Myles Cueto is one bighearted representative from Jewelmer International, a firm engaged in the production of the precious south sea pearls. I walked in to their Sofitel shop one afternoon and she openhandedly shared me her expertise regarding an Akoya pearl which was the object of my visit. The generous lady wouldn’t even let me leave empty-handed. I took home a bagful of their sleek mags and catalogues, plus, a “priveleged tour” of their Palawan pearl farm via a copy of “The Ultimate Orient”.
The Ultimate Orient is a 30-minute documentary presentation about the production of the legendary Mother of Pearls from the south sea region. These are the finest and the most precious of all pearls coming from the pinctada maxima, the largest of all pearl-bearing oysters(I thought these things only exist in bedtime stories). The pinctada maxima went so far as to near extinction due to the plundering of these mollusks by the Badjaos in their quest for mother pearl. Before, these experienced pearl divers had a hard time finding a single pearl worthy of a jewelry: roughly one for every twenty thousand mollusks. But since the advent of pearl grafting technique, mollusks were gathered and well taken care of in pearl farms. Thus, slows down the pace of their extinction and at the same time increased pearl production.
What is so mystical about pearls is that they are said to be the health indicator of the planet. Natural occurences such as typhoons or climate change and even human intrusion of the ocean in the form of pollutants and dynamite fishing, all are recorded on the surface of a pearl. This is why pearl farms, in their quest to produce perfect pearls, are situated on pristine waters, unadulterated environment and free of animal or human hazards. The pinctada maxima which is so vulnerable to ocean elements are placed on a long line of oyster baskets undersea and remains undisturbed for two to three years before harvest.
Just how much a pearl costs depends on its attributes such as roundness, size, luster etc. But the south sea pearls are so unique due to its color and orient. These exquisite gems comes only from the rich water system of the Sulu-Sulawesi marine region with its warm and clear waters no equal in the world. A hotbed of biodiversity.
Halfway along the film is an interesting part on how pearl grafting is done. It includes a spherical nucleus carved out from fresh water mussels plus a piece of live tissue from the mantel of a live oyster of the same species inserted within the nucleus. This method used to be a guarded secret and can only be performed by qualifed Japanese master grafters. But now the skills are passed on to the Filipinos and about 500 operations are being done daily.
The Ultimate Orient is an ultimate expedition into the world of these esoteric pearls. Even non-jewel buffs would surely be enthralled because it also features the beauty of the unadulterated Palawan waters and its untouched frontiers presented in a crisp and well-narrated script and superb cinematography. Now I have a pearl in my cd rack.