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January 2000

Gemstones & Pearls: News

South of the Border

The first saltwater cultured pearls from North America are not like their Japanese counterparts

They're about the size of freshwater pearls from China and have the miraculous rainbow colors of fine-quality Tahitian pearls. But they're 100% North American.

"They" are pearls grown in a project marine biologists began in 1993 at a university in Guaymas, Mexico. The biologists culture the pearls off the country's western coast using the same American shell nuclei that Japanese and Chinese akoya farmers use. They achieve 3mm-10mm pearls, mostly baroque and off-round, though a few are round.

This part of the Mexican coast was well-known for producing natural pearls until the late 19th century, when overfishing destroyed the beds, says Antoinette Matlins, author of The Pearl Book (GemStone Press, Woodstock, VT, 802-457-4000; $19.95). "Experts believed it would be impossible to culture round pearls from the species of mollusk that produced the fabled natural pearls, but the product we see now shows this is not the case," she says.

Fine Quality

"In terms of beauty and quality, there can be no question the finest Mexican cultured pearls rival the finest cultured pearls from anywhere in the world and may prove to be one of the most important additions to the cultured pearl market in many years," she says.

Matlins, who featured the Mexican cultured pearls in the new edition of her book, says they are extremely lustrous. "The lustrousness is due in no small part to their very, very thick nacre, comparable in thickness to South Sea cultured pearls, as well as to excellent crystallization of the nacre layers," she says.

The university has created a commercial division called Perlas de Guayma to sell the pearls, says Sergio Farell, who brought examples of the finest pearls from his harvest to Professional Jeweler's PrimeTime Fall Conference & Marketplace in Las Vegas in October.

The Details

The company uses the Pteria sterna – or rainbow-lipped – oyster, which produces green, silver, purple-black, pink and gold pearls. Production totaled 2,500 pearls in 1998, was expected to total 4,000 in 1999 and should grow to 10,000 annually in the next year or so, says Farell.

Because the water is so warm in Mexico, the company lowers oyster nets much farther than the big pearl-producing countries, about 30 to 60 feet below the surface of the water. Cultivation takes about 18 months, Farell says. As in most pearl production, he says, Perlas de Guayma's harvests contain only 5% fine-quality gem pearls. In 2000, he plans to exhibit them at trade shows in Tucson, Basel and Hong Kong.

  • Perlas de Guayma, Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico, (52-622) 1-0136, fax (52-622) 1-0243,

by Stacey King

 Top-quality cultured pearls from Mexico show off wondrous colors comparable to Tahitian pearls, but in sizes more like Japanese akoyas.

Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.


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