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Romancing The Mollusk

Romancing The Mollusk
Mexico’s Treasure To Humanity - The Sea of Cortez Pearl
by Lynn Prince

The pearl is one of the oldest gems to adorn humans. Before cultured pearls (pearls formed on a farm with the help of man), natural pearls were very rare. Hundreds of pearl oysters had to be gathered and opened to find one pearl; the reason they fetched such high prices. So, the pearl became a metaphor for something very rare, fine, admirable and valuable.

Holy things were compared to pearls as in the Bible where the “great city, the holy Jerusalem” descended out of heaven from God . . . its “twelve gates” each being made of a single pearl. The Quran says, “dwellers of paradise will be adorned with pearls,” and the Mormon book of Scriptures is called The Pearl of Great Price.

It was in the 1500s that Spanish Conqueror Cortez sent his first expedition to the “Sea of Pearls” to find the legendary black pearls. The Sea of Cortez has produced some of the finest known pearls—the Sea of Cortez Pearl. These prized gems became New Spain’s main export product at one time, and were known as the “Queen of Gems and Gem of Queens” . . . the most famous of European Royal Crowns are bedecked with Sea of Cortez Pearls.

With my head filled with the mystic of the pearl legends, I set out to take a fascinating day trip to the Perlas del Mar de Cortez (the Pearl Farm), located in Miramar, Guaymas. The vast majority of cultured pearls produced in Mexico come from Bacochibampo Bay, Guaymas, Sonora. Inside the aqua farm, nearly 200,000 oysters are grown, and with a yearly output of 3 Kg of cultured pearls and 5,000 mabe pearls, it makes their pearls some of the world’s rarest gems.

The “Farm” became the first commercially-cultured saltwater pearl operation in the American continent in 2000 due to the hard work and expertise of its founders Sergio Farell, Douglas McLaurin, Manuel Nava, and Enrique Arizmendi. And the only one in the world growing loose cultured pearls using the unique Rainbow Lipped Pearl Oyster; which produce pearls of unique colors like opalescent gray, true golden/bronze, olive/green, silver, purple/violet, and jet black . . . and green, rose, blue and lavender . . . colors not attained on any other pearl farm in the world.

In the wild, a parasite (not a grain of sand) invades the oyster trying to feed off of its soft tissue; and in retaliation to protect itself, the oyster releases nacre; the liquid mother of pearl substance which encapsulates the parasites and smothers them. The oyster continues to layer the parasite in the nacre; thus producing the pearl. But, the “Farm” has developed a way to replicate nature's growing process for the pearl; a 3.5-year process which results in a gem that is a unique gift from Mexico to the world. Of all the pearls cultured today, the one closest to the following attributes, is the Sea of Cortez Pearl:

Beauty – Pearls without artificial embellishment—never polished, bleached, irradiated or artificially dyed—100% all-natural beauty. Under UV Fluorescent lighting, a red to pinkish glow occurs; the only pearl that will glow this way.

Durability – Thick nacre layer (thickness of 1.2 mm) which confers resistance and durability to the pearl enabling it to last over 500 years!

Rarity – Sea of Cortez pearls have a limited production of less than 4 kilos per year, which is less than 4,000 pearls for all of humanity. Whereas China produces over 2,000 tons of fresh-water pearls yearly, which equals eight pearls per living human being on earth.

The “Farm” consists of a suspended-culture system (long-lines) from which special culture cages are “hung,” each culture phase will have a cage specially suited for their adequate growth. The oysters remain protected from their natural predators of octopus, crabs, starfish, snails and other fish, and will feed by filtering nutritional substances from the same waters. By “green” standards this aquaculture system has a low environmental impact, and in some countries a positive impact over natural wildlife population, and is considered a long-term sustainable industry.

The tour of the farm is a fascinating afternoon and ends in the gift shop filled with beautiful, exquisite pearl jewelry. Visit the Perlas del Mar de Cortez website at www.perlas.com.mx or call 221-0136 to take their guided English and Spanish tours of the farm. Tours are Monday–Friday, 9 a.m.–3 p.m.; Saturday 9–11 a.m.