Pearls have been harvested for thousands of years to create beautiful jewels and family heirlooms. They are naturally formed when a grain of sand or other irritant enters the shell of an oyster, clam, or mussel and is coated with a shiny substance called nacre. Because the chance of finding a natural pearl is less than one in a million, nearly all pearls sold today are cultured, meaning they were made by implanting an irritant into an oyster to produce the pearl.
There are 7 quality factors to consider when purchasing your special pearl:
Color - The beautiful color of a pearl is unlike that of any other gem. There are 6 main body colors: white, cream, pink, black, gold and silver.
Overtone - Pearls are fascinating to look at because of their spectacular flashes of secondary colors called overtone. Overtones are the special shimmer or rolling color that a pearl has when the light hits it just right. Overtone colors are most often rose or green.
Luster - Part of the magic of pearls is their glow. Luster refers to a pearl's surface shine. This is created by the layers of nacre that have been coated over the irritant. As the pearl is gradually formed, layer after layer of this striking substance increases both the size and beauty of the pearl.
Shape - During the formation process, not all nacre coats are layered evenly, creating pearls of differing shapes. Pearls with a round shape are the rarest and most valuable. Other shape examples are baroque or button.
Size - It is fair to say that size has the greatest effect in determining the price of a pearl. Of the saltwater pearls, the largest produced are the South Sea and Tahitian varieties, followed by the Akoya.
Surface Markings - It is normal for any natural product to have imperfections or character traits. With regard to pearls, the marks or bumps are referred to as blemishes. A lightly or minimally blemished surface is absolutely acceptable.
Matching - It is very important to carefully examine pearls to see how well matched they are for size, shape, surface, color and luster. This is especially important when viewing necklaces and bracelets. Lack of uniformity detracts from the overall beauty of the item, and therefore, the value.
Making a Choice
As a simple guideline, select pearls according to skin color. Rose compliments fair skin, cream colored pearls enhance olive-toned skin, and black pearls suit everyone! Fortunately, there is a wide range available, making it easy for you to find one that suits your needs.
The most popular pearls, Akoya, are those that have been cultured and grown in cold saltwater oysters throughout the world, most notably in Japan. These pearls are difficult to grow; requiring years of tender care. The yield is certainly worth the wait. Akoya pearls occur in a range of size, mostly from 4.00 mm up to 9.00 mm. They are recognized for their overall smoothness, luster, body color and subtle overtones; all qualities that make them a classic beauty.
South Sea Pearls
South Sea Pearls are breathtaking due to their large size, often 10.00 mm to 25.00 mm. These pearls are cultured in warm saltwater in a species of oyster that is the largest oyster in the world capable of producing a cultured pearl. These oysters are extremely sensitive, making cultivation difficult. It is the complexity of the process as well as the size that causes these pearls to be rarer and more expensive than others. South Sea pearls occur in white, gold and silver.
Tahitian Pearls are cultivated in a species of black-lipped oyster that resides in warm saltwater. The oyster is capable of producing large pearls of up to 20.00 mm. The pearls occur in captivating colors; hues of metallic silver to black with overtones of green, blue, or purple abound. These pearls create an instant dramatic effect that is like no other. Tahitian Pearls are large, lustrous and rare, all qualities that increase their value.
Freshwater Pearls are typically those that have been cultured in
China, Japan and the United States. These pearls are grown in mussels
that may produce up to 30 pearls at a time. Freshwater Pearls generally
range in size from 2.00 to 7.00 mm historically, they were recognized
by their irregular "rice crispy" shapes. Today, the freshwater pearl
culturing process has advanced dramatically in China, where they
are now able to grow freshwater pearls similar in appearance to
Freshwater pearls are available at a fraction of the cost of Akoya pearls due to the fact that they more plentiful, less symmetrical and typically smaller. However, they still offer an amazing level of classic beauty and style.
To maintain the beauty and luster of your pearls, it is important to understand proper care and handling of your treasured gems from the sea. Pearls are soft and very sensitive to their environment. Perfume, hairspray, body lotion, perspiration and make-up attack the pearl's luster and color.
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- Apply perfume, hairspray and make-up prior to pearls; allow
your skin to absorb before putting on a necklace or bracelet.
- When touching up make-up or perfume, place a tissue or cloth over the pearls first.
- In hot climates where you are prone to perspire, consider wearing something other than pearls.
- After wearing, gently wipe pearls with a soft cloth.
- Allow pearls to return to normal room temperature prior to storing.
- In strands, check for stretched or soiled silk, this indicates a weakening.
- Have pearls restrung with knots tightly up against each pearl.