Aesthetically Ethical

Aesthetically Ethical

Pearls-Aesthetically Ethical

I am an ethical jeweller as well as jewellery designer and gemmologist all rolled into one.  Often these three sides have ructions, wrestling to see who comes out on top. But last year I found a source that satisfies all three. As ethical initiatives go cultured pearl farming is unique in the gems and jewellery world. Not only does it have a positive local and global impact but their sustainable farming methods create a finer quality end product.

A year ago when working on a bespoke job for a client I was in need of some pearls. Of course I wanted to take the same responsible sourcing principles we hold dear and started searching and asking questions of my suppliers. That was when I saw for the first time pearls from the Sea of Cortez, Mexico and I swooned. Fully traceable and with an ethical background that was enough for me – and my client loved them. Fast forward a year and I’m fortunate enough to meet one of the three founders of Perlas del Mar de Cortez, Douglas McLaurin-Moreno. We met at the Tucson Gem Show and his infectious enthusiasm made me realise that what they are achieving goes so much deeper.

(credit Perlas del Mar de Cortez)

Sea of Cortez Pearls

The “Rainbow Lipped Pearl Oyster” or Pteria sterna was native to the Sea of Cortez, in fact these legendary pearls were sought after the world over after their discovery by the conquistadors and reigned supreme in the courts of Europe for 400 years. But this high demand resulted in overfishing of these natural pearl beds and by the 1930s there were no more on the market.

That is until Perlas del Mar de Cortez, began operations in the early 1990s in Guaymas, Mexico. The three founders Douglas McLaurin-Moreno, Enrique Arizmendi Castillo and Jose Manuel Nava Romo, who all studied marine biology together, took the initiative to bring these native oysters back to these waters. By taking their time, respecting the environment and taking extra care of their pearl oysters they have managed to bring back from the brink of extinction the Sea of Cortez pearl and create saltwater cultured pearls which rival the infamous South Sea Pearls.

ethical pearls, sea of cortez pearls

(credit Perlas del Mar de Cortez)

There are currently 24 local people working on their farm with most being descendants of the original native pearl divers: the Yaqui Indian tribe. Here they have around 300,000 oysters which is the largest concentration of Native Pearl Oysters species their side of the Pacific and allows for effective reproduction of both species. Operating a no-fishing zone around their farm has created a protected area now teaming with fish and invertebrates. The the oysters themselves play host to species such as pea crabs, pistol shrimps and the ubiquitous Pearl Fish all of which have a greater chance of survival now the native oysters have returned.

Cultivating the Pearls

In order to cultivate the pearls they carefully graft in the bead nucleus and mantle into a two year old oyster then leave them hanging securely in baskets in the ocean for a further two years to deposit layers of nacre around the nucleus. This results in a layer with a depth of no less than 0.8mm (the lowest they will accept) but averages 1.5mm and have been known to be a thick as 5mm.

ethical pearls, sea of cortez pearls

(credit Perlas del Mar de Cortez)

During the four years of cultivation many things can interfere with the health of these oysters resulting in poor quality pearls. However, by monitoring the conditions in these subtropical waters these marine biologists ensure the oysters thrive. Through the summer with warm water up to 32℃ the oysters grow rapidly resulting in thicker nacre. In the cold winter waters of 15℃ the metabolism of the oyster slows right down. Nacre is composed of a combination of hexagonal platelets of aragonite crystals separated by even thinner layers of an elastic organic matrix. Both these extremes of temperature have a direct impact on the quality of the nacre. Thus the slower winter growth resulting in thinner and much more defined hexagonal platelets of aragonite but then faster less defined growth during the warm summers. The thickness of the nacre means that more light can travel in through these aragonite crystals and reflect back giving these pearls their ethereal lustre. Combined with the winter growth that creates the ideal thinner aragonite crystal structure to create iridescence and breaths life into the orient of the pearl. With patience over four years this is a winning combination.

The Summer Harvest

Each summer when harvested the pearls collected come in a range of kaleidoscopic overtones due to this orient and they are of such a good quality that no treatment (bleaching, dying nor even polishing) is required leaving them just as nature intended ready. To top it all off nothing goes to waste on this farm either since the remaining meat of the oyster (being similar to a scallop) is sold to the food industry.

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With all of this combined it is easy to see why here at The Rock Hound we now only stock pearls from Perlas del Mar de Cortez such as this pendant encircled simply in Fairtrade Gold.

ethical pearls, sustainable


Susi Smither FGA, GIA JDT

Founder and Designer at The Rock Hound

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