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Feature - August 2007 - Updated April 2010


By Carol Bareuther

WIN WHAT NO OTHER SPORTS FISHING SERIES IN THE WORLD OFFERS - A LIMITED EDITION BLACK CORAL GOLD COIN PENDANT No hand-stuck gold coin, Spanish escudo, is the same shape. Not just anyone can work with rare and exquisite black coral, known as the 'diamond of the deep'. And, it takes a world-class angler to win a leg of the Spanish Main Series (SMS) - marlin tournaments that span from the Dominican Republic to the U.S. Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands. Can you win the treasured black coral wrapped gold coin pendant that is the mark of distinction for such an angling achievement? The contest is on!


The meaning behind the words 'hand-struck' when applied to a gold coin, says Sean Loughman, who owns the Pirate's Chest at Paradise Point, St. Thomas, "is that each one is never perfect and no two are the same shape. Weight matters more than shape."

The gold coins or escudos at the base of the SMS pendant date to either Spain's King Philip II (1556-1598) or King Philip III (1598-1621) eras. Two doubloons equal one escudo in currency, and says Loughman, "a four escudo, which is what's used in the pendant, was equivalent to 6 to 8 months wage for an average worker in those days. That's how precious it was."


Each coin is numbered and signed by Bernard Passman Galleries

Black coral is exceedingly rare. "It's considered the rarest of all coral," says Jack Crowder, vice president of the Bernard K. Passman galleries. "You must have a license to procure this protected species of coral and only a handful of such licenses have ever been issued - Passman Galleries has been granted one of these licenses.

Crowder adds that the particular of species of black coral used by Passman Galleries is gem quality. "Generally it's found in deep, tropical and subtropical waters around the globe. Other corals can be found in shallower waters, but these corals are usually not gem quality and typically, do not hold up well in jewelry designs."

The art community has long recognized the late Bernard K. Passman as having pioneered using black coral as an art medium. His fascinating story started when, while waiting in the Philippines to return to the U.S. after serving in WWII, Passman discovered he had a talent for carving. His discovered this when one day he turned over a wood crate, a K Ration crate, and carved a beautiful silhouette of a ballerina. The soldiers in his military squad were quite impressed with his work, but teased him because the ballerina was nude. Passman promptly carved a pair of ballet slippers on the ballerina and declared she was not nude after all.

Once back in the U.S., Passman settled in Florida and became a successful land developer. While he enjoyed his flourishing business career, Passman could not push back his real love of life - pursuing his creative mind as an artist. Therefore, he opened an art gallery in Florida that showcased his unique and contemporary works in exotic woods, clays, metals and light. He was awarded a U.S. patent for his designs in lighting and used these designs to create several distinctive art pieces.

Passman's fame grew. Town & Country magazine featured his work, and he was invited to display pieces at a Master Showing that included works by Rodin and other world-renowned artists. He was also commissioned to create an art piece for the 1968 Republican Convention. To create this singular piece, Passman carved the profile of every Republican president on a piece of exotic wood. Each piece of wood resembled a tree leaf, which he then suspended on a 21-foot pole and mounted each pole on a 500-pound teakwood base. The leaves swayed in the sky and the effect was tremendous. Passman dubbed his work, the 'Republican Tree'.

Not to be outdone, the Democrats asked for a commissioned piece for their Democratic convention in 1972. Passman repeated the process of the leaves for the Democratic Presidents and added them to the art piece. He renamed the work, "The Presidential Tree".

While working on commissions for Nabisco and Kodak, Passman moved his family to the calmer and more relaxed environs of Grand Cayman. While constructing his home, word got around that a famous artist from the U.S. had moved to the island. This prompted a visitor, a native Caymanian, who brought Passman a brown paper sack full of what appeared to be 'dirty old twigs' and a tortoise shell.

So the story goes, Passman looked at these bits and pieces and asked the young man what he wanted the artist to do with them. The reply, 'You carve it,' responded the Caymanian.

Passman did so and was absolutely blown away by the beauty of the coral. He had never worked with anything so amazing, so, as he described it, 'hard enough to carve, but not brittle like most corals'. In no time, Passman became famous through the islands, and the world, for his work in black coral.

Not surprisingly, the Cayman government commissioned him to create the Royal Wedding gift for Prince Charles and Lady Diana. He fashioned a 97-piece service set in black coral and sterling silver. This gift was presented to the royal couple as the gift from the government. Of over 35,000 wedding gifts, the couple chose this gift, along with 100 or so more, to feature in a press announcement for all of Great Britain to come and view.

Since that time, Passman has become known as the Coral King. His resume lists commissions for heads of state, presidents, the Pope, countless celebrities and many, many others.

Today, Bernard Passman Galleries have nine showrooms throughout the world. Interesringly, Passman himself opened his first store on Grand Cayman in 1975 just as cruise ships began to visit the island monthly. Passengers would visit his store and by noon, every piece of black coral art was sold. Passman would stay up to after midnight for the next 30 days trying to create enough merchandise to refillhis stor for the next cruise ship visit.


Passman Galleries is proud to have created the black coral Spanish coin pendant that is given to the winner of each tournament leg of the Spanish Main Series, says Crowder. "No more than three of these pieces will be made each year." All designs are Passman originals and the pendant is no exception.

Crowder explains, "Mr. Passman created the drawings for this design back in the 1980s. Although he has passed away, we wanted the design to be a Passman Original. So, we had several artists who worked side by side with Mr. Passman use the drawings to create this wonderful piece. These artists were personally trained by the artist and know exactly what Mr. Passman would have done."

The black coral surrounding the gold coin is hand carved.

"The high finish you see is natural, but you have to work for hours to get the shine to come forth," says Crowder.

The coral is 'pinned' to the pendant using 18kt Royal Italian Gold pins.


Series anglers who win one of the legs of the SMS, says Jimmy Loveland, series director, "will receive a pendant."

Wins on successive series legs earn anglers an emerald that is placed in one of the five settings on the coin. The goal is to eventually triumph in enough events so that the pendant is adorned with five emeralds. This is something that only one of the best anglers in the world can do. Is this you?

Note - Passman Galleries are located on the Havensight Dock and Main Street, St. Thomas.