Jewelmer’s Flower Island Update

Thank you all for the countless emails and requests! We just received another box of tickets from the CPAA, so everyone who has requested them should receive them next week. We will keep giving them away as long as there are tickets to give!

Good luck to everyone, and in the meantime, please enjoy the iPhone video I shot while landing on Flower Island in 2011. Pardon the music. I had to do something to replace the sound of the helicopter’s rotors.

Flower Island in the Philippines anyone?

Some of you may recall that I blogged about the ‘Pearl Trip Around the World‘ that took me to pearl farms in China, Japan, the Philippines, Fiji and French Polynesia. Our short documentary The Tahitian Pearl followed this trip, and eventually I plan to use the footage from the rest of the trip for something even bigger and better. I just need to find a 4-5 month window of extra time to put the work in!

(Be sure to click the images to enlarge)

During the trip there was one destination that stood out among the others as one of the most exotic, beautiful and far-flung places I’ve ever visited – Jewelmer’s Flower Island in Palawan, The Philippines. To reach Flower Island, we flew by helicopter for hours from Manila, even needing to stop once for refueling. It really is that remote.

Flower Island is owned by Jacques Branellec, founder of Jewelmer, a French Filipino company that specializes in the production of deep golden South Sea pearls. The island resort is located on one of Jewelmer’s many pearl farms.

I would like to help send someone to this tropical paradise.

Jewelmer has teamed up with the Cultured Pearl Association of America (CPAA) to send two people on an all-expense-paid trip for a vacation on Flower Island. The CPAA has printed a total of 5000 tickets and each ticket is selling for $10 apiece. But there’s a problem. The contest ends in a couple of weeks and there are thousands of unsold tickets left. This means that the odds of winning are better than anyone could have previously imagined.

I’ve decided to assist Jewelmer and the CPAA with those tickets. We’re hosting a contest on our Facebook page and another on our website. But I know that the people who would truly appreciate this trip are most likely those that read this blog. If you would like me to send you FREE Golden Tickets for Two, just email me your name, telephone number and address and I will drop them in the mail for you –

For the legal mumbo-jumbo, see the CPAA’s website:

Gorgeous Golden South Sea Pearls

Golden South Sea pearls grown at Jewelmer’s Pearl Farm near Flower Island

Cleopatra, Mark Antony and Pliny’s Pearls for Dinner

One of the most famous pearl stories of all time is that told by Pliny the Elder in his book, The Natural History of Pliny Volume 2. The story revolves around a bet Cleopatra made with Mark Antony.

From Pliny’s own words:

When Antony had been sated by her, day after day, with the most exquisite banquets, this queenly courtesan, inflated with vanity and disdainful arrogance, affected to treat all this sumptuousness and all these vast preparations with the greatest contempt; upon which Antony enquired what there was that could possibly be added to such extraordinary magnificence. To this she made answer, that on a single entertainment she would expend ten millions of sesterces. Antony was extremely desirous to learn how that could be done, but looked upon it as a thing quite impossible; and a wager was the result.

Legend has it that Antony took this wager and the next day Cleopatra held a banquet.

In obedience to her instructions, the servants placed before her a single vessel, which was filled with vinegar, a liquid, the sharpness and strength of which is able to dissolve pearls. At this moment she was wearing in her ears those choicest and most rare and unique productions of Nature; and while Antony was waiting to see what she was going to do, taking one of them from out of her ear, she threw it into the vinegar, and after it was melted, swallowed it.

This sounds like an interesting wager and sort of like the “grain of sand in a pearl” myth, the story appears to be plausible. Pearls are composed of calcium carbonate and if you were to combine calcium carbonate with acetic acid (the main component of vinegar) the result would be calcium acetate water and carbon dioxide. In short, the pearls should melt!

Personally, I wasn’t convinced. I’d never heard of vinegar getting splashed onto someone’s strand of pearls and it melting off her neck like the Wicked Witch of the West. So this called for a experiment!

During the time of Cleopatra and Mark Antony, pearls were always naturals. I wouldn’t want to take a chance destroying something as valuable as a natural pearl, but I could use non-nucleated cultured pearls. Pearls without an implanted bead don’t much differ from their natural counterparts.

The pearls also must be completely untreated. Today’s pearls are routinely bleached and pinked to even out the colors and add that slight hint of rose. I think it’s safe to assume that Cleopatra’s pearls were fine gems straight out of the shell!

It just so happens that every year we bring in four kilos of beadless cultured pearls that have had no treatments whatsoever – we call these pearls “raw material.” We bring them in for a monastery that uses them in religious ceremonies. So when they ordered the last batch, I brought in an extra kilo for us to play with.

First, I selected out a handful of the nicest pearls. I chose pearls with fine natural luster, nice color and good shapes. Then I did the unthinkable. I dropped them in vinegar!

Untreated pearls before the vinegar test

Untreated pearls before the vinegar test

Then came the hard part – the wait! I shook the container, had a stare-down with several pearls from the clear plastic side  and waited some more. Pretty soon I got tired of waiting and found something else to do. It started to seem that Pliny’s story wasn’t completely true to history.

After two weeks (that’s right, I waited two weeks), I decided that it was time to remove the pearls. I was convinced that the legend of Mark Antony and Cleopatra was exactly that – a legend. The story as told by Pliny simply could not be true. The speed at which a pearl dissolves in vinegar would have had them dining for months.

While my experiment was enough to convince me that the legend was a myth, I can state definitively that vinegar is not good for pearls. Take a look below to see what happens to pearls after two weeks in a tub of vinegar. They are nearly unrecognizable.

Pearls and vinegar certainly don’t mix!

Hong Kong Jewelry Show 2013

The Hong Kong Exhibition Center in Wanchai

We’ve just returned from one of our largest buying trips of the year, the March jewelry show in Hong Kong. This is always an important trip because much of our inventory is depleted during the back-to-back Christmas and Valentine’s Day shopping seasons.

Hisano and I landed in Hong Kong at 9 am local time on Tuesday, and arrived at the Wanchai Exhibition Center at 11 am. The show lasts only five days and every day is important, so like usual, we set out as soon as we landed. That evening, and every evening that followed, we had dinners with friends and suppliers – four nights in all. Saturday, as soon as the show finished, we were back on an airplane headed to Los Angeles. It was exhausting, to say the least, but equally rewarding!

We had a lot of ground to cover in five days, and a lot of items on the shopping list. My job was to find the difficult lots that were needed to plug holes in our inventory, while Hisano spent more time finding new and special pearls. I have to admit that I was a bit jealous, but she does have the eye for it and my buying strengths are negotiating and name recognition.

Below is a breakdown of some of what we came home with this week.

Tahitian Pearls

In January, 2011, we had the opportunity to purchase the entire stock of AAA rounds from a large trader in Tahiti at a good discount. Because we were battling the rise in the Euro at the time and Tahitian pearl prices were starting to go up, it made sense. We still have thousands of loose rounds left over, but we were starting to run low on 8-9 mm and dark peacock in nearly every size.

This situation created a problem for us on two fronts; most Tahitian pearl lots come in sized lots of 8-10 mm and purchasing separated dark-peacock Tahitian lots can be very expensive. Furthermore, 8 mm Tahitians have become somewhat scarce over the past year, so most 8-10 mm lots contain very few 8-9 mm pearls.

Over the course of the week, I met with three different producers (including Alexander Collins from Takaroa where our Tahitian pearl documentary was filmed) and one trader, and was able to negotiate deals on six different Tahitian pearl lots. One was a dark, mixed lot of 8-9 mm, and the others were all dark peacock lots of varying sizes – exactly what we needed.

A selection of the 10-11 mm Peacock rounds that we brought back from the show.

Hisano and I also met with Chi Hyun of Galatea to examine (and ultimately purchase) his new line of hand-carved Tahitian pearls. Unlike the “carved” Tahitian pearls we’ve seen in the past out of Tahiti, Chi’s pearls are genuinely carved and not simply etched. Stay tuned for this collection!

South Sea Pearls

In the South Sea genre we went all out. We had every size of white rounds on our list, and purchased lots ranging in size from 9 to 17 mm, most from a single producer. We had good luck with golden South Sea as well, purchasing round lots ranging from 9 to 12 mm, a nice lot of drops and baroques, and even one lot of free form baroque and circled unfinished strands – something we rarely do, but as you can see from the previous link, our stock is low. We were so happy with what we found, we should be well stocked through the entire year!

Akoya Pearls

We didn’t have much on the list for akoya this trip, and what was on the list was in short supply. We needed to find some nice lots of 6-6.5 mm and 6.5-7 mm, but very few were to be had. In the end, we only returned with around 150 strands of akoya.

Freshwater Pearls

As usual, this is where Hisano and I had the most fun. While I spent nearly two full days separating out loose pearls for our freshadama and metallic white lines, Hisano visited at least a half dozen producers and processors looking for those special, must-see-to-believe pearls. I can’t go into too much detail and spoil upcoming surprises, but some of her finds included; giant black Edisons, some of the largest baroques I’ve ever seen, metallic fireball pairs, green-golds and even large, drop-shape metallic whites. This is going to be fun!

We did spend the last afternoon of the show getting in a bit of eye candy and visiting some of the well-known natural pearl dealers like Shanghai Gems and Tara and Sons. The conch, melo melo and other exotic naturals were amazing.

A Pearl Trip Around the World

Two years ago I was approached by a board member of the Cultured Pearl Association of America about a project that they had in mind. They wanted to send a film crew around the world, shooting pearl farms in China, Japan, Fiji, the Philippines and French Polynesia. I was asked to accompany the team to be the guide/interpreter/pearl expert.

My first thought was that it would be impossible to leave my company for the full month it would take to film in so many different locations, but after careful consideration I decided that not only should I go along, I had to go along.

As part of the deal, I have full rights to all the film shot on the trip and now have hard drives with hours upon hours of footage shot in some of the most exotic locations on the planet. To date, I’ve only used the footage from French Polynesia to produce the video below, but more videos are coming.

This was shot on the atoll of Takaroa in French Polynesia. Takaroa is a two-hour flight from Papeete and is as remote as it gets.

I hope you enjoy the show!