Pacific Rim Pearl Farm Trip


Flower Island, Philippines

As the helicopter landed at Flower Island in the Philippines, I thought to myself, “This is God’s country.” This is the tropical island I stayed at for 3 glorious days, as a guest of Jewelmer International Corporation Pearl Farm. 

I was mesmerized by the pristine beaches and the beautiful natural tropic surroundings that greeted me. I was then taken by boat to another island to study and see the process of the cultivation of the Golden Pearl at the Jewelmer International Corporation Pearl Farm.  The complex operation involves 323 steps that the mother oyster must go through over a 5 to 6 year period to produce one Golden Pearl. No other gem in the world is as natural or precious as the Golden Pearl.  Pearls are the only living organic gems in the world!  The Golden lipped oyster is extremely difficult to grow.  The Jewelmer Pearl Farm has perfected the continuing challenge to raise and breed genetically superior Golden lipped oysters.  Jewelmer has a commitment to quality, striving to achieve a perfect golden Pearl.  I have seen their process first hand.  Although their techniques are highly guarded I felt privileged to be invited to see their culturing of the perfect golden Pearl.  It takes over 22,000 Pearls to find one Pearl that is gem quality.   

I watched the Filipino women as they nurtured and cared for the baby oysters called “spats.”  They would coo and sing to the newly hatched baby oysters caring and cleaning them in the hatchery.  I thought it so touching as the ladies explained to me that the baby oysters responded to their singing.  They told me that the newly hatched oysters were more content and growing better because of their songs.  They lovingly took care of the baby spats the way a mother would her baby. 

The Filipino men cleaned the older oysters.  Carefully, they were taking the algae growth off their shells, so the mother oyster would be clean and able to continue her destiny.  I was told by the managing director Jacque, that any unforeseen action, like a harsh drop back into the water after cleaning can cause the resulting pearl to have a set-back.  That is why all Pearls are not perfectly round or have a special characteristic. The mother oyster controls the size, color, shape and nacre, but nature controls the rest. Amazingly, only one Pearl is grown by the mother oyster at a time.

I was astounded to see first hand the gentleness used from the time the baby oysters are born till the time the Pearls are harvested.  The care, commitment love, and compassion the workers have for the Pearls all shows in the result, 95% conception rate. This is unheard of in any controlled growing process. The species of oyster, the golden lipped Pincata Maxima, is a wonder of nature itself as it is the only oyster that grows these rare golden Pearls. I watched the antiseptic process as the skilled lab technician surgically implanted a piece of mantle tissue and a nuclei into the mother oyster. Wishing I could be there to see the birth, 5 years would be a long wait.                   

There are no other waters in the world that can create the Golden Pearl like the tropical water of the Philippines.  I learned that any disturbance in the water, such as temperature change or a bump can cause an imperfection on the Pearl.  This can even cause a change in the circumference.  Instead of a round Pearl, the most sought after shape, you could end up with an oval, baroque or a circlè shaped Pearl.

To grow a perfect Pearl the mother oysters must have a natural habitat, a sheltered area like a lagoon or a natural bay to insulate the oysters from possible changes in the environment.  Predators are a problem and have to be dealt with to protect the oysters.  They also need gentle currents in the water to bring to them food and nutrients.  Regular temperature of the water is essential to the oyster’s long journey to the 5 years of anticipation of the resulting birth of the Pearl.  The resulting Pearl will be a reflection of all the elements of their environment and hopefully nature cooperated.  The whole Pearl harvest is depending on nature’s harmony and man’s cooperation.  

This was a trip of a life time and I felt honored to be able to visit the Pearl Farms and Pearl Companies in Asia through GIA.  I wanted to experience first hand, all the aspects of a Pearl from the birth to the complete piece of jewelry.  My 16 day journey enabled me to see first hand to see the nurturing and raising of the Golden Pearls of the Philippines, the Akoya Pearls of Japan and the Freshwater Pearls of China.  Different nationalities, different environments, different waters creating Pearls.  Their history and lore of their beloved Pearls was captivating, enhancing my love for these natural wonders.    

The Golden Pearls then go through stringent grading, then matching, before they are hand crafted into finished jewelry.  The ultimate piece of jewelry is the South Sea Golden Pearl Strand.  

Osaka, Japan

I visited Mikimoto Island, the home of the famous Mikimoto cultured Pearls.  I watched the women divers called Ama, dive for oysters.  Dressed in traditional white clothes, the women divers place mother oysters deep on the ocean floor and they bring them back up for harvest.  

The history and love, raising these oysters that produce these Akoya Pearls started in the late 1800’s by Kokichi Mikimoto.  His technique of cultivating Pearls with farmed oysters augmented the Pearl industry.  While the process of culturing all Pearls is the same, the Akoya Pearls were beautiful in there own right.  .

I visited the Osaki Pearl Company and was amazed by the pearl industry there, sophisticated yet friendly, I was introduced to their amazing capabilities of the Pearl industry there. 

Shanghai and Zhuji, People’s Republic of China 

I visited the Jade Buddha Temple; this is the home of two solid white jade statues of Buddha.  Not allowed to take pictures but the amazing sight of these two huge white jade statues will never be forgotten.  The friendly monks guarded the statues and at the temple, making sure things went well.

I then traveled to the China Pearl and Jewelry City; this is the world’s largest Pearl trading center.  Here I found Pearl vendors as far as my eyes could see.  Pearl Heaven!  I spent a whole day browsing the many Pearl companies, making new friends.  

Hong Kong

I attended the Hong Kong Jewelry and Watch Fair.  The biggest jewelry fair in Asia and the biggest Pearl Fair in the world.   2,500 exhibitors from 48 countries.

16 days of traveling to all the Pearl Farms and Companies was an experience of a lifetime.  I thank the Gemological Institute of America for coordinating this Asia Pacific Rim Pearl Trip, allowing me to experience the many aspects of the Pearl industry and extend my Pearl knowledge.  Linda

Linda McMurray, GG, AJP
Best Cut Cems, LLC