In this article let's discuss pearls, the birthstone for those born in the month of June. Pearls are available in a multitude of colors, shapes, and styles. They occur naturally in the wild in fresh and salt water, although most of us are more familiar with the cultured pearl. More on cultured in a moment.
Natural pearls are those which are formed without any assistance from man when a foreign material such as a grain of sand or a small parasite enters into an oyster. The oyster then secretes a coating called nacre (naa kra) as a safety mechanism to kill the invading enemy. By continuing to coat this foreign element with nacre, the oyster not only protects itself from being destroyed, but also gives us a beautiful treasure when found. The inside shell of an oyster has the nacre coating throughout and this allows man to determine what the pearl
will look like in luster and color when left to grow, usually a period of 2 years for fine quality.
Cultured pearls on the other hand are pearls which have grown due to man putting a bead inside the oyster, usually made of plastic, glass, or porcelain. The same nacre secretion process occurs here, allowing a pearl to form and grow just as in the case of the natural, bur with a larger starting surface. The longer the bead remains in the oyster, the more lustrous it will become and the longer it will take for it to wear off when worn as jewelry. It is for this reason that when purchasing cultured pearls you will want pearls that are thickly coated with nacre to insure long life.
As a rule of thumb you can determine the length of time a pearl has been cultured in an oyster by the luster it has. Generally, the longer a cultured pearl stays in the oyster, the more lustrous it becomes. Price will also give you an indication of quality, but the only way to really know how thick the nacre coating is, or if the pearl is natural or cultured, is to have an X-ray taken to determine if the core is nacre only or another material inserted by man.
Pearls are sold based upon their size, not carat weight as in most other gemstones. The larger the pearls the more valuable it is. Clarity, color, and shape are important factors to look at when purchasing also. Smaller pearls that are 1mm to 2mm are considered seed pearls and were predominantly used in rings and pendants in the art-deco era. 2mm to 7mm sizes are more commonly used today in rings, earrings, and necklaces and are available in round, heart, oval, and pear shapes, Fancy shape pearls that are larger in size are known as MABE (maa ba) pearls; while 10+mm and larger round pearls are known as South Sea pearls since they come from the South Orient regions of the world.
The pearls we have been speaking of up to this point are all saltwater pearls and are more valuable than freshwater pearls. They are generally farmed in the Orient waters where they have mastered the art of pearl production, grading, and jewelry designs.
When buying cultured pearls look for clean surface areas that are smooth, having little to no imperfections. The beads should all be spherical not off round or out of round in shape and the luster and color should be the same. To determine this, it is advisable to place the pearls being inspected on a white sheet of paper. This will easily expose a variance of color and luster. Roll the pearls back and forth so you will be able to determine if they are off round by watching to see if they roll smoothly or if they appear to be like a lopsided ball. If they roll smoothly they are spherical, but if they seem lopsided when rolling, they are out of round and of lesser value.
Pearls come in white, cream, silver, rosé, and black colors naturally with the grey and black colors being the most rare and costly. The most popular have been the rosé pearls which have a pink appearance to them.
Freshwater pearls are natural pearls and generally not cultured. They are widely known as rice pearl, however a new breed is being developed by the Chinese, known as potato pearls, because of their potato shape. These potato pearls are growing in popularity since they resemble cultured pearls more than the rice pearls do.
Rice pearls are typically worn as multiple strand bracelets or necklaces and many times are dyed in pastel colors to enhance their beauty.
The price difference between cultured pearls and freshwater pearls can be 10 to 1 or more depending on quality and due to the fact that natural pearls are so rare we will not even mention the great difference in price between them and cultured pearls.
For more information on pearls or to see a selection of fine quality pearls, call us or stop by our store anytime.