Tom Stern's natural pearls



Dr. Tom,

Thanking you in advance for making the information available.


We had technical problems and cannot post links to speeches yet. According to reports from world pearl dealers, prices of natural pearls have escalated 30% in the past 4 months due to demand.

Interesting. I am very curious to know how the price change is calculated? Are characteristics such as size and origin taken into account?
Interesting. I am very curious to know how the price change is calculated? Are characteristics such as size and origin taken into account?

By averaging sales prices compared with similar pearls. Same for our pearl stocks, which has convinced us we do not want to sell more at this time. Tom
Hi Tom,

Even with my small purchases I have noticed an increase in interest in natural pearls and an increase in prices. Pity for me while buying naturally but all round I think this will be an excellent thing for the natural pearl market in the future.

Plan to start a thread before too long with my naturals listed. All of them. Or antiques if one wants to call needs to call them that :) But if in doubt on any pearls they will not be listed.

Thank you, Dawn - Bodecia
eBay seller as dawncee333 and natural pearl collector.
Article written for a Japanese Pearling Magazine

Article written for a Japanese Pearling Magazine

For Japanese Pearl Connoisseurs

Tom Stern, M.D.
Datu of Sulu and North Borneo
Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace
Stanford University
Chairman, T.Stern Natural Pearls​

The rarest pearl on earth comes from Argonauta hians, of which only one pearl is known, which is priceless. Long anticipated by collectors, this one pearl was found with its shell and certified by GIA (Gemological Institute of America) in 2008.

Because Japan?s deep culture emphasizes profound appreciation of the finest and rarest of things--from a perfectly composed haiku poem, to a tasteful bouquet of flowers that discloses the very essence of beauty--men and women of Japan aspire to perfection. As leaders of a maritime nation, Japan?s aristocracy has a long history of connoisseurship of wild pearls, ocean gems prized as the most desirable of all jewels. The search for perfection led to such prized Imperial jewelry as the multiple strand necklace of wild pearls seen in the portrait of Senchu Yugen Kannonzo painted in Japan almost a thousand years ago. Once Japan inaugurated the era of cultured pearls in the 1890s, people almost forgot that pearls can still be found in the wild, though they verge on extinction.

In addition to seeking beauty, Japan produces some of the world?s finest technicians and businessmen, who have mass-produced exquisite consumer goods in electronics, automobiles, and?famously?cultured pearls. But now, facing both a glut of freshwater pearls for the mass market and an illness killing Japanese oysters, Japan is losing market share and will not regain it. With few options to prosper, Japanese producers will increasingly emphasize jewellery design as a value-added way to ward off falling profits.

In our day, as the industry of cultured pearling declines in Japan, collecting and connoisseurship remain. Thus I anticipate that a return to historical interest in and collecting of wild natural pearls will be the next phase for high status Japanese. Collecting requires passion for wild pearls, time to acquire such rare gems with knowledge and sensitivity, and wealth to gather and display the collection.

One can collect rarities for investment, expecting values to rise, which is the case for wild pearls. In so doing, the collector becomes an expert in his field in order to profit,

But a connoisseur procures for another reason, a spiritual reason above economic motives. In contemplating his pearl, he becomes one with it, momentarily feeling himself immersed in clear tropical waters, suffering from an irritant inside his shell, seeing in his mind?s eye layers of crystalline architecture encasing the irritant in an enlarging pearl, creating great beauty out of great pain. The connoisseur savors the pearl?s rarity, and knowing that only a handful of humans on earth could truly appreciate the magnificent gem, hence he brings to the beauty of nature the human understanding required for it to shine, in the way it deserves as a wonder of the Creator?s excellence. It his moment of appreciation, the connoisseur is elevated to a spiritual plane of existence, with awe for the greatness of life, a moment of transcendence or nirvana brought through the discipline of pearl connoisseurship. By perfecting himself, the connoisseur brings beauty, truth, and love into our world, the highest achievement possible for a man. The process begins with facts about rare pearls.

? The second-rarest pearl comes from Nautilus pompilius. Less than six are known on earth, counting two in the collection of the Emir of Qatar.

? Pteria penguin and Pteria sterna make beautiful and very rare pearls. They vary in color but can have mirror-like luster, seen in the 15 carat drop below.

? White Conch and Tridacna pearls can be large, symmetrical, and make stunning jewellery, for example a $135,000 brooch/pin of 53 carat pearl, and blue sapphire by American designer Paula Crevoshay.

Crevoshay also used a white conch pearl of some 29 carats in her ?Celestial Moonbeam? ring.

? Baroque pearls from Pinctada maxima can exceed 50 carats, as in this necklace by prize-winning designer Martin Bernstein, with a price of $350,000.

Other rare pearls include Melo melo, Codakia, Murex, Tridacna, Atrina, and wild Pinctada margaritifera, the mollusk used to culture Tahitian pearls.

For more information on collecting rare wild pearls or on any of the jewellery described, you may contact us at
A superb appreciation of wild pearls, from one who knows.

No doubt my chiming in here is expected, with reminder that Argonauta and Nautilus pearls are by no means confirmed until multiple pearl labs are willing to objectively certify them based on proven science. The challenges are daunting given the ongoing inability to match the pearls' microstructure with the Nautilus shell. In the case of Argonauta, whether to even call the female's calcitic ('paper') egg case a shell is open to interpretation?

The rarest pearl on earth comes from Argonauta hians, of which only one pearl is known, which is priceless. Long anticipated by collectors, this one pearl was found with its shell and certified by GIA (Gemological Institute of America) in 2008.

The second-rarest pearl comes from Nautilus pompilius. Less than six are known on earth, counting two in the collection of the Emir of Qatar.
Pearl Hunting Voyage 2011

Pearl Hunting Voyage 2011


We went deep into the Celebes Sea aboard our enlarging fleet of small boats, now I think 6 or 7. In this first picture you can see the double-outrigger style favored for stability in big waves. We loaded with food, water, 11 heavily armed security, and a total of 23 people in one boat and 10 in another.



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Pearl Hunting 2011

Pearl Hunting 2011

As Datu, I was second in command to Dayang Dayang, i.e. Princess Yolanda. We sailed more than four hours across open water, some 50 miles, and I was glad no storms came.
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Pearl Hunting 2011

Pearl Hunting 2011

We arrived at our base camp, our private island, where we met with about 100 of our fishermen. One of my chief researchers is creating some kind of YouTube video of life on our island, where seafood is so fresh and lobster and crab so plentiful. Pearls also, but not from that particular island.



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Yolanda gave presents to everyone, and a fiesta began that lasted for 2 days. We slept on the sand beneath the Milky Way and a rising moon, with nary a mosquito.
Ahhh, the pearly lifestyle!

I am looking forward to some photos of newly found pearls! I hope you are getting videos too. The new style everything. I assume most of these pearls will be ones that were found in this past year?
Noticed that one of the guys behind your back has a "no friend of you" look and has a big machine gun. Are pirates still a problem in the Celebes?
Noticed that one of the guys behind your back has a "no friend of you" look and has a big machine gun. Are pirates still a problem in the Celebes?

Pirates and kidnappers a definite problem, so I believe we had 11 or 12 heavy guns, plus hand guns. Also, we patrol the area for people doing dynamite fishing, which destroys the coral reefs, and we do not allow such behavior. First, we admonish them that we know from our patrol boats what they have done and that we, as Datu and Dayang, are watching them. We educate them about the terrible damage dynamite does to coral and marine life, or how cyanide fishing can wipe out 25 years of growth. We warn them that henceforth we have zero tolerance and will turn them over to the Navy for punishment under national laws, which mandate prison.
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Destruction of Sea Life

Destruction of Sea Life


This is what we are trying to eradicate, i.e. significant damage in the Coral Triangle. The math of only 5% remaining is seriously incorrect, but the level of alarm is right on target. No sea life=no pearls, loss of all kinds of strange animal life that may be critical to human existence in the future, and various unpredictables.
Best regards,


?Smuggled corals, shells in Zamboanga City can cover Sulu seabed?By Julie Alipala
Inquirer Mindanao
2:51 pm | Sunday, June 5th, 2011 5Share
Conservationists in Mindanao fear that unless a stiffer law is passed that would heavily penalize smuggling of banned marines species, the activity will not be stopped. The same with gathering and selling of corals, a virtual cottage industry for many fishermen in the area.
ZAMBOANGA CITY ? The volume of corals, shells and other marine species seized here for the past two days since Friday was so large they could have covered the entire seabed around Sulu, the national director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatics Resources (BFAR) said on Saturday evening.

?It would have rendered the Sulu waters critical because only about four percent of corals and shells would have been left there,? Asis Perez said.

Perez made the comment after a second large batch of coral, shells and other marine species, most of which were covered by a ban on harvesting, was discovered around 10:30 p.m. Saturday in another warehouse maintained by Olivia Li of the controversial firm Li and Lim Trading in Barangay San Roque here.

Theresa Mundita Lim, national director of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB), said Saturday night?s find alone ?was five times of what we have seized in Manila last May.?

?From the looks of it, there?s a very extensive damage to our coral reef,? she said.

By the estimate of the warehouse?s caretaker, the stash could be between 30 and 40 tons or the equivalent of eight to 10 twenty-foot container vans.

Government agencies, led by BFAR, uncovered the contraband in sacks and boxes piled under rusted metal sheets inside the warehouse at Yuscom compound, which is owned by another businessman, Benny Yu.

It was the second warehouse identified with Li and Lim Trading to have yielded so much banned marine species. Officials such as Perez were shocked.

Earlier in the day, Perez, who personally led policemen and local officials in inspections, also found piles of corals, shells and other marine species inside another Li and Lim warehouse.

?We saw a still undetermined, huge volume (of corals and shells), much bigger than what were seized in Manila,? he earlier told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

He said the contraband was so large it will not fit into two 20-foot container vans.

Similar items were also discovered at a warehouse operated by Huan Uat Trading, a company owned by Li?s husband, Jose Pring, who is also known as Joe Ping.

In 2007, authorities also seized banned marine species from Uan Uat?s warehouse here and Pring, a Taiwanese, had been charged.

The case is still pending.

Quirino Esguerra, lawyer for Yu, said his client had no knowledge that Li?s activities were illegal.

He said Yu simply rented out the warehouses to Li.

?We volunteered to open the compound to authorities to clear the name of Yu, who might have been unknowingly implicated in the issue,? Esguerra said.

Perez said judging by the pattern of the illegal trade in marine species, it was certain that a highly organized syndicate was involved.

?So many people were involved. People who are gathering and selling, consolidating?.there are people making sure it?s transported and people who hide their real identities like the consignee of the one shipped and seized in Metro Manila,? he said.

Perez said ?there?s really a pattern, in other words it?s a pretty well-thought of operation, it?s not something you do by impulse. It was well thought of process, well planned, by all indications it?s a syndicated crime.?

BFAR had already filed charges against Li, who has remained out of sight, for her involvement in the illegal trade of marine species.

Demetrio Escoto, BFAR legal officer, said aside from Li, several other persons had been charged for violation of the fisheries laws.

They included Exequiel D. Navarro, listed in the shipment?s manifest and bill of lading as the consignee of the seized marine products in Manila; Kim L. Atillano, owner of the Zamboanga-based JKA Transport System, the alleged cargo forwarder; and an Ireneo Penuliar.

But officials of the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) said Aboitiz Shipping, the company that transported the banned items seized in Manila the other week, should be made answerable too.

They said Aboitiz workers must have known they were transporting banned items.

They said it was unlikely for shipping companies to just allow cargoes without knowing what these were.

Rosella Contreras of the BFAR?s Fish Inspection and Quarantine Services here earlier said that ?smuggling is a non-stop activity at the Zamboanga City Port. Syndicates abound,? she said.

Contreras said while there had been seizures in the past, no one actually went to jail for smuggling banned marine species.

?There were several apprehensions but they could easily get away after paying certain dues and fines,? she said.

Contreras said unless a stiffer law was passed that would heavily penalize smuggling of banned marines species, the activity would not be stopped.

Chief Supt. Elpidio de Asis, chief of the Western Mindanao police, said the gathering and selling of corals have become a cottage industry for some fishermen in the Western Mindanao
On Being Beneath the Surface

On Being Beneath the Surface

For me, a SCUBA diver and pearl-lover, the loss of our planet's coral reefs is profoundly sad. Just a few weeks ago, I swam about a coral reef in the Sulu Sea where at one point perhaps 500 fingerling fish of emerald green swirled about me for a friendly swim. From our island, across-wide lagoon, I decided to swim straight for the volcano on the big island. One World Institute, of which I am chairman, had several small boats nearby. I commandeered one, saying, "Follow me with paddles, no motor. I'm swimming to the big island."
Last year I placed 12th in the world at the World Swimming Masters, so with a boat trailing me, I felt safe. The water was warm, not quite crystal clear due to a strong current they warned me about, out near mid-channel, like a river, where the ocean bottom drops off from 20 feet to bottomless, above some kind of undersea crevasse that can allow big boats to moor in case of typhoon.
I went into my long-distance freestyle stroke, practiced since childhood, with no doubt I could cross. About a quarter mile from our island, I saw a huge sea turtle gliding along a few meters below me. Afraid I might be a shark, he turned away in a smooth curve, while I plowed toward the peak, a perfect marker during an open water swim. To win sprint races, one must swim in a straight line; to survive in heavier seas, one also must save strength by going straight; and I was glad for the volcano.
In deep water, I began to imagine dark shapes finning toward me from the gloom blocking my vision. It must have been 500 feet deep, with a strong current going in a giant swirl, forcing me off my track. But I made it, according to the villagers the first human to cross their channel. As their datu, I felt it fitting they would respect me, imbue me with some tiny element of chieftancy; for we have much work to do together over the next 5 years. Unless I am respected as chief, I cannot accomplish in programs designed to raise their standards of living, from $500 per family per year now to $2,000 once the seaweed plantation harvests take place.
Beneath the lagoon and the seaweed tied to linesfor 25 acres, in shallow waters, coral grew in profusion. Colorful fish, lovely colors of coral, every kind of shell, where some hold pearls. With strict conservation orders, fish can only come from deep waters, especially where the big tuna transit from the open Pacific to the Sulu Sea. Same with pearls. But in the Celebes Sea, way out, a determined man can find a reef with pearls of several types, nacreous, extremely rare nacreous, and non-nacreous, according to the Ming Annals of China the greatest pearls on earth.
But if people kill all of our coral, everything else will disappear. Coral is a living thing, an animal, sentient and finite. At One World Institute we work with authorities to enforce good laws, because...sad to say...some people break the laws. But especially we work for the preservation, and expansion of coral habitat. You can join us at


All, By publicizing this I hope to discourage poachers. Note agents of the Senate joined the police. We are delighted the authorities are taking such a firm approach. Tom

Manhunt launched for suspected black coral smugglersby Queenie Casimiro, ABS CBN News Zamboanga
Posted at 06/10/2011 7:44 PM | Updated as of 06/10/2011 7:44 PM

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines - Authorities have started their search for couple Olivia Li and Joe Pring, who are said to be the owners of the confiscated black corals and seashells in Manila and Zamboanga City.

An 11-man delegation representing the Senate's Sergeant at Arms office, assisted by officers from the Zamboanga City Police Office and Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, first visited the couple's residence at Balan Drive, Don Alfaro Street, Barangay Tetuan.

However, like in previous visits made by the police, only the househelp faced them.

The group then went to the buying station of the Li and Lim Trading at Magay Street, but were informed that the couple were also not there.

The team next went to the house of Li's mother at Candido Drive, Barangay Canelar.

Li's mother and sister-in-law told the group that Olivia last paid them a visit on March this year.

"At least, it's a positive development that we were able to inform her family of the warrant," CIDG officer Senior Superintendent Mario Rariza Jr. said.

He added that the search for the Li couple is not limited to Zamboanga City.

"Based on information, originally, Olivia is from Bongao, Tawi-Tawi. That's why we are not discounting the possibility na baka umuwi siya doon."

Operatives in other parts of the Zamboanga Peninsula, Basilan, and Sulu are conducting a similar search.

Senate team head Gil Valdez refused to reveal details of his conversation with Olivia's mother.

"We are in the middle of operation," Valdez said. "There will be an official press statement from our office soon."

The warrant was issued on Wednesday after Li and husband Pring failed to appear before a Senate hearing looking into the massive poaching of protected marine creatures in the Sulu Sea and possibly, the Moro Gulf.

Valdez said they will continue the manhunt for the couple until they are arrested.
Guard vessel

Guard vessel

Looking forward to the video and pearl photos! Quite the adventure, for sure!! The fresh seafood sounds wonderful, too!

Our security boat had several heavy weapons, kept out of sight. We are on our way to our island. When you wonder why natural pearls are so rare, one reason is that obtaining them is difficult and costly. These military men kept sharp eyes out for troublemakers.

Normally I do not talk about these things, but you are pearl people, so I will share some of the experience with you.

Datu Doc
....that is what they call me.


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