To Jacques Christophe Branellec, the Filipino is like the South Sea Pearl—a gem born from challenge

PRECIOUS GEM Harvesting a golden South Sea Pearl

Jacques Christophe Branellec is a man of many hats. Husband to designer Mia Arcenas-Branellec, he is father to one. He is the son of French pearl farmer Jacques Branellec who, out of the rare South Sea pearl, co-founded the Jewelmer brand with Filipino entrepreneur Manuel Cojuangco in 1979.

Now, Jacques Christophe, having become a pearl farmer himself, is executive vice president and CEO of the pearl brand, whose presence is expanding in over 15 countries, but there’s more. He is a pilot as well as captain of the Philippine Coast Guard Auxiliary 402nd Squadron, a title bestowed on him in 2017 in recognition of his work in environmental conservation. Before the Covid-19 pandemic forced us to take a good look at our relationship with nature, Jacques Christophe has for many years been a steward of the environment, advocating the causes of the Save Palawan Seas Foundation, protecting marine life, and providing sources of livelihood to Palawan’s coastal community. He is also a saxophone player.

OH CAPTAIN, MY CAPTAIN Portrait of Jacques Christophe Branellec

In conversation about life in the ongoing pandemic, Jacques reveals that gratitude is what enables him to power through. “The first two months of quarantine gave me the blessing of time, allowing me to be there for all the precious moments with my family. This is something that simply cannot be bought, and something I will always cherish,” he says. “The last three months have been spent ensuring the survival of a 40-year legacy, together with my father and Mr. Cojuangco. The dedication and loyalty shown by my colleagues and family members in fighting through this challenge together has been very inspiring. It allows me to look at every challenge as an opportunity and a blessing.”

Read on for more snippets from our conversation.

The pearl is a metaphor. To you personally, what are its symbolisms?

ABUNDANCE OF THE SEA Les Classiques Strand Necklace

As a gem born from challenge, the pearl brings hope. The years, commitment, and many hands it takes to grow a single pearl has always imbibed in us the value of patience, resilience, and community.

Jewelmer not only represents the golden pearl, but also the Philippines and the vibrant story of our country and our people. The pearl is a testament to the excellence that Filipinos are capable of achieving when we work together, and when we work together in harmony with the environment.

How has the pandemic affected your operations?

Lots of logistical challenges, considering that the Philippines has been on lockdown since March. It’s been vital for us to support our communities withsupplies essential for survival as we are their only link for these resources. Due to the lockdown, many of our staff have also made a great sacrifice of being separated from their families.


We’ve been forced to stretch all our available resources given that all the stores globally were closed for the same time for a certain period. Through the collective sacrifice, efforts, family spirit, and belief that what we are trying to achieve must continue, we are confident that with God’s help we will surpass this test. We understand that as humans we have rights, but more important we have obligations, and at this time of difficulty we felt it was necessary to also extend a helping hand to the communities around the pearl farms.

To ensure that sufficient help is being extended to our neighboring coastal communities, Jewelmer and Save Palawan Seas Foundation have initiated fruit and vegetable seedling and chicks distributions as part of the foundation’s organic and sustainable livelihood projects. This enabled partner communities to grow their own crops and chickens to support their daily needs. Multiple rice distribution programs were also organized to support over 1,000 households surrounding our farms.

It became difficult for our clients to source food products and home essentials. To provide assistance, we have used our network to help ensure clients are able to access quality goods for their families as well as helping local businesses survive.

GOOD HARVEST Jewelmer Farm photography by Marc Josse

We also wanted to bring the experience of Jewelmer to our clients beyond our boutiques by reinforcing our online presence.  We are launching an optimized e-commerce experience soon and have enhanced our service offerings to include curbside pick-up, virtual appointments, and home deliveries.

‘As a Filipino, the South Sea pearl is a testament and a reminder that together we can rise above adversity and the result being something of beauty and of value.’

How has the meaning of luxury changed as a result of the current state of affairs?

One change that we anticipate in the luxury sector is that customers will seek to support more local brands with a more meaningful value to society, whether through environment conservation or community development. People will seek authenticity and genuine storytelling. Consumers are increasingly becoming more interested in going to the source, and learning about the stories and people behind the product or service.

JEWEL-FARMER Jewelmer Pearl Farm Manager, Rogelio

Jewelmer is driven by a sincere pursuit of beauty and excellence in collaboration with nature every step of the way.  One luxury that’s been emphasized recently is that of time and the realization that time is scarce and limited. Therefore, this has given us the opportunity to reflect on how we spend our time, especially with our loved ones, and ways on expressing our emotions in this time of physical distance. Jewelry, the pearl more specifically, has for centuries been a tool to share our emotions and give hope, and now more than ever we see the importance of this for mankind.

What is the impact of Covid-19, short term and long term, on our future?

This crisis has shown us that everything can change in an instant. What matters is not the degree of control, but the attitude we take to face the issue at hand, as well as the way we make the best of available resources, not just for ourselves but also for those around us.

The pearl is a gem of hope, a manifestation of the care and effort of both man and nature, realized only by the meaningful interaction among all forms of life and energy. The process of cultivating a pearl practices the values of adaptability and humility, which resonate with the resilience of the Filipino in these times.

There is a call to Support Local. How are you responding to this call?

GOLDEN PLS Les Classiques Stud Earrings

Being a Filipino brand that represents our national gem has always been rooted in our heritage. It is something we are very proud of. With the South Sea pearl as the brilliant centerpiece, Jewelmer creations are a representation of the Filipino spirit. While remaining grounded in the colorful spirit of Palawan, the brand’s presence in over 15 countries across different continents brings this incredible story of the Filipino to the world.

Every golden South Sea pearl, set in designs of visionary artistry, is a celebration of the natural wonder of the Philippines, a culmination of only the best that the country has to offer. The pearl, borne from the immaculate waters of the country’s most beautiful island, stands a radiant promise of a world golden with harmonious coexistence.

What lessons have you drawn from this cataclysmic event?

MOTHER OF PEARL Jewelmer Berlingot earrings and necklace worn by personality Solenn Heussaff

The pearl farming industry teaches you the values of patience and hard work. At the pearl farms, we have encountered major challenges in the past like natural calamities. Such experiences made us realize that even with all the effort and planning, the final result may not be up to our hands. These have taught us to be resilient and find ways to rebuild again.

The past few months have really been a practice of gratitude. Being thankful for even the simplest of things, which we may have overlooked in the past. It is in scarcity that we are able to appreciate everything we have.

I am a firm believer that God has a plan for all of us. Whatever we are going through now has a purpose and, if we are able to learn and see the silverlining, we will come out of this better.