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A dreamscape from Sea of Cortez and Hisano Shepherd

yssie

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I'm posting this piece here in SMTB for visibility. I learnt of these gemstones only recently myself!! These farmers are sorcerers and I want all my PS friends to discover their enchantments :love:



I bought these pearls loose, a couple at a time, from Perlas del Mar de Cortez in Guaymas, Mexico, over the course of about six months. They range from 9.1mm to 11.4mm. I rearranged them dozens of times before settling on this lineup. Hisano and I decided on thread and clasp. Heck, I photographed the whole layout.

I knew exactly what the finished bracelet would look like.

Hisano's printer-paper-lightbox snap of the piece that materialized from everything tied together... Still took my breath away.


SeaOfCortez_Hisano.png


These magical consummations of colour - fantasies of swirl and churn that feel so tauntingly ephemeral, that promise to elude capture - only something, somewhere, somehow managed to freeze them in time...

And perhaps the most inspiring reflection - these are pearls!! Just pearls, from one special breed of oyster - this is the sort of magic that creatures in our world are capable of!!


Websites:
https://perlas.com.mx/en/index.php
https://www.pearlparadise.com / https://littlehjewelry.com/






 

yssie

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Pics first. I know how this works ::)


Daytime, beside a window with an awning:

SeaOfCortez_A3.png

- - - - - - - - - -

SeaOfCortez_A2.png



And inside a white-walled and white-roofed box:

SeaOfCortez_B1.png

- - - - - - - - - -

SeaOfCortez_B2.png

- - - - - - - - - -

SeaOfCortez_B3 copy.png

- - - - - - - - - -

SeaOfCortez_B4 copy.png



Wrist pics!!

SeaOfCortez_C1.png

- - - - - - - - - -

SeaOfCortez_C2.png

- - - - - - - - - -

SeaOfCortez_C3.png
 

yssie

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Storytime.


The theme of transience is fitting.

Several hundred years ago Mexico's west coast was flush with pteria sterna ("rainbow-lipped") oysters. Spanish explorers discovered the colourful pearls in the mid-1500s, and the next four centuries - until Mexico's independence in 1821 - saw export across the globe. European nobility prized them especially, and the Sea of Cortez was considered the world's greatest source of natural pearls.

Post-independence, commercial trade took over where the Spanish empire had left off, and the oyster beds were reaped to the brink of extinction; in 1939 a finishing ban was imposed to spare what little was left. Fernando Guzman, the Cortez farm's photographer, and Douglas McLaurin Moreno, co-founder, were kind enough to share some of the farm's history with me.

Around twenty years ago three university students decided on an unorthodox master's project: Repopulating pteria sterna. Their project saw early triumphs with mabe pearls, the farm was established as an entity independent of their university, and in 2000 they began culturing loose pearls. I've got no idea if there's any truth to the bit about the project having earned them a "C" and I'm not about to ask :bigsmile: but they've been indisputably successful: Today, the Sea of Cortez farm is the only organization in the world that has successfuly cultivated rainbow-lipped oysters.

This thread (https://www.pricescope.com/community/threads/sea-of-cortez-pearls-some-eye-candy.151566/) was my introduction to Cortez pearls, and another thread in another part of the internet was my education. That thread has yearly updates - with photos!! - from 2005 all the way through 2013, and it's a fascinating journey through the farm's growth, wisdom and fortune and natural disasters all intertwined... Apparently 2006 saw rounder and more lustrous pearls than 2005. 2008's harvest was larger than prior years', and many pearls had deeper colouring. A 2010 post highlights a 13.7mm near-round that was implanted with a 9.5mm bead - that's 4.2mm total nacre. In 2013 Jeremy shared photos of Hisano's Sea of Cortez pendant which features a specimen that Douglas told me is still one of his all-time favourites - he named it Matryoshka:

SeaOfCortez_Matryoshka.png


The farm is a tiny operation: They've got around thirty people, only four of whom are trained to nucleate pteria sterna. And these oysters sound as persnickety and fragile as their creations are beautiful! Fernando sent me a detailed explanation of how they're trained and implanted.


Implant & harvest:


The area is home to two species of oyster - the black-lipped oyster and the rainbow-lipped oyster. The farm originally worked with both, but soon chose to focus only on the latter. Most pearl farms buy oysters for implant from labs, but pteria sterna isn't bread, so baby oysters ("spat") must be retrieved the old-world way from the water. Larvae float with the currents, and the oysters' shells harden and become heavier as they grow, and eventually the babies sink and attach themselves to whatever happens to be beneath. Without intervention most wind up on rocks and are quickly picked off by predators. The farm uses spat collection netting (potato and onion sacks bulked up with fishnet) to catch the sinking spat - these nets stay in the sea for around three months, at which point the oysters are between one and three months old and are visible to naked eye.

SeaOfCortez_Story2.png

The spat collector bags wind up collecting more than just infant pteria sterna oysters, of course. The rainbow-lipped oysters, identifiable by their characteristic lip, are separated out by hand. In this photo the top shell is from the black-lipped oyster and the bottom is the rainbow-lipped:

SeaOfCortez_Storytime2.png


The oyster babies are nurtured in mesh nurseries for two years. They're seeeded at two years old - nucleation is a winter task. Another two years for the pearls to form they're ready for harvest; each mollusk creates only one loose pearl but might produce anywhere from one to five mabe pearls. Apparently blue and red are the most rare colours - I've got two blues, I need a red =)

The pearls themselves are wholly untreated. Let that sink in. That is... Virtually unheard-of for any other variety of pearl. The farmers use mineral oil to remove protein residue from the surface, and then they rub the oil off with towels, and... That's it. No maeshori. No dying or bleaching. No polishing. Just washing and drilling. Nacre must be at least 0.8mm thick to be saleable, but the average is over 1.5mm so that's an easy threshold to meet ::)

June is harvest month. I was planning to visit this June - hopefully next year!! Here's Douglas' summary of judging harvest quality:

  • Harvest size: The farm produces 2000-4000 loose pearls and 3000-6000 mabe pearls per year. Remember the "tiny" bit? For comparison - bigger farms in other parts of the world measure yearly yield in metric tons. Of that total, 20-60 might be Gem grade (loose and mabe).
  • Pearl size: Bigger is always better!
  • Pearl shape: The preference, as with other pearl types, is for rounds.
  • Lustre: The sharper the merrier.
  • Colour: Richly-coloured pearls with "medium" body tone and strong iridescence are favoured.
The 2019 harvest was apparently a 4/5 by these categories: They didn't get quite as many pearls as desired.


Choosing pearls...


I worked with Fernando to choose my pearls. He's lovely!! He trawled inventory for the sizes and shapes that I was looking for, he compared colours for me and took tons of photos and videos, he made drilling recommendations... And he was tremendously generous with his time, very willing to share stories, travel suggestions, farm updates and trivia ::) I wound up buying 21 pearls - haven't decided what to do with the remainder yet.

They have a few international distributors, but I highly recommend that anyone who's interested in these beauties reach out to the farm directly. They so clearly love their work and their oysters, and the enthusiasm is contagious 8) And I can attest to the fact that they're perfectly comfortable dealing with people who don't speak a whit of Spanish!!

So actually choosing pearls. Definitely the sort of thing where how you feel about what your eyes see should take precedence over any other criteria. Fernando's photography... Let me talk about Fernando's photography for a bit. I think of it as "idealized" but not "stylized" - they very, very accurately represent how the pearls look in favourable lighting environments. His photos -

  1. They're pin sharp. Completely transparent about surface blemishing, no blurring that masks dents and divots.
  2. They're low-contrast. No overblown lights and darks that hide contours.
  3. He uses sufficient depth of field to capture the entirty of a piece - you can easily compare pearls from all sections of a strand.
  4. And there are at least half a dozen photos - from different angles - of every single piece of jewellery and loose pearl posted on the website. No guessing games.
Have I mentioned that I :love: Fernando's photography? He makes picking pearls easy.

... Which is a really good thing, because the farm uses its own grading scheme, and I gotta say - it's pretty loosey goosey. They use two classifications - one for "quality" and one for "colour".

Quality factors include lustre, shape, surface blemishing... All the usual suspects. The scale runs Gem, A, B, and C - B is the lowest generally-available quality; C grade pearls are available for special request. I wanted to ask just how common this special request is but self control is one of my 2020 resolutions, so
:halo:


The "+" notification... I suppose it's best described as a relative comparator? Until you get to Gem, it indicates that a pearl is exceptional in one area (maybe more than one) but doesn't meet minimum thresholds across all factors to earn a higher overall grade. There's plenty of B+ and A+, but I've never seen B++ or A+++. Once you're past A, then Gem/Gem+/Gem++/Gem+++ is just a fancier Best/Bester/Besterer/Bestest - s' all gonna be good up here!

Pearls with outstanding colour (body and orient) are given the National Selection title. That's apparently some soccer thing? (How many countries did I just blaspheme in?) The title is binary - a pearl is either NS or it isn't. I'm not sure if that assignment is bounded by what's possible within a given quality grade... Is it easier for a B grade pearl to earn NS than a Gem grade pearl? I kind of assume so. You know what they say about assumptions.

2019 was the first year that the farm sold the harvest's Top Ten separately. I was lucky enough to get my sticky paws on four of these ten pearls. And they are... Astonishing is a good word. Remarkable. Awe-inspiring. Two are effortlessly ebullient- vivid multicoloured orient that flows over the surface like an oil slick shifting as it spreads. The other two have the most brazen peacock orient that I've ever seen in any pearl :eek-2::love:

SeaOfCortez_Cert3.png

SeaOfCortez_Cert2.png

SeaOfCortez_Cert1.png

SeaOfCortez_Cert4.png



My pearls, starting left of the clasp and going clockwise 'round:

SeaOfCortez_Hisano.png

  1. Gem+
  2. Gem+, SN
  3. Gem+++, SN (this is the pearl in the first cert)
  4. Gem+++, SN (second cert)
  5. Gem+, SN
  6. A+, SN
  7. Gem+, SN
  8. Mid pearl: Gem, SN (third cert)
  9. Gem+, SN
  10. A+, SN
  11. Gem+, SN
  12. Gem+, SN
  13. A+, SN (fourth cert)
  14. Gem+
  15. Gem++, SN
Interestingly, the top grades and my favourites IRL don't correlate terribly closely. My favourite four pearls are #2, #4, #10, and #14 - these are the pearls with the most multicoloured orient. #10 also happens to be the lumpiest and bumpiest of the lot - he's a charming little fellow ::)


Fruition


I knew from the start that these pearls were going to Hisano. And she was wonderful as always!! :love: Working with her is always simple and stress-free - I know I can trust her judgment wholly and blindly :))

She chose a purplish thread, darker and more subdued than the bright pink I'd originally planned. Loved her selection but it clashed dreadfully with the coppery 18k RG clasp I'd picked... I think I waffled for about a month before clicking Checkout on this one? Turns out to have been a lot of worry over nothing - the whimsy fits the dreamscape ::)

... Fruition. And here I am - back to the Real World. When I started this thread my laptop battery was at 33%. now it's down to 6%. I spent the first 67% on a celebration Hangout with a friend who's recovering from coronavirus infection - he came home from the hospital today!!!! :appl:And now I'm finishing my second glass of wine and writing a celebratory post about magic. Magic that's nature's celebration of persistence and evolution. These shoes fit awful well, no?
:praise:


I've chatted briefly with both Hisano and Fernando and Douglas about COVID-19. Mexico really hasn't been budgeoned by this thing the way we Northeasterners have - hopefully they'll continue to avoid the worst of it. The Cortez farm folk are all working from home. Hisano and Jeremey are out in California, and their teams are adapting to remote operations; most stockists are closed, of course. Let's just say that I wasn't expecting anything to be finishing before the stay-at-home mandates lifted - it was a lovely surprise to hear that my projects were moving forward!! This is a truly once-in-a-lifetime piece and I'm so happy to have PS to celebrate with right now :bigsmile: :love:


A couple more pics to close out. First one shows how these pearls react to direct sunlight - body colour clearly comes to the fore, just like with Tahitians, but the orient is more sticky than most Tahitians manage - it might be muted but it's always visible!!

SeaOfCortez_Sunlight.png


And I saved my favourite for last - taken about thirty seconds later when the lone puffy cloud in the sky passed by ::)

SeaOfCortez_Shade.png
 
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Acinom

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What a dream piece. I love pearls and your bracelet has such stunning pieces. Great luster and colour. And your bracelet is very very chique. Enjoy wearing it!
 

Snowdrop13

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Wow, you really are collecting some amazing pearls! Fantastic write up too, very enjoyable to read.
 

dk168

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Another gorgeous piece, thanks for sharing! :kiss2:

I love SoCs and am fortunate to have two pieces of SoC, a mabe purchased from an eBay stockist, and a pearl directly from Douglas when I was at the pearl ruckus in 2016.

Hopefully I shall attend another ruckus in future and be able to purchase another piece from him.

DK :))
 

Alex T

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My word, these are amazing!! They are completely mesmerising & I would love to be able to run my fingers over them! :kiss2:
 

yssie

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@Acinom Thank you!! It truly is a dream piece :))

2019 was my year of discovery... Opals, pearls, pearls, sapphires, spinels, more pearls... Not a diamond to be found :lol: I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to own some unique jewels ::)


@Snowdrop13 Thank you - for both the thoughts and the kind words! I found hearing about their processes absolutely fascinating - such a departure from the usual Everything At Scale model.

It will be interesting to see what and how they do automate in future... :geek:

My DH tells me that I’ve perfected the covet-to-own transformation. I’m not confident he means it as a compliment :bigsmile:


@dk168 I shall have to go find yours!!

I’m scrolling back through the (three hundred ish) photos I took and... The thing I still can’t wrap my head around is that these are pearls. I’ve got lots of pearls. I know pearls. How can pearls possibly look like this!?

I hope there is another Ruckus, I would love to go! ::)


@Alex T :bigsmile: Plenty of finger-running happening here. I’ll spare y’all the details... I will say that I’ve not felt any urge to chew on them yet. #Adulting.
 
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MakingTheGrade

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Great read and even more amazing are the pearls! Feels like you could stare at them all day..

Haha you have simultaneously turned me onto, and absolutely ruined, pearls for me because these are obsessively beautiful and I don’t think I’ve ever seen pearls like these.
 

Slick1

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My goodness. Thank you ever so much for the education and the eye candy pictures of your gloriously curated pearl bracelet. I’m absolutely thrilled for you. Your love of them is infectious. It’s positively stunning.
 

Lykame

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Well I don't really have words. Beautiful in every way, including the journey.

What are your plans for the other pearls, do you know? It must have been a beast to decide which pearls went into the strand and which you kept aside! Perhaps you could photograph some of the loose ones individually too? Your photography skills are always sublime, I can't imagine what these must look like in person. I don't suppose there's any way for you to perhaps do a video of them? Their light play looks out of this world.

Also feel free to share some more photos of the many you've taken! ::)

I hope you can cross post this to the pearl forum too? Perhaps you already have?
 

missy

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My goodness. Thank you ever so much for the education and the eye candy pictures of your gloriously curated pearl bracelet. I’m absolutely thrilled for you. Your love of them is infectious. It’s positively stunning.
Ditto. Beautiful and thank you for sharing your journey with us. :love:
They are spectacular on you @yssie.
 

Catmom

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Wow, gorgeous and the colors are amazing!
 

bright ice

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Wow...now that’s a Stunning bracelet strand! You have luxurious taste and I always love the end product! Enjoy them immensely @yssie.
 
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alittlelight

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That is amazing!! Thank you for showing them to us. So much life, color, personality in each pearl.
 

marymm

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Really special, heirloom quality, magical ... this SOC bracelet is sooo dreamy and magnificent
 

lovedogs

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Oh my goodness what an amazing piece!! As always, your photography and eloquent descriptions make me feel like I'm actually there seeing the piece IRL. Wear it with much happiness!
 

Rfisher

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Beautiful pearls- stunning photos. Really enjoyed reading the history!

A case for revamping of ‘SMTB no pearls policy’ in the making, eh?
 

arkieb1

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Gorgeous in every way!!!! Pearls can be random - sometimes the imperfect are more gloriously lush to the eyes than the perfect....
 

AV_

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I have spent quite some time with a few of the natural pearls from Douglas McLauren, & a couple of blister pearls from his pteria sterna are the most colourful nacre I know of [except for abalone] - he could use them for benchmarks [kidding!] I keep seeing copper undertones in all sterna - there is extravagant pink fluorescence often.

what comes to mind
 
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canuk-gal

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HI:

Exquisite! Thanks for the narrative!

I'm going to put my SOC earrings on now (thanks for the reminder LOL)

cheers--Sharon
 

lkolarik

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Gorgeous!! :kiss2: Thank you for sharing the story, and all those amazing pictures!!
 
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