Jeweler Jorge Adeler recounts his life-changing experiences in the Far East during a tour to the pearl industry’s epicenter
As a jeweler, it’s important to understand a gem’s origin, culture, and emotion. Only then do I feel I can communicate its secrets and mysteries and create jewelry with purpose. On my 15-day trip to Asia, I was able to see first-hand the history and development of the golden pearls of the South Pacific, the Akoya pearls of Japan, and the freshwater and Tahitian black pearls of China.
When I arrived at Flower Island in Palawan, I could see the endless span of islands, beaches, and sea where some of the world’s most perfect pearls are found. While there, I was given the opportunity to study the golden pearls of the Philippines and South Sea at the Jewelmer International Corporation Pearl Farms.
I took over 400 photos of the complex operations required for the cultivation of the ideal golden pearl, which include more than 316 interactions between the oyster and handlers over a five-year period. The process of cultivating a single pearl is exhaustive, and puts in perspective the task required to make a necklace. As many as 22,000 pearls are needed to assemble a perfect strand.
In the late 1800s, Kokichi Mikimoto discovered the insertion technique of cultivating pearls with farmed oysters that gave rise to the cultured pearl industry. The city of Toba, home to the famous island of Mikimoto, is a tribute to this man, who through enduring dedication, created an important industry.
While on Mikimoto Pearl Island, I stood by as women, known locally as Ama, dove for oysters, and I marvelled at the challenge of producing pearls.
While the type of oysters needed for Akoya pearls differs from those for golden pearls, the process of raising oysters and the surgery required to implant the nuclei into the mollusk remains the same throughout the world.
My journey ended at the Hong Kong Jewelry and Watch Fair, where I met Robert Wang, the “godfather” of the Tahitian black pearl. No one in the world of French Polynesian pearls has more influence or power and only a small group of elite wholesale jewelers are invited to his world-famous auctions. With the help of the Gemological Institute of America, I was granted the privilege of attending one.
I experienced a maelstrom of emotion as I presented my sealed bids. To my absolute delight, I won 60 percent of my offers. As a sign of gratitude for the opportunity, I told Wang I would design a necklace in his name for charity. Along with his thanks, he gave me the honor of selecting the U.S.-based charity of my choice to receive the donation. The museum of the Gemological Institute of America, the organization that helped me get in touch with Wang, accepted the gift.
All pearl connoisseurs will agree with me that of the many gifts that God gives us, the pearl falls very close to perfection.
Jorge Adeler is the owner and master jewelry designer of Adeler Jewelers in Great Falls, Va.