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,"
"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,"
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 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, email@example.com.
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.