Though a story of kindness and generosity, The JOGS Tucson Gem and Jewelry show this year will have a unique find on display – two ancient giant baroque pearls and a giant killer clam shell, which will later be up for auction. Both these special finds are being brought to the show by Volker Bassen, who dreamed of one day finding a giant pearl of his own.
“I left Sweden and came to East Africa in 1990, visiting Kenya and Tanzania after having been to Morocco and Tunisia. Africa had always fascinated me, by the age of 8 I declared to my mother that I was going to move to Africa one day!
I fell in love with East Africa at first sight, this is the true Africa I remember telling myself. It was all I had ever dreamt of and so much more. The friendliness and positivity of the people, despite all their hardships and poverty struck me and I felt a special bound and admiration for them.
I got involved with different coastal communities, helping where I could, learning to think outside the box in order to implement some rather innovative projects which I felt could improve their living standards, especially among the youth. I had always been considered being an entrepreneur by my family and friends, now I was becoming a philanthropist as well, an inevitable progression that fulfilled me, defining my personality.
Over the years I have spent close to a million U$ in public-private partnerships, promoting marine conservation, developing aquaculture projects such as Spirolina and Tilapia fish farming as well as supporting local orphanages and schools. My motto is “no one can do everything but everyone can do something”
In 2004 I met Nimu, a wonderful Kenyan woman who was to become my wife. Together we have 3 beautiful children, Samuel, Siv and Noah.
I have always felt drawn to the sea and the Indian Ocean is simply stunning with it’s unique marine biodiversity.
Here is the birthplace of the world’s larges fish, the whale shark and I have devoted much of my time to protect these gentle giants, setting up the East African Whale Shark Trust in 2005, dedicated to conservation and education.
Locally the whale shark is called Papa Shillingi, according to the coastal Digo tribe legend, God was so pleased with his creation of the whale shark that he sent his angels down from heaven to sprinkle silver coins upon it, thereby it’s name; Papa Shillingi which means ‘shark covered with silver coins’ in Kiswahili. With more than 5000 scuba dives under my belt another big passion of mine is underwater photography and filming as this gives me the opportunity to share my adventures with other people like yourselves.
The Eastern Indian Ocean also used to be home to the world’s largest clams, Tridacna Gigantea, a predecessor to today’s giant clams Tridacna Gigas which can be found in and around the South China Sea. I have been collecting fossilized specimens of these amazing giant clams ever since I first saw them back in 1990. “God doesn’t make them anymore” they became extinct around 180.000 years ago when sea levels suddenly rose by 20 meters. Since these clams were dependent on sunlight as they lived in symbiosis with an algae growing on the clams mantle, converting sunlight to sugar for the clam to feed on, they sadly starved to death as not enough light reached the algae.
Although rare, they are occasionally found deeply embedded in ancient fossilized coral reefs, sometimes several kilometers inland.
My dream was to one day find a pearl inside one of these clams having seen baroque pearls from the Tridacna Gigas clams, most notably the Pearl of Allah, also known as Pearl of Lao-Tze. Giant clams produce the biggest pearls in the world, not surprisingly, being the largest clams in the world. The Pearl of Allah, with an estimated value of up to 50 million U$, I figured that if I ever managed to find a pearl from the T.Gigantea, it would empower me to finance community projects on an even larger scale.
Then one day, 2 days after my son Noah was born I was visited by one of the Digo tribal chiefs and as custom has it, he presented me with one of the largest clams I had ever seen as a gift to celebrate the birth of my son. 4 years earlier when my son Samuel was born that same chief gave me the biggest clam in my collection with a staggering weight of 612 Kg, once cleaned and polished it weighted 355 Kg, the biggest giant clam in the world! It took us a week to clean out the giant clam as it was full of calcified lime stone, almost as hard as cement. To my surprise I found a blister pearl the size of a tomato followed by a smaller one, I just couldn’t believe my luck, 2 pearls in one clam! I decided to call the largest of the pearls ‘Pearl of Noah’ and the smaller pearl ‘Pearl of Siv’ naming them after my children. I couldn’t believe my luck, it was too good to be true but sometimes things just are I was told by my wife.
Still, I wasn’t sure if they were indeed baroque pearls, I guess I was in a state of disbelief, so I had them sent to GIA (Gemological Institute of America) in New York to verify if they actually were real pearls. After about a month I received an email from Dr Chunhui Zhou, senior researcher at GIA. He wrote to me confirming that the 2 samples I had sent him were indeed baroque pearls! He describes the 2 pearls as “very interesting and unique” and asked me if GIA could be allowed to publish their lab-report about these pearls in their upcoming scientific journal Gems & Gemology.
Needless to say I was thrilled and gave him my consent.
With 1256 carat the Pearl of Noah is the largest T.Gigantea pearl ever found while the Pearl of Siv with it’s 758 carats is the second largest T.Gigantea pearl in the world. Although not as large as the Pearl of Allah or some other baroque pearls found in T.gigas clams, the uniqueness is what defines these two pearls.
The pearls are now in Switzerland to be dated, I estimate them to be between 200.000 to 240.000 years old, making them the oldest baroque pearls ever found. Once that is done I intend to put them up for auction together with the clam they were found in. I am also auctioning off the world’s biggest clam in a bid to raise funds for a maternity ward. After all, if it wasn’t for the kindness and generosity of the Digo tribe I would never have found them. I am a big believer in karma.”
Volker Bassen also has a charity and 20% of the revenue from the sales of any clamshell (including pearls) goes towards different community outreach projects in Kenya. He supports the Born Again orphanage with 68 children aged between 5-16, a local school and a myriad of other projects related to the health and well-being of those who are most vulnerable. Some of these projects include the treatment and prevention of Jiggers, a parasite in Africa that often affects children, and his newest project, which will help allow girls and women experiencing their menses to stay in school and retain their jobs. “The stigma surrounding menses is making hundreds of millions of women suffering, we need to change that, period!” If you are interested in purchasing this amazing find, you can rest assured that a large percent of the proceeds will go to a great cause.
Luxury washbasin, every piece is unique, nothing beats it!
Volker Bassen will be auctioning off his Giant Killer Clam in Tucson. The shell of T.Gigantea is traditionally a very exciting find, as its white shell can be used to create unique works of art, and is often used as a rare but environmentally-friendly replacement for ivory. Some unique uses for the shell include turning it into either a display piece, or even a one-of-a-kind luxury bathroom sink!
Tridacna Gigas clamshell art from the Island of HaiNan. The price of these amazing carvings have skyrocketed after the Beijing Ivory Carvers Association started using fossil Tridacna Gigantea from Kenya, the perfect alternative to Ivory.
Tridacna, also known as part of the seven treasures of Buddha is thought to bring good fortune and health to its wearer according to ancient Chinese belief, perfect for making unique jewelry.