Have You Ever Heard of a Mexican Pearl Farm?
Recently, the JCK website featured a blog post with some (possibly?) unknown facts about pearls. There was not much surprising info in the post however I was surprised that the author decided to mention Cortez pearls. Since I was only a few weeks out from my trip, my ears perked up. Pearls from the Sea of Cortez are not readily mentioned when discussing pearls and pearl cultivation. Which is unfortunate! The Sea of Cortez is the only commercial pearl farm in the Americas that produces whole cultured pearls. (Re: GIA)
Yes, here I am on my deck overlooking the Sea of Cortez, preparing for tomorrow’s visit to Perlas del Mar de Cortez. According to the JCK article, the pearl farm has been in operation since the 1990s but is by no means Mexico’s first attempt at culturing pearls.
Explorers Search For Pearls
Spanish explorers traveled across Mexico and Central America to discover the natural pearls of the Pacific Ocean, a beauty and and luxury already well known by the native Aztecs. These explorers sent these treasures back to Europe. This fueled the Spanish royalty’s love of pearls and the world’s recognition of these Central American treasures.
Natural pearls were all the rage for many years. Then the stock of natural pearls were severally impacted by overfishing. And the price tag on natural pearls rose dramatically. This, of course, led Mikimoto to start culturing his own pearls in Japan. Around the same time (in the early 1900s) a pearl farm was in operation in Mexico, too. Read more on The First Pearl Farm here.
The History of Pearl Farms in Mexico
The Sea of Cortez sits between the west coast of the mainland of Mexico and the Baja Peninsula. Although I am here on the mainland staring west towards the Baja peninsula, the first pearl farm was actual on the east coast of the Baja Peninsula in the town of La Paz, north of Cabo San Lucas.
Pearl farming in La Paz was a short-lived affair, prematurely ending in 1914, midway through the Mexican Revolution. Soldiers not only destroyed the area of La Paz but the entire Mexican culture and government was transformed. It was back to natural pearls for local pearl divers.. Then, of course, we have the issue of the Hoover Dam which severely impacted the Sea of Cortez and literally decimated the mollusk population. Read more on the Hoover Dam here.
Pearl farming returned in the 1960s but proved to be a yet another failure, this time due to the Mexican government. This is a theme we see repeated in many countries. The government has to be on board for a pearl farm to thrive. Pearl farming was put on hold until the current pearl farmers launched their pearl farming efforts in 1994.
I cannot wait to find out more details tomorrow. As of now the pearl farm’s website has been hacked and Douglas, on of the owners of the farm, told me it is impossible to access and fix (stay tuned, he is launching a new website!). So, I have to save many of my big questions for tomorrow.
But, quick rundown.
Pearl Farming in Mexico
What are these pearl farmers up to in Bacochibampo Bay Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico? This operation revolves around two mollusk species and produces pearls called the rainbow lipped mollusk. This means the outer lip of the inside of the shell is rainbow colored. As you know, a mollusk can produce pearls the same color as its shell so this mollusk produces rainbow colored pearls. Another name for this species is the western winged mollusk or, scientifically, the Pteria sterna. This is a native mollusk.
Looking at Pearls
Let’s run through the different quality factors of pearls which bear strongly on what I will be looking at when I purchase these Cortez pearls.
First, size: The pearls typically range in size between 8 and 9.5mm in diameter but they can measure as large 12mm. The nacre thickness (which is the amount of pearl on top of the nucleus inside is between 0.8 to 2.3 mm.
If you have read my blog before (or met me!) you know that nacre quality is very important to me. I love, love, love freshwater pearls without bead nucleases so there is not a range of nacre thickness… the pearl is almost entirely nacre. But, again, this bead nucleus is what we get with saltwater cultured pearls and if you want a rainbow colored pearl, this is something we have to contend with. It goes without saying, my haul tomorrow will include pearls with as thick of nacre as possible.
So, what about color? What color is a rainbow colored pearl? These Cortez cultured pearls have a body or base color of gray to dark gray, brown or yellow and their overtones range from purple to pink, blue to green or yellow. Again, these are all natural colors! Read more about what I learned about these colors!
And shape… As with most cultured pearl operations, only the top 2% is going to be the highest quality and, in the case of this farm, only the top 2% of the pearls are going to be round or near round. So I expect to find many off size pearls.
There is a specific reason I came this time of year… it is harvest time! Let’s go harvest these beautiful pearls!
I am a modern day treasure hunter who travels the world for gorgeous pearls and amazing adventures. I own a pearl jewelry and jewelry repair business, ThePearlGirls.com, with a cute retail store in Athens, GA. I also have a Pearl Travel business and travel blog at TheWorldofPearl.com.