South Sea Pearl

The Natural Gem of the Philippines

TFor centuries, the Badjaos or sea gypsies in the southern Philippines, have been earning a living as divers searching for the renowned South Sea Pearl.

Traders came to the Philippines as early as the Sung Dynasty (960-1278) for it. Wang Dayuan, a Chinese chronicler of the 14th century, said the pearls from the Philippines were better than those from other places, for they are exquisitely round and white, and their color does not fade. These special qualities made the South Sea pearls very popular, for which the Philippines became a trading center of pearls during the pre-colonial period.

During the Spanish era, our pearls, found to be more beautiful and valuable than those in the Persian Gulf, brought fortune to the islands. The Sulu archipelago, also known as "Jolo" was then the center of the pearl trade.

The Americans, during their time, acknowledged that the "archipelago has one of the most valuable pearl beds in the world." Although Singapore then was the center of the pearl trade, the Philippines was exporting pearls for these were still considered the most valuable pieces.

The famous "Pearl of Allah," said to be the biggest in the world, was also found in the waters of Palawan, in southwestern Philippines.

Before his death, national hero Dr. Jose Rizal immortalized the Philippines as the "Pearl of the Orient" in his last poem, "Mi Ultimo Adios." This significantly showed that the pearl has been imbedded in the national psyche.

The South Sea Pearl comes from a rare breed of oysters which thrive only in tropical waters. The Pinctada Maxima pearl oyster gives life to white and golden pearls while the black South Sea Pearl comes from the Pinctada margaritifera. Expert divers prowled the deepseas in search of these priceless oysters, which are then nurtured and used for cultivation at pearl farms.

The Philippines Association of Pearl Producers and Exporters (PAPPE), reports that the country is now one of the largest producers of South Sea Pearls.

The Philippine South Sea pearl is a cut above the rest because of its captivating spectrum of colors and splendid oriental feature. With hues ranging from champagne, gold and pale blue to silvery gray and peacock green, the country has broken convention that pearls need not be white to be beautiful at all.

Pearl farmers wait for a minimum of three harvests to ensure a perfectly matched strand. The colors, untouched by human hands, are enhanced by the deep lustrous glow characteristic of the South Sea Pear. The numerous individual layers of pearl nacre reflected by the light across a multitude of prisms makes the pearl glow. (Department of Tourism).

Note: The pictures on this page are taken from The Pearl Farm Resort, on Samal Island. In 1958, this site was once a real pearl farm, where 12,000 whte-lipped oysters - transported from the Sulu Sea - were harvested for their pink, white and cold pearls. The pictures are courtesy of Mabuhay, Philippine Airline's official publication.