You may have heard recently about the Filipino fisherman who discovered the world’s largest natural pearl … and then kept it beneath his bed for ten years.

 

No, that’s basically the whole story. It gets a little crazier, mostly because of the numbers involved. The pearl was found in a giant clam, is about two feet long by one foot wide, and weighs around seventy-five pounds.

 

world-largest-pearl

Photo from Japan Times

 

Seventy-five pounds is pretty big to carry around, which is what the fisherman thought, too. He simply tucked it under a wooden bed and would occasionally rub it before heading out to sea to fish. You know, for good luck. Seems reasonable. But he didn’t want to take it with him when he moved to a new place; again, seventy-five pounds. So he brought it to his aunt and asked her to hide it for him.

 

Cynthia Amurao is both his aunt and the local tourism director for the city of Puerto Prin-cesa. She felt that since they didn’t know its true worth that there was no point in hiding it, so she asked his permission to display it instead. He agreed, and here we are now.

 

Estimates for its value are not set yet, although the previously-largest natural pearl in the world, the Pearl of Lao Tzu, was once valued at up to $93 million dollars. That one was only fifteen pounds, so who can say what the new record-holder will achieve?

 

 

Here’s a picture of the old champ:view-of-worlds-largest-pearl

from The Collective Intelligence

 

Not bad, but you can see that it’s not a gem-quality pearl. It’s what’s termed a non-nacreous pearl, meaning that it lacks the iridescent sheen that other pearls possess.

 

That sheen comes from the many layers of nacre that build up over years around an irritant inside a freshwater pearl mussel or a saltwater pearl oyster. Nacre is the lining of the shell and is often known as “mother-of-pearl.”

 

The process is exploited by people who run pearl farms, who will place seed beads inside oysters or mussels and leave them to build up nacre around the foreign object. Typically it is just a thin layer, so farmed pearls tend to lack the feeling of depth that natural pearls gain.

 

That’s also the case for the new contender, since it also comes from a giant clam. At least this one didn’t kill anyone during the recovery process, like Lao Tzu’s did. The clam just got caught on the fisherman’s anchor while he waited out a storm on the sea. He pulled it in, opened it, and brought the pearl home, where he almost forgot about it under the bed.

 

The Pearl of Lao Tzu was originally inside a giant clam that clamped down on a diver’s hand and drowned him. His fellow divers pulled the clam and his body back to the surface, and discovered the pearl, bringing it back to the village chieftain. The chieftain would later give it to William Cobb, an American who saved the chieftain’s son’s life when he was stricken with malaria.

 

That’s the story Cobb told, anyway, except for the other one he told, where the pearl was the result of a disciple of Lao Tzu inserting a jade amulet into a clam some 2500 years ago, which was then transferred to another, larger clam, and so forth, until it was lost at sea in the Philippines. Which, sure, sounds reasonable; why not?

 

Regardless, the important lesson to draw from here is that all the hugest pearls in the world come from off the coast of the island of Palawan. Therefore, everyone who wants pearls in order to finance their retirement ought to be doing their level best to get to Palawan and learn to free-dive. Traditional pearl divers could descend to a hundred feet or more in order to bring up their bounty; you could probably invest in some SCUBA gear and avoid the frequent deaths that way.

 

man-diving-for-oysters

from Diving Heritage

 

Also, be ready to bring up several hundred pounds of oysters or clams before you find any pearls, even crummy ones. But, once you find some, then you’re on easy street, right? Minimum effort, maximum payoff, except for the vastly dangerous, and time-consuming, and extremely laborious and potentially entirely pointless endeavor you just underwent.

 

Oh, but the pearls.

oysters-and-pearls-on-white

By MASAYUKI KATO – MASAYUKI KATO’s file, CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Simply gorgeous. So many variations, but all with that luminescence that only comes from decades of mother-of-pearl being slowly applied.

 

Of course, you’re most likely not going to find another giant pearl that changes how we think about the world. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, though, although it kind of means you might want to think about some alternatives first.