Pearls are a round, white, iridescent smooth gem that signifies purity and the embodiment of delicate elegance. It is distinct from other precious gems for its origin. Any mollusk with a shell is able to produce a pearl such as abalone, marine snails, clams, mussels, and oysters. However, there is an vital issue to note in this statement. An irritant causes a shell to produce pearls. Without it, the mollusk would not naturally form a gemstone on its own. Known as the queen of gem, it was dubbed as the oldest gem used in jewelry by the folks living by the seashores. At present, naturally grown pearls are rare for most, whether it is salt or freshwater pearls are cultured.
The earliest artifact of pearl jewelry dates back to 420BC in Egypt in a sarcophagus of a Persian princess. Pearls were popular among the Romans, Egyptians, Chinese, and Arabic. It was primarily a symbol of wealth and status that during the Byzantine era, under Julius Caesar, it was an actual rule that only the monarch can wear gem from the sea. Pearls were also a precious gift for the Chinese rulers. It was during the 15th and 16th centuries that pearls became extremely popular used in extravagant pieces of jewelry that it was dubbed as the pearl age.
In 1893, A Japanese named Kokichi Mikimoto successfully created the first ever-cultured produced pearl. Because of this, the value of pearls dropped as hundreds of pearl farms rose in Japan. Like many gems that include human intervention, it was considered as fake even if it has a similar physical and chemical property as those natural pearls.
Pearls are considered a feminine type of gem for its association with the moon and the goddess Venus. Believed in providing protection as well as invite fortune and luck—the universal symbol of purity and loyalty.
Pearl represents wisdom in Chinese culture. This is shown in their traditional dragon dance, where the dragon continuously runs after a ball, which is a pearl. The previous emperor of the Han dynasty used to sleep with a blanket embroidered with pearls paired with a pillow stuffed with pearls. The emperor's mouth was filled with more than a hundred pieces of pearls found in his tomb. It was believed to prevent the decaying process of the deceased. During the Ming dynasty, it is customary for pearl-producing oysters to be lifted for the water to absorb the moon's essence. It was also used as a traditional topical treatment for more healthy and lustrous skin.
In Egypt, pearls are a symbol of wealth and are commonly linked with their religious belief. Pearls are associated with the goddess of life and healing, Isis as
Egyptians perceive pearls as high value that they were a part of the jewels buried together with the pharaohs.
It was believed that pearls coms from mythical creatures like mermaids and angel's tears. Considered as a plant of life that supports long life. Pearls are also believed to contain a soul substance from the great mother that blesses longevity. Comparable to the Chinese belief that filling the mouth of the deceased with preserve the body of the dead resulting in immortality.
Pearls were mentioned in the book of Koran, where the stones are made of pearls and jacinth while the trees are made of emeralds and pearls. Finally, each individual accepted in the kingdom is given a tent of pearls, emerald, and jacinth with a pearl crown.
Some believe that pearls are related to Adam and Eve. Eve's tears produce white pearls, while Adam's tears created black colored pearls. Lake of pearls was created when God cast both of them from the Garden of Eden after they had tasted the forbidden fruit. Furthermore, some also believed that the pearls covering the Holy Grail could purify water.
Three types of Pearls used in jewelry:
James St. John / CC BY
Natural pearls are formed when a organism or an irritant penetrates inside any mollusk: these maybe abalones, marine snails, clams, mussels, and oysters. Nacre envelops the irritant that acts as its natural defense mechanism. Nacre is a smooth crystalline material, a combination of protein and calcium carbonate that are light and strong. It takes thousands of nacre layers to form an iridescent pearl.
Contrary to the belief that all mollusk produces pearl is a myth. Mollusks can only produce pearls in unpolluted and pristine waters. This is why most pearl farms are situated in a highly remote area far from the cities polluted waters. The process, technique, and materials used are not as easy as embedding an oyster and waiting from them to produce pearls; every step is done in a precise manner, from preparing the nucleus and the oyster to finally harvesting the pearls.
Pearl farming is done by inserting a nucleus into the gonads of the shell. The core comes from a thick covering of another freshwater mollusk, a donor in essence. Commonly from the countries of the United States and Japan, these donor shells are cut into two to seven mm spheres. Precise shaping, cutting, grinding, and polishing are crucial to the culturing process.
Surrogate oysters are carefully chosen, and weight, 25 grams up, is the ideal weight and reproductive stage for a mid to large sized nucleus embedding.
The oysters are then conditioned prior to implantation. There are two types of conditioning technique:
- Natural conditioning
The oysters are conditioned in stratified waters. These are water that exhibits different layers of salinity and temperature and oxygenation. The chosen oysters are primarily placed under the water layer with high temperatures to spawn where the oysters will weaken. They are then placed underwater with low counts of phytoplankton for further starvation and reduce their metabolic rate.
- Chemical conditioning
To relax and condition the oyster where natural conditional is not possible, chemical conditioning is utilized. Menthols are sprinkled over a tank filled with seawater and the chosen batch of oysters for one to one and a half hours. The effect of this process is to relax the adductor muscle and open its valves. It is crucial that the implantation is done within the next ten to fifteen minutes for prolonged contact resulting in mucus secretion and demise.
Surgery / Implantation
The number of pearls produced depends on the number of nuclei embedded therefore, this is decided prior implantation. For smaller sized pearls (2mm to 3mm), multiple (five and up) cores are inserted. However, for larger nuclei (4-6mm), only one is embedded per oyster. The nucleus is implanted in the ventral segment of a mollusk's gonads. After the surgery, the mollusks are nurtured in a controlled laboratory condition until the wounds heal or are returned to the sea for one to two years to grow—this enough time for layers of nacre to develop and produce an iridescent pearl.
Described as flawless to a single or small flaw or with small stain with a pink, light cream or solver tint. Class A-2 pearls are round, immaculate with a lustrous pink shade Class A-2 is described as pearls with larger hollows and some bumps or protrusions. These can be treated to look like a Class A-1 pearl.
Described to have more considerable flaws and stains with a cream color and irregularly shaped.
Commonly known as trash pearls for their wild and irregular shape, with heavy stains and ugly coats. Their nucleus is recovered and reprocesses.
Harvesting peals are done manually. The adductor and gonads are cut to collect the pearls. When the mollusk will be implanted for another round, the pearls are carefully extracted by opening the pearl sac located in the gonads. The oyster is then placed back to the culture site to recover and once again undergo the same conditioning process before it undergoes implantation for the second time.
Cleaning and Treatments
The harvested pearls are rinsed with water and bleached to lighten and level out its color. Bleaching or treatment is seldom revealed, for this affects the conchiolin layer to lighten its color. It is then polished with natural materials together with beeswax to enhance its luster.
Some pearls are dyed after drilling. Another way to dye pearls is through pressure treated Tahitian pearls. This results in a brown-colored Tahitian pearl and white pearls to gold. Experts can detect UV treatment though UV spectroscopy.
Types of Pearls
Pearl can be divided according to their origin.
Famous saltwater pearls are the Akoya and Tahitian pearls.
Cabmok / CC BY-SA
Tahitian pearls are more popularly known as black pearls, with its dark shade ranging from gray to blue and purple. As of today, the dark color of Tahitian pearls is turning lighter due to the increasing water temperature that more delicate tints of yellow and green are observed.
The legend of Tahitian pears tells that Oro, the God of harmony and fertility, traveled to Earth with a magical oyster as a gift for the princess of Bora Bora to represent his endless love.
In contrast to the dark Tahitian pearls, Akoya pearls are famous for their white gems. Akoya pearls come from the smallest pearl-producing oyster (six to eight centimeters) native in calm waters of Japan. The cold temperature allows the slow layering of the nacre coating resulting in a compact lustrous pearl.
Akoya pearls size ranges from two millimeters to ten millimeters with colors ranging from gold, cream to bluish-gray. It is important to note that Akoya pearls are linked to Mikimoto, the pioneer of culture pearls.
Australians South Sea pearl oyster or silver lipped oyster most valuable gem. It can develop up to one foot in size that can produce excellent quality pearls. These are also made in the Philippine and Indonesia. The Philippines produces various sizes ranging from nine millimeters to twenty millimeters in gold or silver tones.
Imitation pearls are made from glass beads coated with a solution made from fish scales giving that thin, white, iridescent pear appearance that wears off in time. Mallorca pearls from the island of Mallorca is famous for their pearl stimulants.
Oval conch pearls
These pearls are made up of calcite in which, if compared to nacreous pearls, lack its famous iridescent shine. Queen conch produce colored pearls ranging from yellow, pink to coral red. In contrast to oysters, these still cannot be cultured, resulting from increasing in value.
Worldexplorer82 / CC BY-SA
Abalone Pearls are organic pearls found in the rocky coastal waters and considered as the rarest type of pearl in the world.
Liné1 / CC BY-SA
These are extremely rare non-nacreous pearls from a sea snail commonly known as Melo Melo found in the low waters of South East Asian countries such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Believed to be a holy object only worn by emperors. It is characterized by an orange-colored surface with a flaming pattern.
These are not your regular perfectly round pearls; instead, it is characterized by irregularly shaped pearls commonly seen on cultured freshwater gems. The previously called trash pearls are getting popular as of today. Because of their unique features, it makes it easier to combine with other pieces. Irregularly shaped saltwater pearls are also called baroque.
Type of baroque pearls:
Baroque / Elongated
A subtype of the general baroque pearls. These are elongated or spherical in shape with an uneven smooth surface. These were utilized in Victorian and Art Nouveau jewelry pieces.
Characterized by a flat circular smooth surface with a highly lustrous appearance. A favorite for necklaces and earrings.
Highly valued for its rarity, these are characterized by a cross-shaped appearance used on religious pieces of jewelry.
Mauro Cateb / CC BY-SA
These are the pearls produced when the oyster rejects the embedded mother of pearl. This results in a deformed shaped without a core nucleus. Characterized by an elongated appearance with a lustrous and surface.
These are cultured by attaching a half bed nucleus on the inside of the shell. Using this technique, only the outer portion is layered with nacre. The nucleus is detached, and the hollow is covered with mother of pearl. The downside with this technique is that this is not durable with the possibility of being damaged and the nacre separating from the mother of pearl.
Biwa pearls are characterized by elongated or stick-shapes, flat with a narrow body.
The most beautiful type of Roque pearls used on creating deluxe drop earrings.
As the term denotes, these are two pearls linked together that may be identical or different in appearance. These were popularly used in stud earrings.
These are small, square, with a rounded or lumpy appearance. Used in bracelets and necklaces.
From the name itself, soufflé pearls have a hollow interior making it considerable light compared to regular pearls. They are produced by inserting a sundried mud inside the oyster. After harvest, the pearl is drilled to drain the remaining dirt inside the nacre.
Characterized by a grain-like appearance commonly used in bracelets and necklaces.
How to determine the quality of baroque pearls
Similar to classic round pearls, baroque pearls are also analyzed and valued using the same criteria.
Saltwater pearl has a higher value than freshwater pearls.
The rarer the irregularities are, the more expensive they are. These are the cross, heart, and Keshi pearls.
Pink, cream, corals are more valued than the white ones.
The size is directly proportional to its value, meaning the more massive the pearl, the more the nacre layer. The higher the cost.
How to care for your pearl jewelry
- Pearls must be the last one to wear and the first to take off.
- Wipe your pearls after every wear with a soft dry cloth to get rid of body oils that may stain the surface of your pearl jewelry. Chemicals such as perfume and even your own sweat can affect the luster of pearls. Therefore, it is essential to wipe them clean before storage.
- Use a soft damp cloth using lukewarm water mixed with mild soap to wipe the surface of your pearls. Note that you must never soak your peal, for this will dull its iridescent surface.
- Air-dry your pearls after every cleaning.
- Keep your peals inside a cloth bag when not in use. Store them in flat to prevent the rope from stretching.
How to spot genuine pearls from imitation pearls.
- The most common yet strange way to identify real pearls from fakes is by running them on your teeth. Genuine pearls have a typical sandy feel as opposed to imitation pearls, which will smoothly glide on your teeth.
- Imitation pearls are too perfect. Closely inspect your pearl jewelry with the use of a magnifying glass. Real pearls have their unique ridges that are specific to only one piece. If the pearls are identical with no visible hills, your pearls may be fake.
- Observe the way your pearls reflect light. Genuine pearls are extremely reflective compared to imitation pearls that have dull surfaces.
- Associated with the pearl luster is its overtone. The overtone of real pearls are truly magnificent that cannot be compared with the dull white surface of fake pearls.
- If you are looking at a string of pearls, you can see that each pearl is not identical in size at a closer look. The pearls may differ in size, shape, and texture. Again, imitation pearls are similar due to their mass production.
- Real pearls warm up when worn for a time, unlike with imitations that remain cold or similar to the temperature of the environment.
- Real pearls are more massive than fake pearls.
Most popular pearl jewelry
Elizabeth Taylor's La Peregrina
When translated, La peregrina means the wanderer. The famous 55.95-carat pear-shaped pearl was the largest pearl of its time. The history of the necklace is still in the air. The story tells us that an African slave found the pearl and sold it to King Phillip the second. It became a part of the royal jewels for 200 years until such time that Napoleon was defeated by the French, and his brother, Joseph, took the necklace with his as they were forced to leave the kingdom. He then passed the wandered to his nephew Napoleon, the third of France.
It was then sold to the Hamilton family until it was auctioned on Sotheby's in 1969. It was purchased by Elizabeth Taylor's husband and gave it to her as a valentine's gift. Elizabeth Taylor had the necklace re-designed with diamonds and rubies. In 2011. it was auctioned at Christie's and was sold at 10.5 million dollars.
Consists of 68 pieces of initially owned by the Maharajs of India. It has a cushion cut diamond surmounted clasp. Initially, a seven strand pearl necklace consisting of 300 to 350 pieces of pearls exhibiting excellent quality, and is still considered as one of the most important necklaces made from natural pearls—this vintage necklace dated back to the Mughal era.
Four strand black saltwater pearl necklace
Sold at Christie's with a whopping price of 5,093,000 million USD. Composed of two hundred eighty-nine pieces of natural gray and brown pearls with sizes ranging from 12.65 to 4.90 millimeters. The four-strand pearl necklace also highlights a 3.03-carat cushion cut diamond encrusted on a silver-topped gold.
Duchess of Windsor pearls
Calvin Klein bought the pearl necklace for his wife, Kelly. The necklace is composed of twenty-eight pieces of natural pearls with sizes ranging from 16.3 to 9.2 millimeters. Equipped with an oval-shaped shaped surmounted by a pair of emerald-cut diamonds. The necklace is set with an 18.4 millimeters natural pearl drop pendant fastened under a diamond-encrusted cap. It was sole at Sotheby's, amounting to 4.825 million USD.