A Tradition since 2020

Revival in 2020


During the great era of the Saint-Gingolph pearls in the 1920s, tourists coming from Montreux by whole boats to stock up on necklaces, bracelets and jewellery contributed to the village's summer entertainment and guaranteed the income of many inhabitants.
Mr. Patural's factory was visiting each other. About fifteen workers worked on the first floor while about ten saleswomen greeted the customers.
In winter, the jewellery was made at home. Fishermen provided the bleak scales - the lake sardines - needed to make the pearls according to the methods described in the many patents filed.
The activity sustained many people in Saint-Gingolph. The fabrication, whose process dates back to the 18th century in Paris, had been improved successively by two chemists: Mr Douarin, a Parisian chemist, and then Mr Patural, a Cambridge graduate chemist.
The bleak, a fish not very popular in the kitchen, caught on the Swiss side with squares, was scaled using specially adapted machines. The precious scales were sold to the factory.
It is the thin layer of shiny material under the scales that was used for pearls.
It contains guanine C5H5N5O, one of the 2 molecules of life with adenine (C5H5N5) both present in the RNA and DNA.
The guanine that could have been called iridine or brilliantine takes its name from the guano in which it was first identified. This magnificent molecule has the exceptional property of crystallizing into microscopic flakes that diffract light and produce a very special iridescence: the pearlescence.
In 1968, Paul Matisse created the Kalliroscope (from Greek to see the beauty of fluids) using a solution containing crystallized guanine https://youtu.be/V98NnZsmTm4. A similar liquid called Essence d'Orient composed of crystallized guanine and a nitrocellulose gel derived from cotton (collodion cooper) was used to make the pearls.
Oriental essence was formerly obtained by macerating the bleak scales in a heated aqueous solution of alcohol and ammonia titrated precisely to a pH of 11.
The Oriental Essence prepared in this way covered glass beads called nuclei by dipping. The cores, typically from 2 to 12 mm, were pieced with copper rods on small blocks of cork for the preparation of pearls used to make loops and rings, so-called blind pearls.
The pearls with bracelets and necklaces were suspended on wires stretched between 2 rods piqué in cork blocks. The workers then dipped the pearls in the Oriental Essence containing the guanine.
The cheap quality pearls were soaked 5 times while the fine pearls had 25 passages which was said to correspond to a thickness of 1.5 to 2 mm of mother-of-pearl at the end.
The drying time between 2 baths was about 2 hours in a dust-free environment.
A certain twist of the hand was necessary when removing the pearls from the Oriental Essence to turn them over quickly so that the tears would flow on the thread and not freeze on the pearl. The workers were therefore forced to work with all the windows closed because a draught was enough to disrupt the whole process.
The renowned quality of Saint-Gingolph pearls came from the composition of the mother-of-pearl baths, whose formula was kept secret. Separated from their support, the pearls were meticulously polished and sorted according to their size and brilliance.
Mrs Jacquier, one of the last pearls of this period, reports that the workers used gutters, wooden blocks dug out of contiguous cells in which they composed the necklaces. For example, the largest pearl in the middle and then getting smaller until the desired fall, she said.
When the gutter was filled, another worker would thread it on a very fine silk thread. Then it was necessary to mount the clasp with a pearl and a special design to avoid counterfeiting.
Mrs Jacquier tells us that there were sometimes malicious customers who, pretending to check the Orient in the light of day, vanished into the crowd waiting in the street. Even today, it is still said in the village's cafés that a baroness who was quite unsilvered came back every year at the same time, took one or two natural pearls from her necklace and asked to have them replaced, a necklace which, according to Mr. Patural, was only authentic for a quarter.
We owe the renewal of the Pearls of Saint-Gingolph -Perles du Lac-, to Jean-Loic SELO, a chemist who graduated from Imperial College London. He is committed to reviving traditional processes. The manufacture of pearls in 2020 is 95% identical to the manufacture of the time. Glass cores on rods pricked in cork, hand-tempered masses, series of soaks and multiple dries, a clasp containing a pearl and a recognizable pattern.
The particularity of the Saint-Gingolph pearls lies in the use of raw materials from the lake that still come from Yvoire. The flakes of the time made in Switzerland are still running. The materials used are fished and packaged in less than one hour and kept frozen under vacuum. All the necklaces are treated according to a new procedure kept secret to give them their lémanic aura.

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