From Volume I of the 2023 issue of #thisispearl digital magazine
American pearls seem to be on the brink of making a major comeback, but could this really happen?
The American continent was once called “The Land of Pearls” by European conquistadors and explorers; it seemed that wherever they landed, they would find the indigenous people wearing plenty of pearls, if not much else. This fueled a “pearl craze” that made the invaders settle the new lands and organize pearl fisheries that would make the newfound colonies thrive and the European monarchs wealthy.
The moves also helped to create a new class of entrepreneurs or “pearl barons.” These would establish a fishing village and from there explore nearby coasts for new pearl beds, leading to some inhospitable and clearly hostile locations (think natives—we’ll talk more about them in Part II), such as the Baja Peninsula in Mexico, which became quite attractive for its pearl beds. As with mining operations, most of the economy was fueled by this lovely gem, and some of these villages became towns and even cities.
The Americas became a destination for pearls of all shapes, sizes, and colors, and pearl-producing species were discovered from as far south as Brazil to what today is the United States. From the Pacific to the Atlantic Oceans and in rivers, lakes, and seas, pearls were abundant—much to the delight of Europe’s royal courts and the local pearl barons, who were the continent’s first self-made millionaires. They made the New World their oyster. But this tremendous pearl boom came to a halt due to greed: overfishing made the once rich pearl beds less productive, and new targets of colonial interest were discovered, as gold, silver, and emerald mining began in earnest.
In the next article we will touch on each of these pearling locations.