How Pearls are Born
The birth of a pearl is truly a miraculous event. Unlike gemstones or precious metals that must be mined from the earth, pearls are grown by live oysters below the surface of the sea. A natural pearl begins its life as a foreign object, such as a parasite or piece of sand, that by accident lodges itself in the oyster’s soft inner body where it cannot be expelled. In an effort to ease this irritant, the oyster’s body takes defensive action. The oyster begins to secrete a smooth, hard crystalline substance around the irritant in order to protect itself. This substance, a form of calcium carbonate, is called nacre. As long as the irritant remains within its body, the oyster will continue to secrete nacre around the irritant, layer upon layer. After a few years, the irritant will be totally encased by the silky crystalline coatings. The result is the lovely and lustrous gem called a pearl.
Buying Cultured Pearl Jewellery
While cultured pearl jewellery may be the perfect holiday gift, it is best to acquire some knowledge about cultured pearls in general before buying it. You should always buy from a reputable jeweller whom you trust. By knowing what quality factors cultured pearls are judged by, you can be sure you are getting the best quality that your budget will allow. The most important are:
Lustre refers to a combination of surface shine and a deep, almost three-dimensional glow emanating from within the heart of the pearl. To judge lustre, look at your reflection in the surface of the pearl. The clearer and crisper the reflection is, the better the lustre and the more valuable the pearl. Any pearl that looks too dull or chalky indicates a lower quality pearl.
Because cultured pearls are created by nature it is rare to find a pearl that is completely free of any surface blemishes, like pits, spots or small bumps. Still, the fewer the blemishes on a pearl, the more valuable it is.
The rounder and more symmetrical a pearl, the more valuable it is. However, baroque pearls, which are irregular in shape and often cost less, can be very beautiful.
Usually rose or silver/white pearls tend to look best on fair skins, while cream and gold-toned pearls flatter darker complexions.
Cultured pearls are measured by their diameter in millimetres. Other factors being equal, the larger the pearl, the more valuable it is.
Wear and Care of Cultured Pearl Jewellery
Cultured pearls are relatively soft compared to other gemstones and precious metals. So it is important to take special care of your pearls to ensure they will remain bright and beautiful for generations to come. Cosmetics, perfume and hair spray all contain chemicals that can dull the lustre of a pearl over extended periods of time. Even acids contained in body oils and perspiration can work to damage lustre in the same way. Therefore, it is best to put your pearls on after applying makeup, perfume and hair spray. Wiping the pearls with a soft damp cloth after you wear them will ensure that they remain free from any harmful build-ups of these compounds. Periodically, the pearls should be washed with a mild soap.
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As with the main types of Cultured pearls (Akoya, Tahitian, South Sea, all saltwater) the name refers to the type of mollusc (oysters or mussels) that produce the final product before it is beaded into jewellery. Freshwater pearls come from the freshwater mussel. Production centres are mainly in China, and to a much lesser extent in Japan and the US. Whereas oysters producing saltwater pearls can only handle one to two pearls simultaneously, freshwater mussels can accept up to 50 implants or irritants at a time, spread around the whole mollusc. This increases the production capacity, and therefore lowers the price, of this type of pearl dramatically. It is also the reason why freshwater pearls come in so many different and unusual shapes and sizes. Different parts within the mollusc produce different shapes and sizes. Implants at the centre part of the mollusc tend to produce pearls that are more round and circular, while those that are placed at the sides grow into irregular and asymmetrical shapes like oval, drop, button, keshi, potato, ringed, rondelle, and baroque. Properly selected, Freshwater pearls can be just as alluring and appealing as saltwater, and even natural, pearls, at a fraction of the price. We’ll be happy to help you understand the differences between pearl-types and styles to make the best choice for your budget.