Our Visit to Bertrand and His Family
Bear took me to see Bertrand, he welcomed us into his home and introduced us to his wife Lucy and lovely daughters Susan (said beautifully but easier when Anglicised) and Crystal. I had left Beez with no intention of being sold on liking pearls. My first introduction was when an elderly aunt leant over me to give me a kiss and her voluminous plastic ones tumbled over my face. The second was when the string of fake pearls a lady was wearing to church seemed to explode and the whole congregation heard them bouncing all over the polished floor and travelling great distances. I had only seen white or cream ones and was intrigued to see a black pearl. I told these stories to Bertrand and he laughed, he didn’t like them before either, but, after sailing here from France, falling in love and realising he had to earn money, rented his ’sand acreage’ here and became a pearl farmer.
Instant love at first sight. Their weight was the biggest surprise though, they are really heavy. Bertrand patiently explained the whole process of his work and showed us grades through from A to D. Next was choosing one as a memento of the Gambiers. The one for Faye is at the bottom, Moths at the top and the girls in the middle. Mine is the same size as the girls but was resting in a shell at the time. Bertrand told us he implants a 5 mm bead and a tiny piece of inner shell (the dark shiny bit) and the oyster does the rest. The 12.8 mm (Moths) took two years to get to that size. The others are about eighteen months. Each oyster can be used four times but the second and third harvest are the best. The fourth grows fastest but often dodgy shaped with more faults. Bertrand ‘runs’ or ran twenty thousand oysters (he is in the process of retiring and sailing off in his catamaran with Lucy – the girls will be in college on Tahiti). His expectation was five per cent high grade pearls each harvest. The buoys we saw on the way in were all his, I thought the oysters hung on strings like mussels. No, each oyster shell has a small hole drilled at the edge to wire it onto strings. Every four months they are collected - twenty five to a bag - each bag brought out to be power hosed, this is to wash off grass, debris and keep them healthy allowing bigger growth of the pearl. A time consuming job, much snorkeling in amongst many sharks (about one bite per year across all those employed in the industry in the area). We couldn’t believe our eyes when Bertrand got out a periodical, they have magazines for pearl farmers ???? Had to get some pictures from it.
My chap on the left with a wonderful mistake. I loved this so much as well as the one in the middle, (Bertrand gave them to me as birthday presents). Lucy showed us a couple of bags of real oddities, we chose the bigger and stranger shapes to one day get made into ‘tin cups’ for the girls. A tin cup is one strung every inch or so on a bracelet. Mmmmm may have to learn to do that ourselves as a very unique pressy.
Items not for sale. These showed us the colour ranges found in these waters. The chap in the middle clearly had his own idea about what he wanted to create. I fell for the golden / iron coloured one. Rejects can be used in jewelry as embellishments, faults filed off and glued, examples of work made by Crystal are below.
A pearl is a hard object produced within the soft tissue (specifically the mantle) of a living shelled mollusc. Just like the shell of a clam, a pearl is made up of calcium carbonate in minute crystalline form, which has been deposited in concentric layers. The ideal pearl is perfectly round and smooth, but many other shapes of pearls (baroque pearls) occur. The finest quality natural pearls have been highly valued as gemstones and objects of beauty for many centuries, and because of this, the word pearl has become a metaphor for something very rare, fine, admirable, and valuable.
Bertrand told us the Chinese workers can introduce a bead and piece of shell at a rate of five hundred a day. Once introduced the oyster moves the bits together where it wants it and begins the process of forming a pearl. Pearl farmers spend quite a bit of time in the water tending their ‘flock’.
The most valuable pearls occur spontaneously in the wild, but they are extremely rare. These wild pearls are referred to as natural pearls. Cultured or farmed pearls from pearl oysters and freshwater mussels make up the majority of those that are currently sold. Imitation pearls are widely sold in inexpensive jewelry, but the quality of their iridescence is poor, and often, artificial pearls are easily distinguished from genuine pearls. Pearls have been harvested and cultivated primarily for use in jewelry, but in the past they were also stitched onto lavish clothing. Pearls can be crushed and used in cosmetics, medicines and in paint formulations.
Whether wild or cultured, gem quality pearls are almost always nacreous and iridescent, as is the interior of the shell that produces them. However, almost all species of shelled molluscs are capable of producing pearls of lesser shine or less spherical shape.
Pearls are commonly viewed by scientists as a by-product of an adaptive immune system-like function.
The English word pearl comes from the French perle, originally from the Latin perna meaning leg, after the ham- or mutton leg-shaped bivalve.
Religious references: Pearls are mentioned in Hindu writings. At least until the beginning of the 20th century it was a Hindu custom to present a completely new, undrilled pearl and pierce it during the wedding ceremony. The Qur'an often mentions that dwellers of paradise will be adorned with pearls. The Pearl of Great Price is a book of scripture in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Several mentions in the Bible and of course there are many who want to ‘walk through the pearly gates’. "And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every gate was of one pearl: and the streets of the city were pure gold, as if transparent glass."
Pearls are graded and rather like gemstones have a strict guideline to follow
Creation of a pearl: The mantle of the shell deposits layers of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) in the form of the mineral aragonite or a mixture of aragonite and calcite (polymorphs with the same chemical formula, but different crystal structures) held together by an organic horn-like compound called conchiolin. The combination of aragonite and conchiolin is called nacre, which makes up mother-of-pearl. The commonly held belief that a grain of sand acts as the irritant is in fact rarely the case. Typical stimuli include organic material, parasites, or even damage that displaces mantle tissue to another part of the mollusk's body. These small particles or organisms gain entry when the shell valves are open for feeding or respiration. In cultured pearls, the irritant is typically an introduced piece of the mantle epithelium, with or without a spherical bead (beaded or beadless cultured pearls).
Ooops, the result of drilling ‘gone wrong’. .
Value of a natural pearl: Quality natural pearls are very rare jewels. The actual value of a natural pearl is determined in the same way as it would be for other "precious" gems. The valuation factors include size, shape, colour, quality of surface, orient and lustre.
Single, natural pearls are often sold as a collector's item, or set as centerpieces in unique jewelry. Very few matched strands of natural pearls exist, and those that do often sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. (In 1917, jeweler Pierre Cartier purchased the Fifth Avenue mansion that is now the New York Cartier store in exchange for a matched, double strand of natural pearls that he had been collecting for years; valued at the time at $1 million USD.)
Tahitian pearls, frequently referred to as black pearls, are highly valued because of their rarity; the culturing process for them dictates a smaller volume output and they can never be mass-produced because, in common with most sea pearls, the oyster can only be nucleated with one pearl at a time, while freshwater mussels are capable of multiple pearl implants. Before the days of cultured pearls, black pearls were rare and highly valued for the simple reason that white pearl oysters rarely produced naturally black pearls, and black pearl oysters rarely produced any natural pearls at all.
Later, back in Rikitea, I looked up pearls to learn more. High grade Tahitian pearls were on sale at $3500 each. Mmmm, just the one grade D for me then. On the quayside we saw piles bagged oyster shells, ready to go over to Tahiti on the supply boat. The mother-of-pearl will be removed, the rest will be crushed to become one of the ingredients in potting compost.
Bertrand presented me with an oyster shell (my pearls new home) and what it can look like polished.
What one can look like in skilled hands.
Some more of Crystals talent, as yet unfinished, but it is only the start of the school holidays.......
We left this extraordinary family and wish them safe winds on their adventures. We went to explore Arakamu.
ALL IN ALL AN EYE OPENER