I have been a “Pink Floyd” fan ever since my childhood friend’s brother tortured us both with a continuous -high volume- session of the Album “The Wall”. At first we were scared (Faustino’s intentions were to expel us out of the room), but then we became addicted to the music. The scheme did not work for him, but worked nicely for us. One of the albums I came to enjoy in the early 1980’s was “A Nice Pair”…and when you see these giant pearls you’ll have to agree it is a good name for this blog entry.
This summer presented itself with many challenges and opportunities, but also with unique experiences. We had a chance to visit a certain pearl collector, who had recently acquired two incredible natural Gulf of California pearls: one being a huge “Black Lip Oyster” (Pinctada mazatlanica) white pearl, and the other a large drop-shaped “Rainbow Lip Oyster” (Pteria sterna) pearl. As I’ve stated before: both were NATURAL PEARLS. In two decades of working with pearls we had never seen any like these, so we had to share this experience with all of you.
Pearl #1: The Big Yaqui
I gave this pearl this nick-name for a couple of reasons: 1) we were told that the person that obtained the pearl is from a Yaqui community in the southern part of Sonora, and 2) it is BIG!
This silvery-white baroque pearl was produced from a large, probably very old, “Black Lipped Pearl Oyster” that was fished out of the northern part of the coast of Sonora. When we saw this pearl, it had some brown colored protein deposits on the surface (they can be easily removed) and one of those spots even had the shape of a tiny “rainbow lip oyster” baby (spat)! The pearl was examined under long wave UV light to check for fluorescence and it had the typical blue glow of most pearls: just as expected from a Pinctada pearl.
The pearl weighed in at 106 Carats (21.2 grams)…a true solid beauty!…well, once you peel off some of the brown colored protein.
Pearl #2: The Mermen’s Teardrop
Now, as most of you already know (if you’ve been a loyal follower of this blog) the “Rainbow Lipped Pearl Oyster” is not considered to be a large sized oyster, but more of a medium sized animal so it cannot produce a pearl as Huge as the first one…but this pearl was still quite a find! It was fished out by a local diver.
This beautiful baroque drop-shaped pearl (its actual shape is that of a squished drop) weighed in at 15 carats (3 grams), and it was also inspected under long wave UV: it shone with a beautiful dark red color, typical of pearls produced by Pteria sterna.
Well, we have a new addition to our “Pearl Museum”: an incredible “Rainbow Lip Oyster” shell with a bubbly-looking blister pearl. It is not the blister pearl that makes the shell so special but its size: it measures 12 cm in diameter, and weighs in at 165 grams (just one valve). The largest previous shell we had collected measured 14 cm and has a weight of a mere 44 grams.
What does this mean? That the “heavy” shell is comes from an long-lived animal: the shells of this species thicken (and become heavy) with age. We believe that this species can live to be –at the most- 8 years old, but the vast majority of individuals will die at an age between 5 to 6 years old. So this shell in particular is our “Metuselah” specimen: the oldest “Rainbow Lipped Oyster” we have been able to find (so far).
You may see this –and other shells- in our small museum display that we have next to our jewelry store, featuring many varieties of pearly shells from the world’s oceans, but if you want to see it now just take a look at the following photo:
To the left you see the Pteria sterna shell, and to the right, a big (but not too old) Pinctada mazatlanica shell (measuring 15 cm).
And here I am again, adding the finishing touch on what is my version of the legend of “El Mechudo”. My story is different from all previously released versions, as it has no supernatural elements (“Satanic intervention”).
To add this new twist on the old legend, I will present the evidence used throughout this Blog’s series of “The Legend of El Mechudo”: from the place where these events unfold, to the demystification of the “claws of death” and now the “silent killer” (in this case: it is not stress). I -for one- simply cannot believe that an experienced diver was caught by a pearl oyster and then he just drowned. It takes something much more lethal than a pearl oyster to drown a proffessional pearl diver.
Therefore: if it was not the Devil himself nor a pearl oyster… What really caused the tragic death of “El Mechudo”?
As Delilah to Samson
Just as the biblical Samson, our mythical diver had a magnificent mane of hair which probably had some special meaning to him. And I have reasons to believe that his long hair was partially responsible for his untimely death. If Delilah was the one responsible for bringing about Samson’s misfortune, who was this Sonoran diver’s Delilah? Let us review a bit about the pearl oyster’s natural history to better understand what might have happened.
Habitat of the “Panamic Black-Lip Oyster”
The Black Lip Pearl Oyster -known as “Madreperla” in Mexico- is Pinctada mazatlanica, a bivalve that is found attached -by means of its byssus-to rocks, encrusting corals and other bivalves. As it was shown in the previous post’s video, it is not very difficult to detach them from their anchoring spot. As for the oyster’s habitat: I really do not percieve any danger for a long-haired diver here.
Do remember that “El Mechudo” is said to have secured his long-hair (probably with some rope or even turning his own hair into a knot), but it is not difficult to imagine it could have come loose after hours of diving. Here is where the danger truly resides.
For anyone who has dived or snorkeled in the waters of the Gulf of California, is easy to remember that there’s really nothing in the water or the sea-bed that can entangle you. Due to the lack of rivers reaching the Gulf, there are few contributions of earth-bound material such as tree branches and shrubs, and it is not easy to entangle your hair between stones, so where’s the danger? Let us analyze the next species and its habitat.
The Habitat of the “Rainbow Lip Oyster”
The “Concha Nácar” or “Rainbow Lip Oyster” (Pteria sterna) is a very special animal in regard to its “taste” for settlement. It is adapted to a wide variety of habitats: rocky and coral reefs, on top of the shell of other bivalves, forming “carpet clumps” on sandy-muddy areas and –especially- they can be found living on gorgonian -or fan- corals. Additionally, their byssus is much more stronger than that of the Black-lip pearl oysters, and it takes a lot more effort to detach them from their anchoring spot.
Final Remarks & Video
A fan coral is the “perfect trap” for a long-haired pearl diver. During the shooting of the video about this legendary character I used a doll with a “wig” (one of the most difficult things I’ve recently done: I’d rather juggle with sea urchins anytime), and everytime the fake hair was near the fan coral it would easily entangle itself, becoming a small burden to dissentangle the hair for a new video shoot.
Additionally: I have a video that shows how an oyster is unable to keep their shells closed on an object for more than just a couple of hours. The test was performed, with the help of my assistant Antonio “El Tigre” Mendoza, who helped to perform experiments -both under natural & “laboratory” conditions- and we obtained consistent results in “oyster retention”: usually of less than 60 minutes on each tryout.
The following video was produced in order to show you how the oyster releases its grip after some time. For this I used one of my son’s “GI Joe” action figure, around which we devised a floating system (to simulate the upward flotation pull of a victim) and continuous video filming was performed until the oyster released its “little victim”. As a note of interest, you will notice that there are a couple of “curious sea-hares” (Aplysia californica) that appear during the video…this might be as close as they can get to become part of a “feature film”, hence the attraction (I guess).
Thus, based on all the information we have talked about during this series of blog entries (and in the best “Clue” game fashion) I dare say the following:
“El Mechudo” dove to deeper waters to try and release a “Rainbow Lip Oyster” that was attached to a large fan coral (these larger specimens are usually found in deeper waters) but his hair became entangled. He could not use a knife to cut his hair free (because slave divers were not given such a weapon)…thus the great Yaqui diver drowned. Satan must be declared blameless.
The only way the body of this diver could have remained in the same site for days or weeks (once the body fills with gases form decomposition it would float away) is if it was firmly attached to a coral…any oyster would have released the hand of a dead diver within hours.
“A Tiger loose on the Farm”
And on this new post we continue with the description of Jesus “El Tigre” Mendoza’s activities at our Pearl Farm:
All my life I have lived in Guaymas, yet I did not know that there was a place where animals were cultivated for the production of pearls. Of course I knew about edible oyster and shrimp farms, but I never imagined that we had a pearl farm, right here in Guaymas! but we had all heard the faint rumors. It was not until November 2010, when –while attending ITSON- I had a course named “Natural and Cultural Attractions”, the course’s professor being one of the Pearl Farm’s owners. Our new teacher -Douglas McLaurin Moreno- took the whole group for a field trip to this “farm” and was here that I learned how to they raised the “pearl oysters” for the production of cultured pearls.
It was a great experience to learn about pearl farming. And then, after almost two years of having visited the site, I finally had the opportunity to “work” here doing my “professional stays” at the pearl farm; in January of this year I became a key part of several research projects for the company, including one that aims to monitor the many marine species that grow alongside the oysters in the pearl culturing cages.
From that moment I began to understand the great importance of having a pearl farm in Guaymas, and later I began to think that this benefit is not solely for Guaymas, but for the entire Sea of Cortez. When we take the culture cages from out of the sea, to evaluate the growth of the “Rainbow Lip Oysters” (also known as Pteria sterna) there is always a great host of marine fauna alongside the farm-raised mollusks; it was impressive to see that in a such a small space –that of the cage- you can find such a great variety of animal species, in what appears to be complete harmony.
So I was tasked to keep track of all these species, keeping track of all vertebrate (fish) and invertebrate fauna: the different species found as well as their number, but being specially on the lookout for these 3 main species: the “Panamic Black Lip Pearl Oyster” (Pinctada mazatlanica), the “Pen Shells” (Atrina maura, Pinna rugosa) and the “Sea cucumbers” (holothurians). I still monitored dozens of other species such as: crustaceans (Spiny Lobsters, pistol shrimps, banded ghost shrimps -Lysmata californica- and swimming crabs), several fishes (Angel fishes, Soap-fishes, Groupers, Snappers, Catfishes, Eels & Blennies) bivalves (mussels, scallops, Blood Cockles, Chocolate clams) and many others.
It was very interesting to notice how many of these species grow, some even attaining large dimensions -as in the case of the Sea Cucumbers- of up to 20 centimeters (7.8 inches) in length. Holothurians are animals commonly known as “sea cucumbers”, due to their elongated bodies with a shape similar to that of that vegetable. They are related to starfish and sea urchins (Echinoderms).
Holothurians, have a very important biological function in coastal areas: they clean the seabed of those accumulated organic wastes. They belong to a group of animals referred to as bottom-feeders: they just basically eat the organic material found within the sediment (sand), and what they excrete is just clean sand, without any organic matter. And here why these animals have such a great biological importance: if a bay has an adequate amount of sea cucumbers, its sand will remain cleaner and we will be able to enjoy white sand, not the “dark and sticky” sand we sometimes find in some areas. This is what I was told here at the farm: that these animals are providing us all of with this free environmental service.
Just in the month of January, this pearl farm was able of “rescuing” (meaning: they were returned to their natural environment) some 2,262 sea cucumbers, which averaged 11 cm (4.3 inches) in length; if these creatures had been returned to their environment while still young they would have had become food for predators since their defense mechanism is not yet sufficiently developed (when a sea cucumber is attacked, it can expel its viscera (guts) which are sticky and mildly-toxic, but the sea cucumber does not die because it can regenerate its guts in a few days and just like that), but by growing them in a farm they will be able to escape their natural predators.
Although in Mexico Sea Cucumbers are not considered valuable (because people here do not eat them nor can they be used for souvenirs), in many Asian countries (such as China, Japan and Korea) they are used in their cuisine and they are also considered to be an aphrodisiac. Such is their demand in Asia that they have been fished out of our waters, these animals no longer doing their environmental service for us.
So this is where I began to understand the other great benefit of this pearl farm: not only are its benefits coming directly from the jobs that come with the production of the pearls, but the farm is also helping towards the reproduction and growth of other wildlife fauna, since the aquaculture cages offer protection and security to many species -providing refuge from predators- until they can return to the sea to continue their natural processes. The farm offers a free environmental service as well.
Therefore, this company does not just favouring the recovery of some animal species -such as with sea cucumbers- but it is also benefiting the local fishing industry; from my perspective I believe that the farm protects many species of fish that are commercially caught for human consumption or fish that become food for these and that are later released back into the Bay. This seems to be a true sustainable industry, not only for Guaymas but for the entire Gulf of California: an industry that does not lead to the extermination of marine life and where it will become protected for all future generations.
To finalize this article: staying in a pearl farm is for nature lovers, because you are next to the sea in a place where can protect marine species, ensuring a future for all. And this is something that I have learned while working at the “Sea of Cortez Pearl” farm in Guaymas.
And now we have come to the end of Jesus’ personal contribution to our Blog. I thank him for giving us his unique perspective. In future posts we will –once more- continue with the “El Mechudo” saga and more Mabe Pearl production, so keep visiting and do take the time to let me know your thoughts.
I Finally I have the data from this year’s pearl harvest and it is a positive report but not a spectacular one. As it has happened for several ongoing years, environmental changes -possibly caused by global warming and other natural processes- have directly affected the outcome of our pearl harvest. This year was no exception since 4 years ago we had a very poor “spat collecting” season of "Rainbow Lipped Pearl Oysters" (Pteria sterna), which did not allow us to have an adequate amount of mature (2 year old) pearl oysters to “nucleate” or “implant” two years ago (2009) and the amount of pearls we obtained was of only 1.7 kg when our goal is to reach 4 kilos (roughly: 4,000 pearls)
However, the number of nucleated oysters would have given us only 1 kilo of pearls this year, but thanks to improvements in our nucleation technique we were able to achieve a 70% higher amount of pearls, and the colors and quality of the pearls were truly good. I will now proceed to to review each type of pearl produced this year in our Bacochibampo Bay Pearl Farm… We harvested 1,783 cultured pearls with an average size of 9.0 mm (in diameter), the smaller size of the pearls was 8.3 mm and was larger at 12.9 mm. The predominant shapes were baroque (asymmetrical), followed by semi-baroque pearls (symmetric) and with a small minority (2%) of round and near-round shapes. In the next photo we can see the two plastic bags on which the entire 2011 crop is placed until the time comes for its separation by size, shape and quality (pearl grading). I proceeded to "liberate" the pearls to appreciate their shapes, colors and sizes… And these from bag # 2… I also “cherry picked” some pearls that had something that made them all the more strikingly beautiful or unusual and these are some pictures of these pearls: However, these are not the only beautiful pearls, their colors are just much more intense, but these are other rare gems: Now for the next sub-topic within the crop: the production of Mabe Pearls or “Half-Pearls”. This kind of pearl is “harvested” (extracted) from the shell of the oysters and -unlike loose pearls- they must be processed before being sold. In fact, this entire process is quite elaborate and I want to explain it in detail in a future Blog entry. I hope I can do this by September, as I am preparing a video of the process as well. Since I am going to explain this in the near future, I will avoid going into much detail, but each pearl oyster has the potential to produce up to 3 Mabe(some rare ones up to 4), but we consider that only 50% of the extracted Mabe pearls will have the right quality to become a "Cortez Mabe"; what about the remaining pearls?… they will visit the mermaids (cast into the water’s depths). Why? Because we will simply not sell "junk pearls" to our customers and our pearls are guaranteed for life: we just don’t want people coming back to exchange a defective product, we want them to come back for more beautiful & enduring gems. How many Mabe pearls did we harvest this year? According to harvest data we obtained 6,158 “raw” (or “in the shell”) pearls… from which we will further inspect and will end up with only 3,000 pieces of varying qualities: from "B" to "AAA" grades, and possibly some 6 “U” grade Mabe pearls. Once mounted in jewelry, mabe pearls take on a completely different look … The natural pearl harvest this year was quite low, barely reaching 3 pearls with a size of at least 5 mm in diameter. This is a good number, considering that the norm in nature is of just 1 such natural pearl per every 10,000 pearl oysters. Keshi pearls -a type of cultured pearl- were also very scarce, with an output of just 33 grams. I hereby terminate this report of the Cortez Pearl Harvest of 2011. The next blog post will be up by mid-September and will have information about the third edition of the "Pearl Ruckus" organized by Jeremy Shepperd (of “Pearl-Paradise.com” fame) which took place in Hollywood, California.
These are from bag # 1…
Keshi Pearls and Natural Pearls
Until next time!
However, the number of nucleated oysters would have given us only 1 kilo of pearls this year, but thanks to improvements in our nucleation technique we were able to achieve a 70% higher amount of pearls, and the colors and quality of the pearls were truly good.
I will now proceed to to review each type of pearl produced this year in our Bacochibampo Bay Pearl Farm…
We harvested 1,783 cultured pearls with an average size of 9.0 mm (in diameter), the smaller size of the pearls was 8.3 mm and was larger at 12.9 mm. The predominant shapes were baroque (asymmetrical), followed by semi-baroque pearls (symmetric) and with a small minority (2%) of round and near-round shapes.
In the next photo we can see the two plastic bags on which the entire 2011 crop is placed until the time comes for its separation by size, shape and quality (pearl grading).
I proceeded to "liberate" the pearls to appreciate their shapes, colors and sizes…
And these from bag # 2… I also “cherry picked” some pearls that had something that made them all the more strikingly beautiful or unusual and these are some pictures of these pearls:
However, these are not the only beautiful pearls, their colors are just much more intense, but these are other rare gems:
Now for the next sub-topic within the crop: the production of Mabe Pearls or “Half-Pearls”.
This kind of pearl is “harvested” (extracted) from the shell of the oysters and -unlike loose pearls- they must be processed before being sold. In fact, this entire process is quite elaborate and I want to explain it in detail in a future Blog entry. I hope I can do this by September, as I am preparing a video of the process as well.
Since I am going to explain this in the near future, I will avoid going into much detail, but each pearl oyster has the potential to produce up to 3 Mabe(some rare ones up to 4), but we consider that only 50% of the extracted Mabe pearls will have the right quality to become a "Cortez Mabe"; what about the remaining pearls?… they will visit the mermaids (cast into the water’s depths). Why? Because we will simply not sell "junk pearls" to our customers and our pearls are guaranteed for life: we just don’t want people coming back to exchange a defective product, we want them to come back for more beautiful & enduring gems.
How many Mabe pearls did we harvest this year? According to harvest data we obtained 6,158 “raw” (or “in the shell”) pearls… from which we will further inspect and will end up with only 3,000 pieces of varying qualities: from "B" to "AAA" grades, and possibly some 6 “U” grade Mabe pearls.
Once mounted in jewelry, mabe pearls take on a completely different look …
The natural pearl harvest this year was quite low, barely reaching 3 pearls with a size of at least 5 mm in diameter. This is a good number, considering that the norm in nature is of just 1 such natural pearl per every 10,000 pearl oysters.
Keshi pearls -a type of cultured pearl- were also very scarce, with an output of just 33 grams.
I hereby terminate this report of the Cortez Pearl Harvest of 2011.
The next blog post will be up by mid-September and will have information about the third edition of the "Pearl Ruckus" organized by Jeremy Shepperd (of “Pearl-Paradise.com” fame) which took place in Hollywood, California.
There are few moments as exciting to a Pearl Farmer as that of the time to harvest his pearls. This means the culmination of 4 years of taking care of your pearl oysters, years of worries caused by natural phenomena (the "Niño" and "Niña" years, as well as from hurricanes and tropical storms) or human causes. It is at this moment when we can take a deep breath and feel our pressure lowering in relief, only to be replaced by heavy-breathing and an increased heart-rate, but this time caused by the hope of finding that pearl that John Steinbeck referred to as the "Pearl of the World", as described in his novel “The Pearl”, that huge, beautiful & flawless pearl that Kino finds after years of pearl fishing.
And apparently, we are not alone in expecting such a yearly precious event –since it only takes place during the month of June- because this year we were truly honored to be visited by the great German gemologist Elisabeth Strack, author of a book that is considered –by most- as "The Bible of Pearls”, a book for all lovers of this amazing organic gem: "Perlen" (in German) or "Pearls" (in English). Unfortunately there are no editions in other languages, but this is an awesome book that has a great quantity and quality of information about all types of pearls.
And, at this point I don’t know if I can say if you do not say whether Elisabeth had bad or good luck -it will depend on her personal opinion- during her second visit to our pearl farm, because she arrived on the first day of June, and at that time we also had the visit of Mexico’s President, Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, in Guaymas; this due to the fact we were also celebrating the “Day of the Navy”, so she had the chance to see a whole array of sailors, armored vehicles, navy helicopters and warships in Guaymas. Regardless of her opinion, she did bring us "good luck", as this year’s pearl harvest seems as it will become the best of our history, at least in color and beauty of the harvested pearls.
Elisabeth Strack visited us because she has been working on her book’s second edition, and updated data and information is much required and this cannot be gathered just by hearsay. When at the first day of harvest with us, she noticed that some of the colors on our pearls just seemed to be impossible: because she just could not believe some of the colors she was seeing… even when she saw the pearls just coming out of our pearl oysters. And I assume that is a normal reaction for people who have seen pearl harvests in other types of pearl oysters, such as those from the Pinctada genus, or from pearly-mussels (Family Unionidae), but this was her first time watching cultured and natural pearls come out from our "Rainbow Lipped Pearl Oyster” (Pteria sterna). This incredible color saturation is observed even in the shells of this year’s oysters.
Cortez Pearl Harvest 2011
And I was wondering if you’ve seen how pearls are harvested here in Guaymas? We have several videos available on YouTube, but this is probably my favorite from the 2009 harvest:
And mentioned that Elisabeth was amazed with the natural colors of our pearls as it is rare to find such a variety of colors on a single crop in just one location. The "black pearl" of French Polynesia are mainly dark, but each atoll can produce a certain range of colors. Here in Guaymas we have been blessed with every imaginable body-color and overtones on our pearls. And as a sampler we have some photos…
On the photo above, a beautiful dark purple pearl, with three pearl behind it: one green, a “red” one and a blue colored one.
A couple more photos, now one with our so called “Yori” or “white pearls”, always displaying green and pink overtones.
And I must make it very clear that the pearls came out with the colors you are seeing, they were not processed in any way: not polished (to improve their luster or "make them shiny"), there were not "bleached" chemically to make them white, nor stained/dyed to darken them. They are simply the result of an amazing natural pigmentation process.
These pearls belong to the group of “Green” pearls, but our “green pearls” are very different from the typical Tahitian "green” pearl because Cortez Pearls tend to be brighter, not the “dark-black” color. Our greens also mix with other colors, making them uniquely different.
These last pearls have a reddish body color (violet) with green overtones, leaning towards the “Peacock” color of Tahitian Pearls but not exactly…they are also unique. It seems that this year this Red color will be rather generous. The "red pearls" or "Cranberry” are incredibly rare, so most of those seen for sale have an artificial color (and you can tell it is), but here in Guaymas we are fortunate enough to produce a dozen or so with this “cranberry” color per year.
And Elisabeth returned to Germany, but before she did she also updated her knowledge on Authentic Mexican-Sonoran Food (unlike the variety they serve in Germany), allowing her taste buds to indulge in the sinful dishes served at our favorite restaurant ("Los Arbolitos de Cajeme"): a “tower” of fresh sea-scallops, fresh tomatoes and avocado slices with some spicy olive-oil dressing, shrimp and smoked-marlin “Toritos” (Banana Peppers filled with these delicacies), a fresh crab meat “tostada”, a savory seafood “machaca” (made with finely minced squid, shrimp and scallops) and an extravagant fish fillet covered with a hot cactus, onion and pepper topping… I surely hope that Elisabeth will have additional reasons to return next year to Guaymas.
I hope this entry about the 2011 Cortez Pearl harvest was of interest to you. I will eventually write-up this year’s harvest’s full information (quantity of harvested pearls, size of harvested pearls, shapes, colors, qualities, etc.) since we still have 30% of the harvest yet to reap and we are still hopeful, as we are every year, to find the "Pearl of the World .
Until next time…