“The old discoverers called it “Vermillion Sea” and “Red Sea” because of the similarity of its figure and some color or appearance of its waters… they named it also “Sea of Cortez” in gracing the commitment with which the Conqueror of the Mexican Empire sought to advance through the glories of his conquests”
Thus we have reliable evidence on the name of this beautiful Mexican sea: “Vermillion Sea” or “Sea of Cortez”, and we can avoid any review of cartographic maps made by Europeans who –very likely- never visited this region (as it would be the case of Frederick de Wit, a famous Dutch cartographer who made the famous map indicating the mythical “Strait of Anian”).
You can use both names to suit your taste or preference, if you are doing any sort of “official work”, then by all means employ the name of “Gulf of California”, but you may use the name “Sea of Cortez” to your heart’s content, especially when you feel your heart’s beat increase when you contemplate a majestic sunset in Bacochibampo Bay, Guaymas, or when you enjoy a leisure stroll on the beautiful waterfront of La Paz, or when you gaze at the mystic beauty of Mexico’s largest Island: “Isla Tiburón” or when you simply enjoy a refreshing dip in “Rocky Point” (Puerto Peñasco)… no matter what part of the Gulf you’re in, you will always find a place for the “Sea of Cortez” within your heart.
We were also questioned about our pearls’ trade-name: why did we call them “Sea of Cortez Pearls”??? The answer: it was important for us that every single one of our pearls to have their historic legacy in their name; just as a child receives a name from its parents.
For us it was simply not dignified to brand them under a typical commercial name (they actually could have ended with a name like “Perliva“… a “Pearly Diva”) like any other mass manufactured product. We believe in our Pearl and we regard it as a true heir to the pearling heritage of Mexico, and we are proud to be able to produce limited quantities of these beautiful gems in Guaymas, Sonora, right in the heart of the Sea of Cortez…
I now invite you to make a small -5 minute- video- about the history of the “Sea of Cortez Pearl”… until next time…
A New Option: The Pearl’s Drill-Hole
Comparing drill-holes: true pearl vs. imitation pearl
Analyzing Pearl Jewelry:
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:
With great pleasure and satisfaction we announce the presentation of three pearl necklaces for the year 2010. As with all previous pearl necklaces that have been produced in Mexico since our pearl farm started operations, these necklaces are made using pearls from several crops or pearl-harvests; for these 3 necklaces, we have used pearls from the 2010, 2009, 2008 and even 2007 crops. You need extreme patience in order to produce a good string of pearls.
What makes these necklaces so special? Well, they consist of pearls produced in Mexico’s Gulf of California, a region known worldwide for its pearls, and these are cultured using a limited-production (4 kilos) scheme, these are the only cultured pearls that are produced under the “Fair Trade Gems” standards, the only cultured pearls that are produced using a “winged pearl oyster”: the “Rainbow-Lip Pearl Oyster“ or Pteria sterna, thus they are the rarest cultured pearls produced in the world and they also display a pink-red fluorescence under long wave UV rays, and are some of the very few cultured pearls that do not receive any “embellishing” treatments (physical nor chemical) … there are many more things to say about how special these pearls are, but this is just to lay the basics.
What we now need to do is present these three strings of pearls from the 2010 edition:
Necklace 2010 – A
This one consists of a graduated necklace with a length of 20″ (50.8 cm), made with 49 baroque pearls with a size (diameter) of between 8.0 and 8.7 mm, using “B” grade “Cortez Pearls” (“B” grade means that there are skin imperfections on the pearl and that its luster is not very high), the central pearl measure 8.7 x 9.1 mm . However, with its light gray color, unique shapes and its iridescent pearls makes it a truly exceptional piece. It has a simple yellow 18 K gold brooch.
This is an excellent pearl necklace when you consider its price:benefit. It is a baroque pearl necklace, but these pearls are soft baroques (not by human action), in short, although these pearls are asymmetrical shaped they posses very soft shapes that are almost spherical in appearance, thus they look “round” from a certain distance. It is quite uncommon for our Gulf of California cultured pearls to have a perfectly round shape (the reasons will be explained in a future post), thus our spherical shapes attain a far greater value than that of the most common shape: the asymmetric or baroque shapes-so this necklace achieves a relative low cost with great looks or “more bang for your bucks”.
This graduated multicolored 19″ (48.26 cm) pearl necklace consists of 51 baroque pearls with a size between 8.0 & 8.6 mm (diameter) and made with “A” and “A+” grade pearls (this means very good natural luster and a clean pearl surface) of exceptional colors. The result is a rainbow-like necklace with red, green, blue gray, black and purple pearls … As with the previous necklace, it features a plain 18K yellow gold brooch.
Special Edition “Bicentennial” 2010 Pearl Necklace
This is a truly a unique Cortez Pearl necklace, a piece of jewelry fit for a Queen and truly something that very few can own. We’ve placed this necklace at the same level of delicacy -for want of a better word- as some of our finest necklaces such as “Stella Maris” (2009) and “Bohéme” (2008). The central pearl is a gorgeous purple pearl (11.6 mm) with incredible green overtones (obtained from the 2010 harvest).
This 19″ (48 cm) graduated multi-colored pearl necklace consists of 49 near-round Sea of Cortez Cultured Pearls with sizes between 8.7 and 11.6 mm (diameter), and was made using the only “A+” and “Gem” grade pearls, featuring the most intensely colored pearls available, the highest natural luster and the best surface (“skin”) purity possible using only non-treated pearls. This necklace does not include a clasp, since the buyer usually acquires a specially made clasp for such a unique piece.
So far we have named this necklace as “Bicentennial” (Mexico turns 200 years old as an Independent country this year) but this name will be changed by the owner: in the purest pearling tradition these unique necklaces are named or are “christened” in the manner of other famous necklaces or Pearls of old. In today’s world, the vast majority of necklaces produced do not even deserve a nickname… but high quality pearls with a limited production are still worthy of this distinction.
Where are the other Cortez Pearl Necklaces?
Since our Bacochibampo Bay farm started producing loose cultured pearls in the year 2000, we have only managed to produce eight special pearl necklaces -with characteristics similar to those of the “Bicentennial” necklace- and we have always wanted for these to remain in Mexico, but this has not always been possible. So where are these necklaces? Here’s the list:
- 3 necklaces in Mexico, including the three most perfect and beautiful: “Stella Maris”, “Bohéme” and “Balandra.”
- 2 in the United States of America (“Maria” and “Isabella”)
- 1 in Italy
- 1 in New Zealand
Understandably, the owners remain anonymous. In the case of “Bohéme” it had the distinction of appearing in the book “Pearls” by gemologists Hubert Bari and David Lam, a book where the authors state (on page 86) the following about the “Sea of Cortez Pearl”: “It is perhaps the most beautiful pearl to have been cultured up to now” (Hubert Bari & David Lam. 2010. Pearls. Skira . Italy. 336 pages).
Where will the “Bicentennial” spend its Time? What will be its final name? That will be known soon …so, stay tuned!
This post started in an odd way because I was thinking about a nice, fresh, red wine than anything else. Thing is I was working on my pearls, sorting them for a photo session and both things -pearls & wine- became entangled in my day-dreaming, and since one thing leads to another I ended fantasizing about Cleopatra’s wager against Marc Anthony, which became the Myth of the “Most Expensive Dinner the World has Seen”.
The story -in case you haven’t heard it- goes a bit like this: the Roman General Marc Anthony is seduced by Queen Cleopatra and she wagers that she can offer him the most expensive dinner in the world. Marc Anthony, a man accustomed to Roman Power & Wealth, accepts because he does not believe the Egyptians can equal the excesses of a Roman bacchanalia. So, dinnertime comes and he is greeted by Cleopatra at an almost empty table (perhaps a small platter with dates, grapes and “Ibis wings”). They start with some nice cups filled with splendid Greek wine and finally he has to ask -being a Man, of course- “Where’s the Beef???”. Cleopatra languidly reaches for her earlobe and retrieves her earring, then removes the large natural pearl from it -again, very languidly- and drops the pearl inside her wine cup. She then says “Cheers” and gulps it all down in a noisy slurp-gulp.
At this sight Marc Anthony was probably very impressed -possibly with eyes the size of a Japanese Animé character- and with a dropped jaw. Cleopatra removes her second pearl earring to offer the Roman General his share of the fancy dinner but -in a non languid way- he lays a hand on the cup and tells her: “You have won. You have offered me the most expensive dinner in the World.”. So basically this is the story that has been heard by millions all over the World and throughout history. Some believe it to be 100% accurate, others think it is a very romantic story and others feel it is just “junk”. Regardless of your interest in the story what we offer you here are facts: Could this dinner have taken place in the way depicted??? Let us see…
First, the pearls are described as “large” so we would say that the pearls measured at least 12-14 mm in diameter and would have been difficult to swallow (although we certainly don’t have a clue about Cleopatra’s swallowing abilities) and the “Heimlich Maneuver” had not been invented so my guess is: why risk it? Some say the pearl was dissolved in the wine, so the next question would be: How long does it take for a pearl to dissolve in wine? Finally a question about the value of a pearl: we cannot compare the value of today’s pearls to that of pearls in Ancient times, when their worth was so high they could have been used to purchase a entire country or send a full military invasion (you may read the shortened account of General Vitellius and how he sold one of his mother’s pearl earring to start his military campaign here).
So, we devised a small experiment using 3 cultured pearls (all rejects, without commercial value) and 3 different substances: red wine (pH= 3.4), white vinegar (pH=2.4) and dilute Chlorhidric Acid (pH=0). So, let us describe what happened in a period of 24 and 48 hours of the pearls being exposed to these substances).
pH is a system to measure how acid (how corrosive) or how basic is a substance. Each number in the scale represents a ten-fold increase -or decrease- of the intensity or “power” of the substance, thus a pH=1.0 substance is 10 times more acidic than one measuring 2.0. Basically, that is it. So now, let us go into the experiment with pearl #1 into red wine.
Pearl in Wine:
Pearl #1 was a white pearl measuring 8.7 mm in diameter and with a weight of 1 gram. The pearl was placed inside a wine glass with a nice Chilean Merlot (pH=3.4) and…nothing happened. We could not see any activity on the pearl. After 48 hours the pearl measured and weighed the same, and once it was cleaned we could observe some small pock-marks on the pearl. This means that wine has little power to damage a pearl, thus I don’t believe wine could have been used to dissolve the pearl in time for dinner (after all: they had an Empire to rule).
Pearl #2 was a dark-purple pearl measuring 8.4 mm and with a weight of 0.6 grams and was introduced into white vinegar (pH=2.4) for 24 hours. The pearl was immediately attacked by the Vinegar’s acetic acid and we could see many small bubbles forming on top of the pearl: CO2 (carbon dioxide) that is released when an acid substance attacks the pearl’s Aragonite crystals. The results were conclusive: the pearl lost some weight and became smaller: 7.8 mm and 0.5 grams. The pearl formed a very weird looking “cocoon” on its surface, that basically made it look like it had been “bubble-wrapped”. This cocoon or sac is basically made of conchiolin, a protein employed by the oyster to bind the tiny hexagonal shaped aragonite crystals and form the pearl. Once the mineral is removed from a layer, the protein will float in a ghost-like manner around its pearl.
After 24 hours the pearl’s appearance changed dramatically, exposing a large protein based area, the surface became deeply affected and even the color changed! (to a more green color). After 48 hours damage was more profound but the vinegar’s power had been spent. Adding fresh vinegar to the cup ensured the total destruction of the pearl after 72 hours, when we finally reached the pearl’s nucleus.
Pearl in Acid
This test only has a scientific purpose, since it is unbelievable that Cleopatra & Marc Anthony would have used acid to dissolve the pearl and then drink it…at the risk of first loosing their teeth and then their lives. Also, Hydrochloric acid (pH=0) had not been invented in Ancient times, so it was not an option. What we wanted to find out with this experiment is: How long does it take for a pearl to dissolve in a strong acid???
Results: the pearl for this experiment (#3) was a beautiful oval shaped pearl measuring 7.7 mm and with a weight of 0.6 grams. After 24 hours, the pearl was severely damaged -its surface appearing like the walls of certain areas of the “Grand Canyon”- and it lost much of its size ( 7.0 mm) and weight (0.5 grams). After 48 hours the pearl’s destruction was complete.
Some things to notice about this experiment are: as soon as the pearl touches the acid, the attack is noticeable by the intense bubbling effect (just as with vinegar). After 24 hours we were able of noticing the same “protein sac/cocoon” that was seen in vinegar, but the bubbles were larger. After 48 hours, the pearl had been dissolved but we could still see the little “cocoon”, but now floating on the surface…having lost its weight. Once extracted from the acid we extracted the remains of the pearl: basically a dark colored protein…
So, now I invite you all to watch a 5 minute video of these little experiments. I wish to take this opportunity to thank Jazmin Rangel for playing the part of Cleopatra for our video. I wanted to play the part of Marc Anthony but found not a single “Roman” costume available in my size, but then again…there are many more myths that must be addressed so I will eventually have the chance to play a “Yaqui diver” or “Spanish Conquistador”.
Well, hope you liked the video. I had fun making it. Did you notice “Cleopatra’s solution” to the “pearl dinner” dilemma???
The Final Solution
What would have been Cleopatra’s solution? She could not wait for the pearl to dissolve in wine nor vinegar, so the obvious solution was to pound and pulverize the pearl and pour the “pearl dust” into the wine, ready to be gulped down and become the “World’s Most Expensive Dinner”.
Thus another “pearl myth” is demystified, but we still have quite a few left… so keep visiting us.
Natural Pearls…this small phrase can mean different things depending on which portion of the food chain you are located in, so it can either mean utter nacreous ecstasy or feverish anger. Whatever your feelings are, every year we have the fortune of finding a few natural pearls within our farm-raised “Rainbow Lipped Pearl Oysters” (Pteria sterna). This quantity varies tremendously depending on environmental conditions (although some people have gone far to suggest that this depends solely on the actions and decisions taken by certain Political Party members…but no, it is certainly not the case) and the way these conditions become more propitious for the development of certain bio-elements (just a fancy word for “little water bugs”) that are normally found in our oceans.
For us, 2007 was an astounding year in Natural Pearl production, whereas 2008 & 2009 were not very productive in yield, but we did find a couple of very exceptional pearls (see “The Virgin’s Pearl” account of this same Blog). This year seems to be more similar to 2007 in pearl yield and quality.
So, before we proceed with the data from this year’s natural pearl harvest, let us watch a short video on natural pearl harvesting (taken from the 2007 natural pearl harvest):
If you paid close attention to the video, you will have noticed that all natural pearls were found inside a thin, semi-translucent membrane that was attached to the oyster’s mantle. This membrane is known as the “pearl sac” and it is where the pearl develops…in the same way a baby would develop inside a womb. A similar “pearl sac” is formed to produce a cultured pearl, but in this case the pearl sac develops inside the oyster’s gonad and due to Human intervention. Thus, when we find a natural pearl it is quite a surprise (similar to when you are told your wife is expecting twins…trust me on this), there is no Human intervention in their production. To notice the differences between the harvest of natural pearls (the video above) and that of cultured pearls you can now watch this other video:
Now that you have seen both videos you can realize how differently these pearls come to see the light of day or are “born unto the world”. Another significant difference between natural and cultured pearls is their size: most naturals we obtain are in a size range between 1 to 7 mm, whereas the smallest cultured pearls we obtain measure 8.3 mm in diameter. But perhaps the most striking difference would be quantity: you always obtain many more cultured pearls than natural pearls.
In a future post we will talk more in detail about how natural pearls are produced: their incidence, what causes them to appear (a grain of sand of course!!! sure…maybe it was a politician that came up with such an answer), but for the moment I just want to post some photos of some of this year’s natural pearls…let us begin!
This “cute” little natural pearl has quite some personality. Measuring 1 cm at its widest, it has the shape of a toon-like tortoise, complete with a little eye.
It is not the prettiest natural pearl we’ve harvested here, but it now belongs into a select group of “unconventional” pearls we’ve found, such as: doves, cats, hearts, aliens (pretty certain it was a so called “Gray“) and the “American Classic”: Mickey Mouse.
The next pearls are much more beautiful, but more “pearl shaped”, and by this I don’t mean “round”. Very few natural pearls we’ve harvested (out of hundreds in our 16+ years of work) have been perfectly round, and those that have this shape are usually very small (less than 2 mm).
Now we have a pair of “good sized” (7 mm diameter) baroque shaped natural pearls, slightly flattened (something quite normal in natural pearls). Their main color is dark so they would be considered “black pearls”…a term that I don’t particularly like because the Gulf of California Pearl is much more colorful. The one to the right has a red-wine coloration (probably Pinot Noir) and the one to the left has a blue-green-violet coloration.
Now, we have a pair of pearl trios. The first one in sizes around 5 mm in diameter, but I believe they are even more beautiful than the larger ones: truly a case of “Bigger is not necessarily more Beautiful”. And the following trio (in sizes of 3 mm) are even more striking: some pearls even display the much coveted and desired “Fish Eye” effect.
These little pearls have very strong overtones, the one in the center having the most intense “fish eye” effect.
And to wrap it up for today…a beautiful pair of 8 mm natural pearls with very different colors: one is light gray with a strong violet overtone, the other one has a dark electric-blue coloration. One reason why pearls were known as “Unios” in the Latin language of Ancient Romans is because they were clearly unique, distinctive. These natural pearls are truly deserving of such name…but their Gulf of California Cultured Pearl counterparts are just as unique as their famous predecessor…you will not find any “Clonios” around here.
It is finally here…that special moment that takes place only once every year here at our Pearl Farm: the HARVEST. This year we expect to have a lower yield of pearls in comparison with last year’s, but we believe this harvest will be more beautiful than 2009′s.
All these pearls will be harvested from our Pearl Farm in Bacochibampo Bay, Guaymas, Sonora, México, in the central portion of the Gulf of California or Sea of Cortez. The pearls we produce are exclusively grown in one of our native pearl oysters: the “Rainbow Lipped Pearl Oyster” (Pteria sterna). I want to use this opportunity to clearly state that WE DO NOT PRODUCE pearls using the local “Black Lip Pearl Oyster” (Pinctada mazatlanica), because there are some “experts” that say we do, but we don’t. You can use a nifty UV light to see how our pearls glow pink-red, an attribute of pearls produced from the “Rainbow Lipped Oyster”.
Some interesting facts about this harvest is that we will -apparently- have softer and rounder shapes, with a very thick coating of nacre. As an example: we obtained a 13.7 mm (diameter) pearl, and we know -for sure- that the largest bead employed that day measured 9.5 mm in diameter…thus we know it has a 4.2 mm thick coating, or 2.1 mm per side which is what you would expect out of a good South Sea Pearl.
Colors this year seem to be more on the Lighter side…mostly light grays, but the colorful pearls are very colorful and intense, as you will notice on the photo below:
The next photo displays some of our light colored pearls, but when they have baroque shapes they will display very intense iridescence.
The intense colored pearls are coming out in stunning shapes and with great overtones…
Finally, a selection of Gem+ grade pearls: great natural luster (our pearls are NEVER polished), excellent surface (clean, unblemished), intense colors and beautiful overtones…
Finally, the pearl I came to Love from the minute it was plucked out: I christened it as “Matryoshka”, a most Slavic name for such a Mexican Pearl…but once you see its shape you understand why I named it this way. It has the most intense Aubergine color I have seen in years…
Will continue adding updates as the harvest proceeds…
This little “test”… this is yet another one of those “universal” relics that serve to identify pearls, and people around the world are still using it to prove that a pearl is pearl (and not an imitation) and that -unfortunately- is simply inaccurate. But the beauty of a myth is how we can demystify it. Let us first unravel the inner workings of this sophisticated dental identification system.
The Dental Identification System or “Tooth Test”
The reason why it is called the “Tooth Test” is because it uses your teeth as the main source for confirmation. How can we apply it? Many people will say that the pearl should be “bitten” gently between the pre-molars, yet others say it should be gently bitten with the canines or the incisors (or front teeth) and yet others state that the pearl should be rubbed on the incisors. Which is the correct method?
The best way to do this test -in our experience- is by holding the pearl between your fingers and then rubbing it against one of your upper teeth (incisors), near the area in contact with the soft tissue (gums) of the mouth, but not above nor on top of this tissue (I forgot to mention that it is essential that the user’s teeth must be clean). We will use a slow sideways movement (see diagram) of the pearl upon the tooth, do this slowly and applying some pressure or force upon the tooth, since we want the pearl in intimate contact with the tooth. What are we going to feel? One effect we will notice will be a “gritty/sandy” sensation, as if we were scratching a blackboard (remember how your teachers would do that?). As sound travels through our teeth and bones, it is even possible to hear a faint “scratching/rasping” sound.
What if the pearl is false? Depends on the imitation. For example, if the fake or imitation pearl is of the economical (or “cheap”) variety, it will feel very light (not heavy) and, when the tooth test is applied it would feel smooth. But in other types of imitations -such as with “Shell-Pearls”- the weight of the “pearl” would be heavier against your tooth (the interior of this imitation is a kind of ceramic), but the “pearl” will feel smooth and no scratching/grating will be felt on your dental piece.
Now, how about a “Majorica pearl”? Ah! Excellent question, because this is the most common imitation available. Well, this so-called “pearl” would have a “good weight” -similar to that of a pearl due to its glass-bead core- and may also yield a “scratching/grating” sound. In this way it will feel “rough”, similar to a real pearl. But is the “Mallorca Pearl” a real pearl then? No, this is not evidence enough, there are many other tests available (see the entry of “The Myths of Pearl and Oyster # 4“), but these imitations are indeed trying to imitate a pearl in the best way possible.
But in order to understand the scratching/grating upon the tooth when we use this test, we have to go to a place we have not really examined in detail: the pearl’s surface. With the help of a microscope … we will find apparent so far.
Pearls -the vast majority- have a sort of “fingerprint” on its surface. This is known as the “spiral pattern, and formed several different spiral types, depending on the species of oyster that forms the pearl: each type of pearl could be distinguishable from another just by comparing their spirals, almost in the way we compare Human fingerprints today. Unfortunately it is difficult to obtain these images without the aid of a microscope (100 magnification at least), but the attached image can help us understand better.
Now, we’ve talked about the spirals because this is very important in order to understand what happens when we have the pearl-tooth interaction.
Let us understand some of the features in our teeth: they have an uneven surface and they are coated with a bio-enamel known as “dentin” and this material is much stronger than the pearl’s nacre (dentin has a hardness of 5.0 on the Mohs scale, while the pearl has a hardness between 2.5 and 4.0 Mohs). So, in essence, what we do when we rub a pearl against our tooth is that we ARE scratching the pearl’s surface: the tooth’s uneven surface violently scratches the pearl’s spirals. Yes, this bad method of pearl identification will damage our pearls and will actually lower their value.
But now, why does the “Majorica Pearl” have a response similar to that of a real pearl? Again, you have to go where we can not easily see: the surface of these imitations. Unfortunately I don’t own a digital microscope to take pictures of these imitations, but let me use the following picture to explain the phenomenon: the image of the left (photo credit) is dry mud/clay. Rapid drying of the humidity in the mud allowed the surface crack or flake , giving rise to these marks or stitches. And what does this have to do with an imitation pearl like the “Majorica Pearl”? Well, these imitations are made by applying several thin coats of varnish/lacquer/paint some or all which are UV treated in order to dry them up quickly, and the paint ends up having a similar texture as that of the paint, allowing for the effect of roughness or grittiness…similar to that of the spirals on a pearl.
Now what does all this mean to you? Basically, you that you CAN NOT trust the famous “tooth test” because:
- If you use it on a valuable pearl,you will cause some damage on it and you will lower its value.
- If you use it on some imitations, you may identify an imitation pearl as a pearl.
- If you own polished pearls, you may confuse them with imitation pearls.
So how can you identify a pearl correctly ? For there are many different ways … and we will write about these practical methods in the near future.