Special Report, Part 4: A Visit to Jewelmer’s Pearl Farms in the Philippines

This post is a continuation from Tuesday’s Part 3; JCK visited the Jewelmer pearl farms—some of which were hit by Typhoon Haiyan—earlier this year.

On the morning of the third day, I joined the others for breakfast, eager to fill up on mangos. (Those in the Acme market near my home in Pennsylvania would most certainly be a letdown after eating this variety.) But when Gabriel and Consuelo arrived, Consuelo’s face didn’t reflect the joy of someone who was about to eat Flower Island mangos.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, thinking perhaps she was just tired from the previous night’s soiree.

“A spider,” she said. “We had a spider in our room last night that was the size of my hand.”

Picture that: the size of her hand—and in a room upstairs from me.

Clutching my iPhone, I desperately tried to ring home (it was about 8:30 p.m. on the East Coast) to get my husband to talk me through a state of hysteria. “Maybe it will just crawl away, or outside, and get hit by a coconut falling from a very tall tree,” I told myself. But the cell service wasn’t cooperating, so I had to pull it together—quickly—and go on about the day. There was another boat ride to a different island where we had a family-style lunch, and some went snorkeling. Later, I picked up small seashells and took a walk with some of the resident dogs and Joe Meli, another new friend who had joined us on the trip.

One of the resident dogs on Flower Island

One of the resident dogs on Flower Island

Penelope Uy and Frank Ferrari, Jewelmer employees

Penelope Uy and Franck Ferrari, Jewelmer employees

Me and Joe Meli on Flower Island

Me and Joe Meli on Flower Island

(Photo: Ian Santos for Photos Graphos Inc.)

That evening in my room, the coast seemed clear—no hand-sized spiders. But when I emerged from the bathroom after brushing my teeth, there on top of the crisp white linens of the bed was a dime-size black spider. What was I to do, squash it with a flip-flop? Who knows what kind of spidey distress signal it would beam out to its bigger siblings? (Let alone the inky stain that would defile the sheets!) I took off down the island like a New Yorker trying to catch a subway train, and I crashed in Patty’s concrete spider-free bungalow for the night.

Leaving Flower Island

Leaving Flower Island

And the next day on the ride back to Manila, I finally got time to talk to JB—albeit while he was flying the chopper! In an ultimate self-effacing move, that man let me interview him through headphones—which intermittently barked directional orders from some flight control base—while navigating our way back to the mainland, with me in a seat behind the cockpit. My biggest takeaway was JB’s profound love for the Filipinos. “They have nothing and they give you everything,” he said. “They give without expecting anything in return and go out of their way to please you.”

Flying into Manila

Flying into Manila

Those funky looking shared buses in Manila!

Those funky-looking shared buses in Manila!

Once in Manila, JCB took us to a Jewelmer boutique inside the Resort World Manila casino, one of 15 boutiques in the country. In a floor-to-ceiling display outside the store were pieces of blue and white pottery from a 13th-century Chinese shipwreck discovered by Jewelmer near one of its farms. Finished pieces of golden pearl jewelry dazzled in store cases, and their retail prices seemed more like wholesale ones. We had lunch and met Manual, JB’s partner.

Exterior of Jewelmer store in the Resort World Manila casino

Exterior of Jewelmer store in the Resort World Manila casino

Centuries-old China artifacts discovered near a Jewelmer farm

Centuries-old Chinese artifacts discovered near a Jewelmer farm

Jewelry in a Jewelmer store

Jewelry in a Jewelmer store

Jewelry in a Jewelmer store

Jewelry in a Jewelmer store

Later that day, our group went together to the airport, and it turned out that export manager Franck Ferrari and JCB were on my flight to Hong Kong. They too were going to the show but as an exhibitor. I knew JCB was a frequent traveler who would normally ride in first class on Cathay Pacific, but he and Franck ended up sitting with me in coach. (It’s that Filipino utang na loob again.) I’ve been blessed to be at the receiving end of a lot of hospitality, but the Filipino way will almost embarrass you with its over-the-top benevolence.

At the Hong Kong show, I met Gaelle the designer and Janthina Fong, who handles PR, as well as a few other staffers, and saw some of the company’s one-of-a-kinds (one of which sold during the show!).

Gaelle Branellec, designer for Jewelmer

Gaelle Branellec, designer for Jewelmer

To be sure, this was a trip to remember, to treasure, and, in the spirit of this Thanksgiving week for Americans, to be thankful for. With a new set of friends halfway around the world and a better understanding of pearl growth and what pearls can mean to the livelihoods and lifestyles of many, my own love of pearls has grown exponentially and become that much more personal.

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