Island News

Ratu Jone’s unique pearls

Written By : KELERA SERELINI. They say that starting a business is like having a baby; it’s easy to conceive but hard to deliver. At least that appears to be
20 Nov 2010 12:00

image Written By : KELERA SERELINI. They say that starting a business is like having a baby; it’s easy to conceive but hard to deliver.
At least that appears to be the case with pearl farmer Ratu Jone Maivalili of Wailevu in Cakaudrove.
On the other hand, his neighbour Justin Hunter, a cultured pearl farmer himself, has overcome labour pains and is now reaping the fruits of his hard labour through perseverance, consistency, determination and hard work.
The two, although rivals in the business field, are still the best of friends.
In fact they are working hand-in-hand helping each other to preserve the uniqueness of Fiji’s pearl industry
With both men operating from the serene waters of Savusavu Bay, their tale of friendship is as unique as the cultured pearls they produce.
During a recent visit by the Mainstreaming of Rural Development Innovations (MORDI) Programme to his pearl farm on the coast of Vatulele, Ratu Jone spoke of his struggles as the lone i-Taukei pearl farmer.
“I have been struggling on my own for nine years and Mr Hunter has given me great support and the needed boost to continue,” he said.
“Mr Hunter has got the capital to operate while I on the other hand had to make use of the little I have to continue in this business.
“It’s a business but for us, but it’s also more than that; we’re working together to develop the pearling industry for the country.”
Ratu Jone is the younger brother of the Tui Wailevu Ratu Kinijioji Maivalili.
He was a former military officer with the Republic of Fiji Military Forces and later worked for Air Fiji as a pilot.
Today, Ratu Jone said he would never trade his status as a pearl farmer for any other career in the world.
As the first i-Taukei pearl farmer, Ratu Jone had to start from scratch.
That includes researching for information in order to find suitable buyers for these cultured pearls.
“In the beginning, it is all about yourself and how you want to advance in this business,” he explained.
“For me, it took seven to eight years to at least get the basics right.”
Ratu Jone financed his own training and research programmes.
He made frequent trips to Japan and at the same time mastered the Japanese language to be able to find a suitable buyer for his pearls.
“One needs to have a lot of money to market Fiji pearls to the world market.
“I am just a farmer and right now I am selling at a wholesale level.”
Pointing at a grubby knapsack, Ratu Jone said, “This is what I used to transport my pearls across to the other side of the world.”
He has clients all over Europe and Japan.
Making frequent trips to these countries has enabled him to sell his pearls.
“There is no other way,” he said.
“It is not about contract-signing or anything like that.
“Most of my clients operate on trust and a pearl farmer is able to build this trust by seeing their clients in person.
“And for me it is also about quality at farm level.”
Another challenge, Ratu Jone faced is that he has to foot the costs of bringing a pearl technician from overseas.
“It is costly and for a farmer this will require a lot of sacrifice on your part to try and employ a pearl technician to come and inspect the pearls,” he said.
“I have to pay close to $1000 a day for a technician.”
Highly skilled technicians open the live pearl oysters carefully, and then surgically implant a small polished shell bead and piece of mantle tissue in each.
The shell bead serves as the nucleus around which the oyster secretes layer after layer of nacre, the crystalline substance that forms the pearl.
And Maivalili Pearls was set up on the basic information of pearling practiced by Mikimoto in Japan, about 100 years ago.
“A nucleus is imported from the Mississippi River in the USA and this is injected into the oyster to make pearls.
“The end products are cultured pearls and the uniqueness of the pearls depends on the colours.
“The sound of cultured pearls being produced on our shores takes our imagination to the lustrous jewels nestled in the oysters formed in the bottom of the ocean.
“It is regarded as one of the most beautiful and magical gems of the ocean.”
Ratu Jone hopes that in years to come, Fiji pearls will be described as just that, “beautiful and magical” like no other pearls in the world.
“Unlike Tahitian pearls, Fiji pearls are unique,” Ratu Jone said.
“Their unique colour is an asset.
“It has a sort of rainbow colour and we hope to market the pearl in a way that we’re not exploiting its value.”
Ratu Jone made his first pearl harvest in 2003 and hopes to carry out another early next year.
After nine years, Ratu Jone will finally deliver the fruits of his struggles.

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