A day in the Life on a Pearl Farm, part one

A Day in the Life
My experience on a South Sea pearl farm in Australia
By Ahbra Perry of ‘On the Reel Productions.’

The iPhone alarm rings faintly; even Siri is still half asleep.  There is rustling in the hallway.  Someone must be as confused as I am.  Hunched awkwardly in my cubbyhole of a bed, I pull open the porthole curtain to reveal dense blackness.  I begin to worry.  Maybe the ship began taking on water as I slept and we are now rapidly sinking, plunging deep below the surface of the ocean to a certain death, or worse- it’s really still that dark outside.  I grab my toothbrush, fall out of my person-pantry (ladders are of little use at this time of the morning) and stumble into the hallway.

I make my way up to the deck like a drunken pinball, banging into the opposite side of the wall with every step.  I throw my body against a heavy door and tumble onto the main deck where the harsh cold of sea air quickly gnaws at my core.  My earlier fears are quickly realized.  It’s 4:30 in the morning, totally dark outside (the sun isn’t even thinking about coming up for at least another hour), and everyone is already working.

Pearl farm life is strenuous, but for those who toil forward, rising at ungodly hours, it can be some of the most inspiring and rewarding work one can do.  As on any farm, there is the constant challenge of creating and maintaining a delicate balance with Mother Nature.  The pearl farmer is unavoidably at her mercy.

Each farm that I have visited in the past three years has shown me an occupation that is rich in adventure, and in beauty.

The requirements for a perfect site place these farms in pristine and picturesque environments in some of the most remote reaches of the world.  Success in these regions relies heavily on the support of the communities built and sustained by these farms and is uniquely shaped by the indigenous cultures of the area.

Saltwater pearl farming has the potential to create positive impact on all fronts- we would be hard-pressed to find another industry to say the same for.

My film crew’s brief time documenting the life aboard the ships of an Australian South Sea pearl farm provided an experience marked by escapades that only pearl farming could offer.

The Trident Aurora serves as the command center for the Clipper Pearl Farm, and raises her anchor around 4 am.  The divers will hit the water at first light, so all equipment must be prepared, tested, and properly functioning before dawn.  Mistakes are not an option sixty feet below sea level.

Clipper Pearl’s and Autore’s mothership the Trident Aurora

Clipper Pearl’s and Autore’s mothership the Trident Aurora

Immediately after the dive boats are dispatched, preparation for their return is allegedly to begin.  In reality, all deck hands immediately gather around the “WC” – not a toilet, but instead a closet containing instant coffee, Milo (a vitamin-enriched chocolate powder), and hot water.  Everyone drags on rollies – hand rolled cigarettes, the bulk of whose tobacco tends to be taken by the wind.  If the United Nations had a locker room, the chatter would sound something like these deckhands.  The majority of them are young backpackers.  Traveling the world, they are likely in need of a paycheck to afford their next destination.  Greeks, Brits, a Scott, a Norwegian, Germans, Spaniards, French, and of course those from Australia and neighboring New Zealand all confer over a cup of coffee (and quite literally- I’m pretty sure there is really only one mug for ten people).  Being in such tight quarters, they will get close quickly.  Some have already been on a few trips out to sea together, while the rest are “real fresh for the season,” as one of the Kiwis tells me.

To be continued on September 9th …

3000 Hands: Sharing & Sustaining

We just received the following  link to a video trailer from our friends at Atlas Pearl in Indonesia. The movie, 300 Hands: Sharing and Sustaining, shows the people and work behind the beautiful South Sea pearls produced by our friend Mr. Joseph Taylor and the folks at Atlas.

We can’t wait for whole movie!

3000 Hands: Sharing & Sustaining Trailer from Arun Ketsirat Gartner on Vimeo.

How to Create a Perfect South Sea Strand

Pearl auctions happen several times each year, primarily in places such as Hong Kong, Japan and French Polynesia. For the most part, these auctions offer pearls in what are known as “lots.” Lots are parcels of undrilled pearls that can be separated into specific sizes, grades or colors, or they may be “mixed lots,” with an assortment of grades and sizes.

The majority of lots offered at any given auction are commercial lots, or lots in the lower quality range. On the A-D scale, these lots are typically in the C-D range. These lots tend to be the largest and bidding can be quite competitive because these are the lots used to make strands of Tahitian and South Sea pearls for the wholesale market. This is why it is very difficult, in fact almost impossible, to find strands of true AAA quality at jewelry shows. The A and A/B graded lots aren’t used in strands. They are sold for things such as earring, rings and pendants. In order to make what I consider a fine grade strand, it needs to be made from one of those top-graded lots.

I received a special request for a custom, 17-inch, 8.5-9 mm white South Sea strand last week. This is definitely small in the South Sea pearl range, but it’s a great opportunity for me to write about the steps in creating the perfect piece.

Step One: start with a fine lot of small South Sea pearls

A large lot of white South Sea pearls

Fine Quality 8-9 mm White South Sea Pearls

 

 Step Two: sort the pearls for color and luster

Sorting the South Sea pearls by color

Sorting the Pearls into Similar, Smaller Lots

The Final Selection of Pearls for the Strand

After the pearls have been sorted and the size needed (8.5-9 mm) selected, they need to be matched in size order. Typically this is something I will do by sight and confirm and correct using a digital caliper. This particular project, however, had almost no graduation. I used a digital caliper to precisely order them into a long strand.

Step Three: create a longer-than-needed strand

Two rows just over 12 inches would knot to more than 27 inches

I like to go a lot longer than needed when making a strand. This gives me the option of removing pearls that just don’t work as well as others or pearls that aren’t quite good enough (dull spots, too many blemishes, etc.) to be in the strand.

Step Four: remove pearls until reaching the desired length

The stage above is just before drilling and if it is a custom strand, this is the stage I will usually take a quick photo and send it to our customer for confirmation.

When drilling, it’s vitally important to choose the perfect drill point. Most pearls will have at least one obvious drill point, but some pearls have only the smallest of pin-prick blemishes. I find it’s easiest to examine the pearls under magnification prior to drilling. Once the drilling starts, there is no turning back.

Step Five: find the perfect drill point … and drill!

Preparing to drill one of the pearls

Finding the perfect point on a pearl to drill is paramount

Drilling a South Sea pearl

Once the pearls are drilled, I will usually string them onto a temporary thread. This serves two purposes; it helps remove the pearl dust still in the drill holes and keeps the pearls together before they are knotted.

Step Six: knotting the pearls

Knotting the Pearls

A knot is placed between every pearl in the strand

After the strand has been knotted we take one final photo to capture the true beauty of the finished piece before sending the strand of pearls on its way.

The Result: a perfect strand of South Sea pearls

One perfect strand of white South Sea pearls

Click on the image to expand

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 – jeremy@pearlparadise.com.

For the legal mumbo-jumbo, see the CPAA’s website: http://cpaa.org/goldentickets/

Gorgeous Golden South Sea Pearls

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

It has been a golden (South Sea) month!

Back in late March we mentioned that we had added a new bunch of golden South Sea strands to inventory. These weren’t your every day round classic strands, they were unique, circled and free formed baroque strands. We listed around 20 strands on the site staggered over a two week period and watched them disappear nearly as quickly. Gold has been popular this past month!

After realizing that our baroque golden strand page was down to only two pieces, we’ve decided to bring in more strands.  Over the next week we will be adding them to the website. A quick sneak peak of a few is just below!

Baroque Gold South Sea Pearls