Since early times gold, silver, diamonds and pearls have been on the top of man’s list of the most sought after and cherished valuables. Gold, silver and diamonds are formed and forged by heat and pressure during violent fluctuations deep within our earth’s inhospitable mantle. Pearls, a living and organic gem, are formed by the natural and gentle process of pearl oysters protecting themselves from an accidentally embedded irritant, such as a grain of sand, that they can’t naturally expel.
Oysters excrete an organic/inorganic mix known as nacre, or Mother-of-pearl, that builds in layers around the irritant to give a smooth, shining, iridescent and often round pearl that can be white, pink, champagne, black or gold depending on the oyster species and what the oyster ingests.
The big difference between gold and pearls is that pearls can be cultivated. Few men have mastered the art of pearl alchemy as well as former airline pilot Jacques Branellec the founder and owner of Jewelmer Joaillerie.
As late as 1990 most cultured pearls where white with black pearls being considered the most exotic . But Jacques noticed that there was a naturally recessive gene in some Pinctada maxima oysters that could produce a golden pearl depending on the environmental conditions. He set about to change the industry using the vision of a poet and the skill of a craftsman to finally, after an extensive breeding program, produce golden pearls from the gold-lipped pearl oyster native to Philippine waters. Jacques elevated the act of culturing pearls into the art of nurturing pearls.
To produce the golden pearl, known now as the Golden South Seas Pearl, the environmental conditions have to be perfect and that includes being perfectly balanced with the biodiversity and sea life that surrounds the pearl farms. No pollution, no cyanide fishing, no fishing with dynamite and no destruction of the coral reefs for short-term gains. The workers at the Jewelmer pearl farms strive to protect the pristine environment they originally found in the Philippine islands of Palawan when they started farming in the 1980’s.
“The pearl is an indicator of the health of the planet. Upon its lustrous surface, every typhoon, every change in water temperature, every current caused by a dynamite blast, and every nuance in the cleanliness of the water is recorded. It falls on the highly skilled pearl farmer to act as a steward of creation. That’s why sharing with clients and helping them understand pearls and their relationship with nature is important.” Jacques Branellec, managing director.
Part poet and part craftsman Jacques, and his Filipino partner, turned his nurtured golden pearls of natural beauty into a works of exquisite crafted jewelry. To sell their exquisite luxury creations they created a luxury brand and did their own marketing.
Exceptional South Sea pearls are the centerpieces of the celebrated Jewelmer Joaillerie brand, which showcases the distinctive style and creative harmony of French design and Asian sensibilities, bringing fine jewelry to brilliant new heights.
That is where the seaplane pilot comes into the picture. Although Jewelmer has their own helicopter for personal and work transportation they wanted something different to help market their ecologically friendly jewelry. Something that will fit in with their mutually inclusive luxury branding and their quest for ecological sustainability. The seaplane fits that description perfectly.
The modern turbine powered seaplane requires no runways, no helipads, and leaves no footprint of any kind behind. Pearl oysters are sensitive to noise and pollution and the seaplane is benign in both categories. Unlike boats motors that have their propellers under water, what little noise the seaplane propeller makes on takeoff is not transferred from the medium of air to the medium of water. Because there is no propeller or exhaust under water, again unlike boats, there is no residual pollution.
Jewelmer deputy CEO Jacques Christophe Branellec, son of the founder, arranged for me to fly out to their private island located just a few kilometers from one of the main pearl farms along with a photography team and a jewelry model. Although Flower Island Resort is mostly used as their private residence while they are working the pearl farms they also take in the occasional guests – those intrepid travellers who have the time and determination to find their way via commuter airliner to Puerto Princesa, 3.5 hour Jeepney journey to the port of TayTay and finally a long boat ride across to the island.
By seaplane, on the other hand, I departed Manila at 6:30 am and arrived at the island by 8:00 am just in time for breakfast.
My assignment was simple. Bring the seaplane and the film crew to the island and then wait. The golden pearls were the real star of the show and the seaplane was merely used as a backdrop for the jewelry campaign photo-shoot. Mike and I took our assignment seriously and settled in for the long wait.
To be specific the model was the backdrop for the golden pearls and the seaplane was the backdrop for the jewelry model.
At any one time the young lady was wearing up to $30,000 worth of golden south seas pearls flown in separately via the company helicopter and flown out again the same day.
The idea that these perfectly exquisite and valuable pearls were created by man’s intervention with a natural process, to me, represent the harmony of man and nature. Commercialism can coexist with nature as long as the poet and the craftsman work together to understand how they fit into the ecology they are working with.
We can protect and tune but ultimately we need to be able to sustain – both the natural processes of the environment and of the human community that lives in and off of the environment. If the community can profit from protecting the environment then a harmony and balance can be found. Not by politicians but by the poets and craftsmen.
To me seaplane pilots are cut from the same mold. Some of us are born to be seaplane pilots but we still need to take the time to learn how to be craftsmen. We have to train and study and practice until we get it right. Like the pearl farmers we need the clean waters, healthy biosphere and perfect beaches to fly to otherwise we would just as well work for an airline and fly airport to airport. That is not who we are.
Instead of flying to lush green tropical islands and clear blue waters filled with whale sharks, turtles, clown fish, sea anemones and pearl oysters we would be pounding the concrete runways. While all pilots are craftsman those of us who fly seaplanes are the poets of aviation.
Mike and I both agreed that you didn’t need to be a jewelry model to make the golden pearls look luxurious. One of the marketing managers was also wearing a set of trademark Jewelmer golden pearl earrings. We dubbed her “The Girl with the Golden Earrings.”
The pearl, featured on the 1000 peso note, is the national gem of the Philippines. So should be the Girl with the Golden Earrings.
This young lady, and all those who work the pearl farms with Jewelmer, represents the real national treasure of the Philippines and our future. Like Jacques Branellec said in an interview, “The pearl is the symbol of survival – when you have no more pearls you have no more humans on the planet.”