and Cultured Pearls
Since the Hindu god Vishnu searched the seas for a pearl to adorn
his daughter on her wedding day, pearls have been symbols of love, happiness and good
fortune. During the time of Queen Elizabeth I, the pearl came into its own as a major
gemstone. Elizabeth often wore seven strands of pearls at a time, some strands reaching
down to her knees.
Both natural and cultured pearls form when an irritant is embedded
in an oyster, clam or mollusk. Prior to the late nineteenth century, all pearl jewelry was
made from natural pearls. In 1893, the era of pearl farming was born when Kokichi Mikimoto
was first able to induce pearl growth by manually implanting the irritant into the
oysters. This first success was a single, semi-round pearl. From this modest start, today
there are nearly 5000 pearl farms in production around the world. While traditionally
farms were found in Japan and the South Seas, today's farms can be found in Australia,
China, French Polynesia and even the United States. Both natural and cultured pearls are
routinely permanently lightened or dyed or irradiated to achieve a desired luster. While
pearls continue their popularity in fashion, the classic pearl strand still dominates.
Pearl earrings and pendants are always a gift that is appreciated for any occasion.
The price of pearls has been fluctuating recently, due to huge
mortality rates of the oysters in Japan. While Japan's dominance in the market is strong,
it is by no means permanent. China has become the "new" farmer's field for both
salt water Akoya and the new freshwater, near round pearls. In the years to come, most in
the industry predict a further blurring of the line with respect to country of origin and
the salt water versus freshwater pearl.
Common Pearl Types
Primarily cultivated in Japan and China, these saltwater pearls typically range in size
from 6 to 8 millimeters, however they can be raised as small as 2 millimeters (mm) or as
large as 10mm. While the most common body color is white to cream, they can naturally
occur in yellow, gray and blue. The Akoya pearl generally takes 6 to 18 months to form a
These saltwater pearls are larger in size than the Akoya, typically 8mm to 18mm and range
in color from white to golden. They are farmed principally in Australia. Indonesia and the
Philippines and take generally 24 months to produce the pearl.
Along with the South Sea pearl, the Tahitian pearl is one of the most prized in the pearl
family. They range in color from white to black to other colors including green and
purple. The average size is from 8mm to 14mm. While larger millimeter sizes have been
produced, they are done so in limited quantities. It takes approximately 18 to 20 months
to produce a Tahitian pearl.
Today's freshwater pearls bear little resemblance to the freshwater pearls of a decade
ago. The Chinese have developed a pearl that rivals the Aki pearl. The sizes range from
3mm to 8mm without losing the roundness. In the future, larger sizes should also be on the
market. The freshwater pearl also comes in various other shapes and sizes. The primary
sources for freshwater pearls are China and the United States. Blister pearls are formed
on the side of the mollusk's shell. One side is flat and without nacre. They are cultured
both in saltwater and freshwater.
Mabe pearls are blister pearls that have been filled with epoxy resin and glued to a
Seven Value Factors
Pearl sizes are stated in millimeters. For round pearls, this indicates the diameter of
the pearl. If it is another shape, such as teardrop, then the length, width and depth are
usually given. If all factors are equal, the value of the pearl increases with size.
There are three basic shape categories for pearls: Spherical - round or near round is the
most popular; Symmetrical - drop, oval or button, is popular for fashion pieces; such as
earrings and pendants; Baroque refers to any oddly shaped pearl. The baroque pearl is
ideal for someone looking for a unique, one-of-a-kind look. If all factors are the same,
round pearls typically command a higher price.
Because pearls come in many colors, they are one of the few gemstones that can be said to
truly complement any customer's complexion. White pearls simply "glow" against
paler skin, while the dark-haired beauty might be better suited to creamy pearls. Rose
pearls tend to highlight anyone's complexion, and as a result are always popular.
Luster is defined by the light reflections from the surface of the pearl. The more
lustrous a pearl the more valuable and beautiful it is.
Since pearls are a naturally grown gemstone, no two are alike. Natural conditions such as
water temperature and pollution impact the smoothness of the surface of the pearl. Some
blemishes affect a pearl's appearance; others affect the durability, too. Surface
condition is judged by considering size, number, location, visibility and types blemishes.
Nacre is the surface layer of the pearl. It is the result of the oyster coating the
irritant with a substance that hardens and thickens with each layer. The deeper the
layers, or nacre, the more lustrous and durable the pearl. If the nacre is too thin, the
original "seed bead" may show through or the nacre may chip off.
Matching refers to the uniformity of appearance of the pearls in a piece of jewelry or
strand. The more closely matched the pearls, the more pearls had to be sorted through, and
therefore the more expensive the item.
Pearls have a timeless quality of style and class. Every generation marks special passages
of life - graduation, weddings, and anniversary - with a gift of pearl, either strands or
pearl jewelry such as rings earrings and pendants. Since a strand coordinates with most
all styles, it is a staple to any wardrobe at any time of life.
Pearls are a chemical and organic gem that require a more
specialized care than most other gem materials. They deteriorate in contact with chemicals
like household cleaners, perfumes, cosmetics, and hair care products of all kinds.
A good rule of thumb is that your pearls are The Last Thing You Put
On when dressing and The First Thing You Take Off when you get home. Never apply perfume
or hair spray when you are wearing pearl jewelry.
The surface of a pearl is soft and can be easily damaged. Pearls set
in rings and bracelets are subject to more cuffing and scratching than pearls set in
brooches, earrings, necklaces or strands.
Main Care Tips
Never clean pearls in an ultrasonic cleaner. Never use detergent or bleaches or baking
soda or ammonia based products. Do not use scouring pads or abrasive materials to clean
the pearls. Take your pearls off when applying cosmetics and perfumes. Do not keep pearls
near heaters or in places that get strong sunlight, such as a windowsill: they'll dry out.
If your strand becomes dirty or loose have your jeweler clean it professionally or
Caring for your precious pearls is easy. It is best to put your pearls on last. Cosmetics,
perfumes, and hair spray all contain chemicals that can dull the luster of a pearl over an
extended period of time. Periodically wipe your pearls with a soft damp cloth.
If you wear your pearls frequently, you should consider washing them approximately once a
year. Although professional cleaning is recommended, self-cleaning can also be done. Place
your pearls in a colander (plastic) to minimize handling your pearls. Dip the colander
several times in a mild soap solution (use a clear liquid soap, Ivory). Rinse thoroughly
in clean water. Pour the pearls onto a towel and allow to dry for at least 24 hours before
handling them. Consider having your pearls restrung after three washings. Remember: Your
pearls will last a lifetime with proper care and will only become more beautiful and
elegant with age.
Pearl strands are stored separately from other jewelry because of the pearl's soft surface
which can be easily scratched by other gems. A silk bag, velvet-lined box, pearl folder (a
satin-lined leatherette envelope with snaps to hold a strand in place) are good places to
store pearls. Your local jeweler is a good source for these items.
Never store pearls in a plastic bag. Some types of plastics emit a chemical that can cause
the surface of the pearls to deteriorate.
Pearls should not be stored in a safe or safety security box for long periods of time. The
ultra-dry atmospheric conditions that extend the life of paper documents dries out the
pearls causing them to craze i.e. (to develope small fractures on the surface).
Pearl strands should be stored flat rather than hung to avoid premature stretching of
thread. (thread type: either nylon or silk).