November 12, 1998
Entrepreneur Tosses Pearls at Jewel's Feet
By Natalie Best

Pearls, the beautiful gems of Cleopatra, are making a comeback and may have a new future. New techniques, research and know-how are bringing the pearl industry to America, and one man's vision may result in bringing major offices of that industry to La Jolla.

Entrepreneur Paul Cross, CEO and president of Island Pearls, LLC, is developing proprietary technology that uses mollusk shells, a natural resource found only in the U.S., to manufacture nuclei for the seeding of pearls. This jeweler from Hawaii is in the aquaculture development field, as the pearl industry is known today, and plans to go head-to-head with the Japanese in all phases of pearl production. "While the world once considered Japan the headquarters of pearls, this is no longer the situation," said Cross, now of La Jolla. "My primary goal is to take pearl sales away from the Japanese."

He also said that the Japanese monopoly of pearl production, which lasted for over 105 years due to misinformation and secrecy, has been uncovered and challenged and will be over. "We've not only learned new methods to grow pearls and control the standards of the beautiful gems, but we have also saved the future of pearls," said Cross, a dynamic young man of dreams, yet a realist.

Cross said Japan has squandered the endangered mollusk that produces the now sought-after freshwater pearls and degraded pearl quality by allowing insufficient growing time. "Japan has ruined its own pearl future," he said.

Cross and three other Americans in the aquaculture business say it is more than a $87 million a year business, "if it is protected and treated right." The American pearl business has major growing fields in Mexico, Hawaii and in the mid-U.S., including the Mississippi drainage waters in Tennessee, Texas and Louisiana which are now home for the abalone used in pearl production. Oysters -- long accepted pearl origin -- are now in very limited and costly production, while the increased use of American abalone shells means the beginning of the new American pearl.

In 1992 Cross began pearl production of both mabe (Japanese for hemispherical) pearls and rounds, which have never been cultivated successfully in abalone before. Cross used abalone in Hawaii that he personally developed. Then in October of this year Cross began pilot tests in abalone's in conjunction with Aqua Farms of Carlsbad. With the assistance of the farm's scientific advisor, Dr. David Leighton of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Cross has had the opportunity to work with the prized green abalone, as well as hybrids of green and red abalone which can produce spectacular color combinations with extremely high iridescence. "Eventually Island Pearls, LLC will offer joint-venture opportunity to cultivate this precious pearl, unique to California," Cross said.

Cross also credits malacologist Clifton Coney, operator of mollusks, Los Angeles Museum of National History; and Dr. Jerry Harasaywich of Smithsonian Institute and Stanford Research Institute, with help in the exhaustive research and development techniques of mollusk implantation, antibiotics, bio-coatings and anti-rejection devices. "We now plan to create the unique and beautifully exotic La Jolla Pearl and first Mickey Mouse Disneyland pearl for public display in the spring of 1999," Cross said.

Cross estimated that pearls would be available by summer of 1999.


The Return of the American Pearl

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