I learned how to tell fake pearls from the badjaos

Shopping for pearls in Zamboanga City need not be expensive. Our female hosts who were pilots by occupation brought us to Lantaka Hotel at NS Valderosa Street on a mid-afternoon. We took the entrance of the hotel and wandered inside the establishment.

There were stalls selling pearls as well as colorful malongs and other souvenirs. The pearls were remarkable. In fact, I could not keep my eyes off the golden giant south sea pearls stringed into a beautiful necklace. Price is not less than 500,000.00 pesos. I’m gonna be rich to buy one of those. I will be back.

We lingered not long enough inside the hotel and made our way out into the seawall taking their covered walkways. The colorful vintas moored on the seawall were fascinating. Seeing them gives me the real Zamboanga spirit.

pearls, vinta, zamboanga

I’m looking at real postcards.


Out into the seawall are stalls that were set-up by an indigenous sea-dwelling gypsies of the Sulu archipelago, called the Badjaos. They were simple wooden makeshift stalls each installed with umbrellas big and colorful to harmonize with the scene of the vintas nearby. There were real pearls and some synthetic ones. Of course, we wanted the real ones.

How do you tell a real one? There are a number of ways to do this. Armed with a lighter or a match you can burn the pearl. If it melts its fake if it’s not its real. Just wipe off the burnt side and the luster remains like it was not burnt at all. In the absence of a lighter and a match, you can simply scratch the pearl with your fingernails or a harder object. If it scratches its fake if it’s not, you wipe off the powder and luster remain like it was not scratched at all.

pearls, shopping, zamboanga city
Haggling or chit-chatting?


The pearls of the Badjao’s are cheaper and of better quality than the pearls in the other parts of the Philippines, they said so. Prices ranges from 150.00 pesos per set to 1,000.00 pesos per set. I bought a set of black coral necklace and earrings a set of white pearl earrings, necklace and a ring and a long strand of pearls. The jewelry set comes with a dainty box for free.

In addition to the black and white pearls, there are brain corals, cowry shells, cone shells, conch, clams and mother of pearls. Sold for 50.00 pesos to 500.00 pesos. The display is a sight to behold.

pearls, shells
For the aquarium?


Looking at the Badjao’s however, is a different story. They looked happy, laughing and smiling. It looked like they have adapted to their commerce and the curious tourists. But down here behind the hotel, you can smell the sun and the sea and the poverty amid the stringing of these precious pearls. It gave me a guilt feeling haggling for a lower price.

pearls, zamboanga, badjaos
Make-shift stalls. The badjaos.
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