By Julie Etra
I must admit, and my friends and family will confirm, that I am not one for accessorizing. Somehow the genes of my stylish, fashion-conscious parents were not passed down to me and jewelry has never been important. So when I am at the beach at San Augustin (we rarely go to Maguey or Entrega) I don’t peruse the beach wraps, the temporary tattoos, or have my hair braided (ugh), and the girls and young women selling collares (not collars, although one might presume so) were for me initially uninteresting. These days, however, I can hardly resist and now possess four sets of bracelets, earrings, and necklaces, in various combinations and condition.
Okay, so what do these beach ‘gems’ consist of? A broad variety of necklaces with or without matching components are assembled on the beach by mostly young women, who approach you with multiple choices draped over their forearms, along with a box of beads, thread, and accessories to customize whatever you select. Longer, shorter, remove the breastplate, add a pendulum, add earrings.
The last time I was at San Augustin I corralled Carmen, one of several affable craftswomen, for a few minutes. She indulged me while I interviewed her in exchange for the purchase of a lovely, simple set of pink perlas, or beads, made from abalone, along with matching earrings and a bracelet. She informed me that other local beads are made from oysters and clams, which are tumbled, sanded, and polished by her family, particularly her uncle. She told me that the slender stick-like red coral is also local and known as tree coral which I don’t recollect seeing locally (will have to ask the local dive shop). She also said the black perlas are made from local black coral, which I hope they are not; my knowledge is that most black coral grows at great depth and has been listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species(CITES). It used to be readily available in Cozumel, but it was decades ago when I was there and naively purchased it. Black coral is extremely slow growing with rates as low as 4 to 35 micrometers per year and is among the oldest continuously living organism on the planet. One specimen, according to my sources, was dated at around 4,265 years old.
Other perlas are from the shell of the margarita, whatever that is, turquoise, and obsidian, a black volcanic glass from Guatemala. Other beads come from the bead salesman who shows up approximately every 15 days. I have no clue as to the content and origin of these beads. Maybe China? My personal favorites are the tiny snail shells, or caracol, which are plucked from the rocks. The women string these together to make ropes of two and three necklaces in combination with turquoise etc.
And there is the men’s line of jewelry. These are mostly made from fish and shark vertebrae and coconut wood.
What do they cost? My last purchase of the abalone set was about 600 pesos. A super ganga (bargain) and elegant compliment to my expensive Macy’s pantsuit worn at the occasional conference.