F

Solitaire - - BOOK REVIEW -

or young Jac­ques Branel­lec, the of­ten-over­cast skies of a small port in the Brit­tany re­gion of north-west­ern France quickly gave way to the call of the open seas. His nar­ra­tive—from nav­i­ga­tor to com­mer­cial pi­lot to en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist pearl farmer to com­mu­nity leader—chron­i­cles the tri­als and er­rors and of­ten death-de­fy­ing chal­lenges, both from man and Na­ture, that he ex­pe­ri­enced dur­ing his many trav­els around the world. The book is also filled with love and laugh­ter, friend­ship and fam­ily, phi­los­o­phy and wis­dom.

The first steps of his dar­ing ad­ven­tures took Branel­lec to North Amer­ica, then to the lost atolls of Tahiti, where this pro­fes­sional pi­lot con­structed airstrips against all odds, thus open­ing the is­lands to the world. It was also in Tahiti where he es­tab­lished his first cul­tured pearl farm, suc­ceed­ing in a do­main that had pre­vi­ously been re­served only for the Ja­panese. To­day, the black pearls that he de­vel­oped are Poly­ne­sia’s pri­mary ex­port.

Af­ter Tahiti, this ad­ven­turer sailed around the world, con­tin­u­ing his quest for the per­fect pearl in the waters of the Caribbean, Panama, the Gala­pa­gos, the Mar­que­sas Is­lands, Tonga, Fiji, the New Hy­brides, Aus­tralia, and New Guinea. Fi­nally, he landed on Palawan, one of the most re­mote is­lands in the Philip­pines. There, he dis­cov­ered the Bad­jaos, who have, through gen­er­a­tions, trans­ferred the se­crets of div­ing to depths as great as 80 me­tres. With the help of these “gypsies of the sea”, Branel­lec col­lected gi­ant oys­ters— whose size can at­tain an in­cred­i­ble 25 cm in di­am­e­ter—which he used to pro­duce the largest pearls in the world. He formed a part­ner­ship with re­spected Filipino busi­ness­man, Manuel Co­juangco, and to­gether they cre­ated Jewelmer, now known for its ex­quis­ite golden pearls and fab­u­lous golden pearl jewellery.

Over the course of his many dives, Branel­lec brought to light the wreck of a 15th cen­tury Chi­nese junk, and de­scribes the tri­als and tribu­la­tions of its ex­plo­ration. The wreck fi­nally re­vealed a fab­u­lous trea­sure com­pris­ing nearly 5,000 pieces of in­es­timable ar­chae­o­log­i­cal value.

Con­cerned about the even­tual ex­tinc­tion of the ar­chi­pel­ago’s nat­u­ral oys­ter beds, Branel­lec and the Jewelmer team spent years re­search­ing and mas­ter­ing the re­pro­duc­tion of the prized mol­luscs in hatch­eries. The re­sult­ing highly val­ued jew­els from the South Seas soon be­came the pride of the Philip­pines and the na­tion’s na­tional sym­bol. To­day, Jewelmer is the At an early age, Jac­ques Branel­lec had an affin­ity for the sea. Shown here, at 18 years old, he is aboard the on the boat’s ill-fated maiden voy­age off the coast of Brit­tany. Con­cerned about the even­tual ex­tinc­tion of the ar­chi­pel­ago’s nat­u­ral oys­ter beds, Branel­lec and the Jewelmer team spent years re­search­ing and mas­ter­ing the re­pro­duc­tion of the prized mol­luscs in hatch­eries.”

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