Many different types or pearl are found throughout the world; however they are very rare and very costly as jewelry. The Japanese began artificially producing pearls in the early 20th century. This process allows for more production of pearls and over time, has allowed them to become much more affordable. Today, cultured pearls are considered the norm. While natural pearls are still harvested, a strand of them could cost the buyer hundreds of thousands of dollars. Instead, cultured pearls allow for beautiful pearls to be purchased at a greatly reduced cost.
What Is a Cultured #Pearl?
Cultured pearls are created in mollusks, by mollusks in captivity that have had irritants manually inserted. The mollusk then secretes nacre, also known as mother-of-pearl, which is a crystalline substance that creates the iridescence on pearls. Unlike natural pearls, cultured pearls are sold by their size in millimeters.
What are freshwater pearls?
Natural freshwater pearls come from mussels that live in ponds, rivers, and lakes. Freshwater pearls are also cultured, with the majority started much in the same manner as cultured pearls, the difference being that a piece of the mussel’s own mantle is introduced into its flesh. Freshwater pearls are very popular due to their irregular shapes and are somewhat more “casual” appearance.
What are saltwater pearls?
Found primarily in the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the coastal waters of India and Japan, Akoya pearls are produced by the akoya-gai oyster. They are known to be the first cultured pearls in the early 1900’s by Mikimoto Kokichi, a Japanese entrepreneur. They are popular for their pink tones, and perfectly round appearance.
formed saltwater pearls closely resemble freshwater pearls in shape and color. They are produced by a saltwater mollusk, such as the pearl oyster. The most common types of saltwater pearls used in jewelry are South Sea pearls, Akoya pearls, and Tahitian pearls. Cultured saltwater pearls show a slight difference from cultured freshwater pearls, and are thought to be closer to a perfect sphere.
What are baroque pearls?
Baroque refers to the shape of the pearl. Common among cultured freshwater pearls, they consist of any irregular, lumpy, or non-spherical stone. Saltwater mollusks will also produce baroque pearls, usually in a teardrop shape.
What are Tahitian pearls?
Often referred to as “black pearls,” these pearls can actually turn out to be a variety of colors. Produced in the mollusk shell of a mature Pinctada margaritafera, Tahitian pearls can be found in hues of pink, silver, white, green, and yellow. Its elevated value derives from the endless combination of colors found on a single pearl.
What are South Sea pearls?
Produced by the Pinctada maxima oyster, these pearls are the most valuable among the cultured pearls due to their scarcity and large size. They are split into two categories based on their color and origin – golden South Sea pearls and white South Sea pearls. Golden south sea pearls originate in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Australia. Their golden hue gives them their name. White south sea pearls can be found in Australia in shades of white or silver. All South Sea pearls are known for their satin-like luster, and rainbow overtones.
What are keshi pearls?
Originally, these pearls were created accidentally when a bead nucleus was rejected during production of cultured pearls. Only a few millimeters in size, they cannot be formed naturally and appear as lustrous misshaped
pebbles. Now, they are intentionally mass produced and used in many forms of jewelry making. Since they do not contain a nucleus, keshi pearls are composed wholly of nacre.
What are black pearls?
Known for their scarcity, black pearls are also referred to as Tahitian pearls. The mollusk which forms black pearls can produce pearls in many colors, making a black pearl extremely rare and high in value. Usually, a ‘black pearl’ is more green, gray, or purple in color. ‘Peacock’ is a shade of the black pearl in which these colors are all found on a single stone, much like the feathers of a peacock. Unlike freshwater pearls, black pearls cannot be massed produced, since saltwater pearls can only be formed in the mollusk shell one at a time. However, black pearls are still more abundant and hold less value than the South Sea pearl.
Some famous pearls
The Abernathy Pearl
Discovered in 1967, The Abernathy Pearl holds a reputation for being the most perfect pearl ever found in Scotland. Nicknamed “The Little Willie Pearl,” it weighed 44 grains and was found by a diver named Bill Abernathy. This pearl sat on display in a jewelry store in the city of Carincross for almost thirty years before it was finally sold in 1992.
The Big Pink Pearl
The largest natural pearl on record, The Big Pink Pearl, was found in 1990 and weighs 470 carats. It is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest natural pearl yet discovered. Valued at $4.7 million, this pearl was found by a diver and the current owner, Wesley Rankin.
The Hope Pearl
The Hope Pearl is famous for being the largest saltwater pearl, weighing 450 carats. This teardrop shaped pearl ranges in color from green to gold, and can be found in the British Museum of Natural History.
Selecting The Right Pearl
Pearls come in varying price ranges so that you can find the perfect pearl for your style and budget. Depending on what type of pearl you choose, the size and the quality will determine the price
Quality– Whether you purchase gems or jewelry online or at a jeweler’s, always select a reputable dealer to ensure that each pearl meets the highest quality standards.
Color –The general color of a pearl is also called the body color. Typical pearl colors are white, cream, yellow, pink, silver, or black. A pearl can also have a hint of secondary color, or overtone, which is seen when light is reflected off its surface. For example, a pearl strand may appear white, but when examined more closely, you may detect a pink overtone.
Luster– Pearls produce an intense, deep shine called luster. This effect is created when light reflects off the many layers of tiny calcium carbonate crystals that compose the pearl. This substance is called nacre. When selecting a pearl, consider that the larger the pearl, the more nacre it has, so it will also exhibit even more luster. Compare a 5mm Freshwater cultured pearl with a 10mm South Sea cultured pearl and the difference in the amount of nacre is obvious. The difference in luster is as clearly visible as the difference in the pearl sizes.
Shape –Shapes that are not spherical or even symmetrical are considered lower quality. Akoya, Tahitian, and South Sea pearls found in jewelry have a tendency to be the roundest, while Freshwater pearls can be oval or slightly off-round.
As a mollusk creates a pearl, the layers of nacre do not always adhere smoothly. Sometimes spots and bubbles can appear in the layering process. Pearls with the smoothest surfaces are the highest-quality, most sought-after pearls.
The size of the pearl greatly depends on the type of pearl. Freshwater pearls range in size from about 3.0-7.0mm, Akoya pearls range from about 6.0-8.5mm, and South Sea and Tahitian pearls can reach sizes as large as 13mm.
Caring for Your Pearls
When cared for properly, pearls can last a lifetime. The best way to care for pearls is to wear them often as the body’s natural oils keep pearls lustrous. However, it’s important to keep them away from household chemicals including perfume, makeup and hairspray. Chemicals found in these common products can dull the luster of your pearls. It is recommended that you put your pearls on last when getting ready and make them the first thing you take off when you come home. Before putting your pearls away, wipe them with a soft cloth and store them separate from other jewelry to avoid scratching their tender surfaces.
How to Spot Fake Pearls
The Tooth Test
If you hold one pearl between your thumb and index finger, then gently rub the pearl on one of your, you will feel a slight ‘gritty’ texture, as if you are rubbing sand on your tooth. Fake pearls will feel perfectly smooth.
Look for minor imperfections. As noted above, real pearls are only rarely “perfect”. Usually, they’ll have small blemishes or irregularities in their shape. Their outer nacre layer may also reflect light differently on different parts of the pearl. Imitation pearls are almost always “too perfect” — they look perfectly spherical, they have the same amount of luster on every part of the surface, and show no indents or imperfections.
Check for a sharp, healthy luster. Luster is a way that jewelers describe the type of light reflected from a precious stone. A pearl’s luster is part of what makes it so beautiful. Good-quality pearls should have a bright,clear luster that makes them shine when light hits them. If you look closely, you should be able to see your own reflection on the pearl’s surface.
Check for an overtone. Good-quality pearls are often prized for their overtones — the subtle color that is visible on their outer surface when light hits them. Fake pearls will usually not have this overtone effect, which is tricky to duplicate. Thus, if your pearl seems very slightly shaded with color when light hits is, there is a good chance it’s real. Rose and ivory are two of the most desired overtones for white pearls, though a wide variety of colors are possible, especially for dark pearls.
- Since some real pearls don’t have a visible overtone, not seeing an overtone on your pearl isn’t necessarily a sure sign that it’s fake.
Look for clues around the drill hole. Pearls on a strand or necklace will usually have holes drilled in them for the string to pass through. Examining this hole carefully can help you tell whether your pearl is real or not. Specific things you’ll want to look for include:
- Well-defined edges to the hole. Real pearls usually have drill holes with sharp edges (like a hollow cylinder). Fakes often have rough or rounded edges. However, old and well-worn real pearls may also have rounded edges to their holes. Fake pearls may also bow outward at the surface of the pearl, rather than being perfectly cylindrical.
- Look for chipped paint or coating around the hole. As fake pearls rub against each other with repeated use, their artificial coating can wear away around the holes. You may be able to see slivers of glass or plastic underneath. This is a sure sign of a fake.
Look in the hole for a line between the nacre and nucleus. A real pearl almost always has a clear outer nacre layer, while fake pearls have thin layers of artificial nacre or lack them entirely. If your pearl has a drill hole, you can check for nacre by peering in with a magnifying glass. Real pearls will usually (but not always) have a noticeable line that separates the nacre from the nucleus (the inside part of the pearl).
Beware of using just one test to verify pearls. This bears repeating: any single one of the tests above can sometimes produce false results. To be sure of your results, perform many different tests.
As just one example of how isolated tests can be misleading, one source found that real pearls that have been specially polished can feel very smooth in the tooth and friction tests.