By Rey Robes Ilagan
Seeing Martha Stewart, either by watching her bake a mouthwatering milk chocolate pistachio tart on her television show Martha or stumbling upon her photo while flipping through the pages of Martha Stewart Living magazine, one can easily notice her love for pearls. Whether it’s a triple strand white Tiffany pearl necklace or golden South Sea pearl earrings set with diamonds, the American retail businesswoman accents her stylishly simplistic, down-to-earth fashions with these natural gems.
Case in point: During her recent ANC-initiated leadership seminar at Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila last Tuesday, Stewart wore a long white pearl necklace with matching earrings to accessorize her beige silk faille Lanvin dress (one of her current fashion favorites) and peep-toe Robert Clergerie wedge sandals. Her look radiated effortless elegance and restraint fit for a lifestyle mogul and inspiring entrepreneur.
Throughout the decades, Stewart has been known to acquire numerous pearl varieties from around the globe including China, Tahiti, and even South America. And on Wednesday, during a private dinner hosted by shipping magnate Doris Magsaysay-Ho, Stewart displayed a Jewelmer Les Classiques pearl strand in 18-karat yellow gold with South Sea pearls, a special gift from the country’s pioneering pearl producer.
“Thank you Martha Stewart for being an avid collector of our national gem, the golden South Sea pearl through the years,” Jewelmer’s Jacques Branellec writes on an Instagram post. “Much like the pearl, the transformation of your passions into a thriving business that influences millions of people worldwide was one that took years of unwavering faith and hard work. We are happy that you are leaving the Philippines with more than just memories but also a piece of our national heritage.”
Pearl of the orient
Declared by President Fidel V. Ramos as the national gem of the Philippines in 1996 through Proclamation No. 905, the golden South Sea pearl is a prized treasure symbolizing the embodiment of the nation’s cultural heritage and traditions.
The Philippine pearl, commonly cultured in the island region of Palawan, is the most exquisite and rarest among all varieties in the world. Palawan’s pristine sea bed, rich diverse ecosystem, and modern pearl farming technology nurture the world’s largest and extremely delicate pearl-bearing oyster, the gold-lipped pinctada maxima oyster.
Historically, the island province of Palawan is part of Pearl Road, an ancient trading routing where the Badjao, a southern Philippine ethnic group, traded with Chinese merchants. The Badjaos, or widely known as sea gypsies of Sulu and Celebes seas, dive staggering depths to retrieve natural pearls using nothing but the simplest tools.
To this day, South Sea pearls farmed in the region are in high demand across world markets with a surge in popularity for their utmost beauty and brilliance.
The great pearl hunt
On the last day of her Philippine visit, Stewart reserved some time to shop for pearls after learning the country’s reputation for producing some of the best in the world. With an itinerary arranged by Department of Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat and San Juan City Mayor Francis Zamora, Stewart stopped by the famed Greenhills Shopping Center after a tour of Binondo in Manila, on Thursday morning.
Greenhills, coined as the country’s tiangge capital, boasts of high quality finds and services perfect for people searching for the best prices. Sprawling 16 hectares, the shopping haven houses thousands of stalls and booths offering jewelry, shoes, bags, accessories, and many more. A special section—dedicated to locally made products like abaca homeware, wicker baskets, and wooden furniture—highlights the mall’s mission to promote and support Philippine enterprise.
Working her way through the mall, Stewart went straight to the well-known Salma Jewelry stall, located at the ground floor near the information center booth. The lifestyle maven took a private shopping session away from the public but later emerged happily with 18-karat pearl earrings and 14-karat long strand multicolored pearl necklace, which she asked to be customized to her frame with an additional clasp hole.
According to the store owned by Ansari and Salma Tago, Stewart knew exactly what she wanted and well-researched the prices and quality before heading out to San Juan. As to the particular pieces she bought, the 25-year-old jewelry shop declined to share any further details other than the purchased pearls were one-of-a-kind.
After an afternoon of shopping, Stewart thanked everyone for the wonderful experience with an Instagram post saying, “Great shopping at Greenhills in San Juan! The mayor of San Juan City Francis Zamora: popular, young, handsome, and smart. Thank you mayor, secretary of tourism in the Philippines Bernadette Puyat, and Mrs. Zamora!”