Diamonds are often said to be a girl’s best friend, but we believe pearls are a woman’s – they are timeless and elegant whilst boasting an understated poise. For those who don’t know much about pearls, we’re taking a look at everything you need to know, from where pearls come from to how best to look after them.
What is a Pearl?
Pearls are the only gemstone in the world that come from a living creature. Pearls form inside mollusks and are found in either salt water or fresh water. When a foreign body slips into a mollusk, it protects itself by covering this particle with layers of nacre. This is the nucleus of the pearl which gets bigger and bigger over time as more layers of nacre are formed around it. Nacre is the substance that gives the pearl its radiant lustre.
What are the different types of pearls?
The main types of pearls, which are differentiated by their forming process, are either natural, cultured or artificial.
Natural pearls are harvested from the wild; they are extremely rare, due to only one out of 10,000 mollusks producing them. Throughout history we’ve taken so many of these wild mollusks that the population is very low – unfortunately natural gems of the sea are now very rare and reach very high prices. Thousands of years ago natural pearls could only be found in very few places – saltwater pearls were found along the waters of the Persian Gulf, the coast of India, near the Red Sea and in the Japanese waters.
Freshwater pearls came mainly from rivers and lakes in China, but then Native Americans found them in the basins of Ohio, Mississippi, and Tennessee. The harvesting of natural pearls continued into the 19th century until there were significant issues with overfishing, the rising oil industry polluting the waters of the Gulf, coupled with the high demand for these precious gems, so the pearl industry had to look for a new solution.
Cultured pearls were created in 1893 by Kokichi Mokimoto. He achieved this by delicately inserting a nucleus into an oyster, which stimulated the creature to cover it in layers of nacre. Nearly all the pearls on the market today are cultured, coming in a variety of sizes, shapes, colours and lustre. There are four main types of cultured pearls: freshwater, Japanese Akoya, Tahitian and South Sea.
Artificial pearls can be a round glass or plastic bead coated with a substance replicating nacre. These are cheap to produce but they don’t last as they will discolour over time, are light in weight and often chip. A new type of pearl is a ‘Seashell pearl’ where a shell bead is covered with a mixture of ground nacre, colour and varnish. Slightly better, but still artificial.
How can I tell a real pearl from an artificial one?
A real pearl is heavy in weight, will have surface irregularities and always takes on the surrounding temperature whether it be warm or cold. The easiest way to be certain however is that a real pearl has a very gritty texture when tested between the teeth.
What colour are pearls?
When most people think of pearls they think of the familiar white and cream coloured gems, but you can get them in a range of other radiant shades. Freshwater jewels are naturally found in charming white, peach and pink colours. Tahitian pearls can be vibrant shades of black, grey, green and peacock. South Sea jewels are known for their white and stunning golden colour and Akoya pearls are famous for their brilliant white tones.
Do pearls come in different shapes?
Pearls come in a range of different shapes, which often determines their value. Round or near round pearls are classed as more valuable because they are so rare – a perfect round pearl is the rarest! Baroque pearls have an attractive non-symmetrical shape for those ladies who want to stand out from the crowd and teardrop-shaped pearls are perfect for drop earrings and pendants.
Where can I buy real pearl jewellery?
What’s the best way to look after pearls?
The very best way to look after your pearls is to wear them – the body’s natural oils enrich the pearls and help maintain their brilliance.
Our other top tips to look after pearl jewellery are…
- Store them in a separate soft pouch to your other items of jewellery to prevent scratching the pearl’s surface.
- Keep them in a moist environment if possible.
- Avoid contact with perfume, hairspray, cosmetics, vinegar and bleach as they will spot or disintegrate the surface of the pearl.
- Wipe gently with a warm damp towel before putting them away to remove any excessive body oils and perspiration.
- If you wear your pearls frequently, periodically re-string them.
If you’re ready to treat yourself or someone special to beautiful real pearl jewellery, please visit our main shop pages.