Pearls
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Who Wears Pearls?

Pearls are underrated, as many people have preconceived notions as to what they represent. The two most common misconceptions are that grandmas wear them and they are only worn on formal occasions. This is no longer true. Pearls are worn by all ages in all colors and lengths. They can be worn every day to the office or to the grocery store. They can be paired with a suit, a dress or blue jeans. The journey a pearl goes through to create a piece of jewellery is a miraculous event. Gemstones must be cut and polished to bring out their beauty, but pearls need no such treatment to reveal their loveliness.

Natural Pearls
Natural pearls are extremely rare and valuable, but represent the miracle of nature.
People often get confused when they hear the words “cultured pearls,” believing they’re not “real” pearls. In fact, cultured pearls grow in oysters and mussels exactly the same way they would if they began naturally; the only difference is that humans intervene to initiate the growing process, much like planting a seed to grow a plant or crop.
However, before the culturing process was invented in the early 1900s, explorers worldwide searched for and collected natural pearls, which grew inside oysters, mussels and other mollusks in many parts of the world. Because they were so coveted, the mollusks known to produce beautiful pearls became overfished, and many either died out altogether or were in danger of extinction by the mid-20th century.

Natural pearls in vintage jewellery
Strands of matched round white or cream natural pearls are hard to come by these days, so you’ll mostly find them in antique jewellery stores or at auction. It often took years to find enough natural pearls that looked similar to put together a strand — which is why natural pearl strands fetch high prices at auction.

Contemporary natural pearls
Natural pearls are rare, but not impossible to find. About one in every 10,000 oysters produces a natural pearl. Because they haven’t been cultured, they often come in unusual or off-round shapes, and they may be smaller than cultured pearls. They are also quite expensive because they’re so rare.
Natural pearls produced by abalone shells, in spectacular blues and greens, became quite popular in the 1990s. Growing in California and New Zealand, abalone pearls feature organic shapes and brilliant colors. However, due to restrictions in abalone hunting, these pearls may not be as readily available today as they once were.

Natural pearl care
The beautiful surface of pearls can be harmed by cosmetics, perfumes and hair products, so put your pearl jewellery on last before heading out the door. After wearing, wipe them with a soft cloth and place them in a soft bag to keep them separate from other jewellery in your jewellery box. To clean them, lay them on a towel and use a mild soap and water, and maybe a soft bristle brush. Rinse well and then lay them on a clean, dry towel to air-dry. Don’t hang a string of pearls; it can stretch the string. Don’t expose your peal jewellery to harsh cleaners or chemicals.

Akoya Cultured Pearls
Akoya Cultured Pearls Akoya pearls occur naturally in colors such as pink, silver, cream, white, gold, gray and blue. They rarely occur in black, green or other exotic colors — if you see Akoya pearls in these colors, be sure to ask the seller if the color is enhanced.
Smoothness is a quality factor that affects the grade and price of Akoya pearls. Because they often live in the ocean for six to 18 months, Akoya pearls often come with at least a certain number of blemishes from the months of exposure to saltwater, sand and other natural elements. The blemishes are actually a good thing — they’re one way you know the pearl is real and not artificial. But the fewer blemishes there are, the more the pearl is worth.

Shape
You’ll often see Akoya pearls that are perfectly round, because they tend to be cultured for roundness — which is one of the reasons their nuclei are round shell beads. Akoya pearls are often valued for their roundness and the symmetry of their shape and size when used in pearl strands.

Size
While Akoya pearls range from 2mm to 10mm in circumference, the average size is 6mm to 7mm.

Use in jewellery
Akoya pearls are best known for their use in beautiful, well-matched pearl strands, which feature pearls that are nearly identical in size, shape, color and quality (luster and surface flaws). Akoya pearls are also popular in pendants, stud or drop earrings, and rings.

Akoya pearl care
Pearls are delicate. The nacre on the outside of pearls is soft, and because it is layered over a shell-bead nucleus, it can wear or chip away over time if you don’t treat the pearls with extreme care. Keep your Akoya pearls in a box with a soft lining and away from metal jewellery that can rub against them. Also be careful not to get makeup, hairspray or harsh soaps or chemicals on your pearl jewellery. If you’re active or work with your hands, you might want to avoid Akoya pearl rings.

Freshwater Cultured Pearls
Freshwater Cultured Pearls 
Freshwater pearls are known for their gorgeous colors, variety and affordable prices. These organic beauties are popular in jewellery designs because of their warm, feminine and unique shapes and colors.

History
Commercial freshwater pearl culturing began in a large lake in Japan around the same time as Akoya pearl culturing started at the turn of the 20th century. Over many decades, freshwater cultured pearls came largely from Japan, but due to pollution the Japanese freshwater pearl culturing industry died out.
China produces most freshwater pearls today; but China isn’t new to pearls. A pearl industry has existed for collecting and harvesting natural pearls for more than 4,000 years, and the Chinese applied processes that would later be used for commercial pearl culture to cultivate shell mabes, or half pearls, as early as 1082 A.D.

Sources and production
More than 99% of the freshwater pearls in the world come from lakes and rivers west of Shanghai.
To culture freshwater pearls, producers insert small pieces of “mantle tissue,” or reused pieces of shell, into the tissue of a large triangular mussel. In reaction to this irritant, the mussel begins to produce nacre, the lustrous coating that creates the pearl. Producers may implant 20 to 30 pieces of mantle tissue into a single mussel, and in turn retrieve as many pearls from one mussel in a harvest. This quantity allows China to produce some 1,500 tons of freshwater pearls a year.
While the Chinese pearl industry used to be known for tiny “rice” pearls, the industry has become so sophisticated that the size, shape and quality of freshwater pearls now can rival those of the Japanese Akoya cultured pearl.

Color and surface
Freshwater cultured pearls come in a breathtaking variety of colors: pink, gold, blue, green, peach, lavender, gray, white and cream. Because they are so abundant (and often inexpensive), freshwater pearls are also often dyed bolder, fashionable colors such as black, copper, red or other bright colors. This is an acceptable enhancement for freshwater pearls, but the jeweller who sells them to you should disclose it.
Freshwater pearls can be quite lustrous, but because they’re cultivated in a different kind of water, they don't have quite the same sheen as Akoya cultured pearls. However, proponents of freshwater pearls like to point out that these pearls have more nacre (and are therefore less fragile) than their Japanese cousins, which have shell-bead nuclei and a layer of nacre on top.
How many blemishes a freshwater pearl has will determine its value. Some blemishes are natural and even desirable — they prove that the pearl is real and not artificial — but smoothness and cleanliness of the pearl are factors in its price.

Shape
Freshwater pearls come in many different shapes. Producers have become quite skilled at creating almost perfectly round pearls, which are ideal for matched pearl strands. Freshwater pearls also commonly come in oblong or oval (potato) shapes or irregular shapes (known as baroque). You’ll also see keshi pearls, which are “free-form” shapes that often occur as accidents in the culturing process. Designers may prize these pearls for their uniqueness and beauty.

Size
Freshwater pearls typically appear in sizes from 2mm to 8mm; average sizes are 6mm to 7mm.

Use in jewellery
Freshwater pearls are less expensive than other pearls, and also versatile in their colors and shapes, making them popular choices for jewellery designers. It’s common to see strands of freshwater pearls, but also to see freshwaters in fashion jewellery pieces such as pendants, earrings, bracelets and brooches.

Freshwater pearl care
Like all pearls, freshwater pearls are soft and delicate. They are not as susceptible to peeling as other cultured pearls because they’re about 90 percent nacre, but they may still be at risk for cracking or scratches. Keep your freshwater pearls in a box with a soft lining and away from metal jewellery that can rub against them. Also be careful not to get makeup, hairspray or harsh soaps or chemicals on your pearl jewellery.


South Sea Cultured Pearls
South Sea Cultured Pearls
South Sea pearls are jewels of the South Pacific, offering a look of exquisite glamour and radiance for the woman who wears them.

Gorgeous South Sea pearls, treasured for centuries, are the ultimate statement of luxury and glamour. These large, creamy white and golden pearls are cultured in the South Pacific and are treasured for their opulence in breathtaking strands and pearl jewellery.

History
Explorers have coveted natural South Sea pearls for thousands of years, so much so that by the 19th century, the oysters producing these voluminous pearls were nearly extinct. Shortly after people began culturing Akoya pearls in Japan, producers began trying to culture South Sea pearls in the South Pacific, finally becoming commercially successful in the 1950s.

Sources and production
South Sea pearls are cultured using a large, white-lipped oyster, hand-selected from the waters of the South Pacific. The oyster is about twice the size of the Akoya pearl oyster and produces much larger pearls.
These luxurious pearls are cultured in Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Myanmar, Japan and Thailand. To culture South Sea pearls, one round shell bead is implanted into the tissue of a large, white-lipped pearl oyster. In reaction to this irritant, the oyster begins to produce nacre, the lustrous coating that creates the pearl.
The more time the pearls spend in the water, the more coats of nacre they develop, which creates their lustrous look. The bead remains within the pearl beneath the layers of nacre. On average, a South Sea pearl will require two to three years to develop. A South Sea pearl oyster can produce up to three or four pearls over the course of its life.

Color and surface
South Sea pearls emerge with white, blue-white, pink, cream, light yellow or deep gold surfaces.
South Sea pearls are beautiful and lustrous, and can produce a magnificent glow that turns heads and gives women who wear them a radiant look. However, because they’re cultivated in warmer waters, they don't always have quite the same reflective sheen as Akoya cultured pearls.
How close to blemish free a South Sea pearl is will determine its value. Some blemishes are natural and even desirable as proof of the pearl’s natural creation. Its overall smoothness and cleanliness factor into its price.

Shape
South Sea pearls are valued for their roundness, but they also come in baroque shapes — irregular or oblong shapes that can be beautiful and unique.

Size
South Sea pearls grow very large, typically to sizes between 9mm and 20mm. The average size is about 12mm.

Use in Jewellery
South Sea pearls are often used in high-value fine jewellery, and are considered looks of luxury. White, cream or gold South Sea pearls are frequently sold in well-matched strands, often with accompanying diamonds. They may be used for pendants, rings and stud or drop earrings as well.

South Sea pearl care
Pearls are delicate. The nacre on the outside of pearls is soft, and though the layer of nacre is thick on South Sea pearls, it can still wear or chip away over time if you don’t treat the pearls with extreme care. Keep your pearls in a box with a soft lining and away from metal jewellery that can rub against them. Also be careful not to get makeup, hairspray or harsh soaps or chemicals on your pearl jewellery.


Tahitian Cultured Pearls
Tahitian Cultured Pearls
Black cultured pearls, also known as Tahitian pearls, are coveted for their exotic beauty. With their large size and greenish or pinkish sheen, they are reminiscent of the tropical settings in the South Pacific from which they hail.

History
The islands that are now French Polynesia (and include the island of Tahiti) were discovered in the 1700s and soon became celebrated for the treasures explorers found in the waters — including natural pearls. Shortly after people began culturing Akoya pearls in Japan, producers began trying to culture black pearls in the South Pacific, finally becoming commercially successful in the 1960s.

Sources and production
The large, black-lipped oyster native to the waters of the South Pacific is responsible for giving birth to the black cultured pearl. The oyster is about twice the size of the Akoya pearl oyster and produces larger pearls, and its species is responsible for the colors of the pearls that emerge from it.
Tahitian black cultured pearls are the largest export of French Polynesia. The Cook Islands also produce black pearls.
To culture Tahitian pearls, one round shell bead is implanted into the tissue of a large, black-lipped pearl oyster. In reaction to this irritant, the oyster begins to produce nacre, the lustrous coating that creates the pearl. The longer the pearls are left in the water, the more coats of nacre they will have, which makes them more beautiful. The bead remains within the pearl as its nucleus. A black pearl takes about two to three years to form. Once a black pearl oyster produces a pearl, it is usually implanted again, up to three or four times in its lifetime.

Color and surface
Black pearls are not, in fact, always black. Often they are a very dark charcoal, with overtones of green, pink, purple or blue. They also come in silver or gray. Tahitian pearls are usually not dyed; the colors should be natural.
Tahitian black pearls are beautiful and lustrous, with many different colors often appearing in their sheen. However, because they’re cultivated in warmer waters, they don't always have quite the same reflective sheen as Akoya cultured pearls.
The amount of blemishes on a Tahitian pearl will determine its value. Some blemishes are natural and even desirable — they prove that the pearl is real and not artificial — but smoothness and cleanliness of the pearl are factors in its price.

Shape
Tahitian pearls are valued for their roundness, but they also come in baroque shapes — irregular or oblong shapes that can be beautiful and unique.

Size
Tahitian black pearls typically appear in sizes from 9mm to 18mm; average sizes are 10mm to 11mm.

Use in jewellery
Tahitian black pearls are often used in high-value fine jewellery, and are considered looks of luxury. A strand of black pearls may either match the size and color of the pearls exactly, or may present multi-colored Tahitian pearls in a rainbow-like pattern. Single black pearls are also popular in pendants, rings and stud or drop earrings.

Tahitian black pearl care
Pearls are delicate. The nacre on the outside of pearls is soft, and though the layer of nacre is thick on Tahitian pearls, it can still wear or chip away over time if you don’t treat the pearls with extreme care. Keep your black pearls in a box with a soft lining and away from metal jewellery that can rub against them. Also be careful not to get makeup, hairspray or harsh soaps or chemicals on your pearl jewellery.

 

Pearl Grading Determines Quality
The value of pearls varies significantly based on the grade of five characteristics of the pearl– lustre, color, shape, surface and size. Gem quality pearls must be sorted and graded to evaluate the quality and value of the pearl. Since there are not two pearls that are exactly the same, sorting pearls is a very long and difficult process. Each pearl must be sorted by size, shape, color and lustre, so it is handled hundreds of times.

A Pearl’s Lustre
A Pearl’s Lustre
The most important indication of a pearl’s quality is lustre. The lustre of a pearl refers to the glowing appearance of its surface, and is judged by it brilliance and ability to reflect light. A pearl with a high lustre will be very shiny and show reflections like a mirror while a pearl with poor lustre will appear very milky or chalky. Lustre is determined by the quality of a pearl’s nacre, its transparency, smoothness and overall thickness. Factors affecting the quality of the nacre include the cultivation place, the health of the mother oyster, the length of time spent in the oyster, pollution and the type of oyster used. Only strong layers of nacre can produce deep lustre.

A Pearl’s Color
A Pearl’s Color

Pearls present a whole palette of colors to choose from. Light colored pearls are produced in shades of white, pink, silver, gold and blue, while dark colored pearls range from peacock green, aubergine purple, and the newer rich chocolates to all the shades of grey. Above all, a pearl’s color is a question of personal taste. Some colors look better on certain skin tones. Although some shades are especially rare or popular and therefore highly valued, such as rosy white, silvery white and pale gold, the color of a pearl is certainly not an indication of its quality.

A Pearl’s Shape
A Pearl’s Shape

The shape of a pearl plays a major role in determining its value. Pearls can be divided into four basic groups of shape; round, off-round, semi-baroque and baroque. Round is the most valuable and they decrease in value as they become less round. A baroque pearl is very irregular in shape with a surface that is often very uneven.

A Pearl’s Surface
A Pearl’s Surface
The more flawless the pearl, the higher the value. However, since pearls are created in the ocean by a wild oyster and nature almost always leaves its mark, it is extremely rare to find a perfect pearl. Flaws can also be positive feature because they add character and prove that it is not imitation. Many people view these markings as unique and individualized characteristics.

A Pearl’s Size
A Pearl’s Size
The size of the pearl is important because larger pearls, just like diamonds, are harder to find. Size will have a significant impact on price. The size of a pearl is expressed in terms of its diameter, which is measured in millimeters, and one millimeter difference in size has been known to raise a price by up to 200 percent!


The Journey of a Pearl
The birth of a pearl is a miraculous event! Live oysters below the surface of the sea grow pearls. Gemstones must be cut and polished to bring out their beauty, but pearls need no such treatment to reveal their loveliness. They are born from oysters complete with a shimmering iridescence, lustre and soft inner glow unlike any other gem on Earth.

A natural pearl begins its life as a foreign object, such as a parasite or piece of shell that accidentally lodges itself in an oyster’s soft inner body where it cannot be expelled. 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 is called “nacre.” As long as the irritant remains within its body, the oyster will continue to secrete nacre around it, layer upon layer. Over time, the irritant will be completely encased by the silky crystalline coatings. And the result, ultimately, is the lovely and lustrous gem called a pearl.

Cultured pearls share the same properties as natural pearls, and most pearls cultured today are cultured. The only difference is a person carefully implants the irritant in the oyster, rather than leaving it to chance. We then step aside and let nature create its miracle.

Nucleation

In a process referred to as nucleation, highly skilled technicians carefully open live pearl oysters, and with surgical precision make an incision in the oyster’s body. Then, they place a tiny piece of “mantle tissue” from another oyster into a relatively safe location. Then, they place a small round shell or nucleus, beside the inserted mantle tissue.

The cells from the mantle tissue develop around the nucleus forming a sack, which closes and starts to secrete nacre. The nucleated oysters are then returned to the sea where, in sheltered bays rich in nutrients, they feed and grow, depositing layer after layer of lustrous nacre around the nuclei implanted within them.

Pearl Care

The oysters are given the utmost care during this time while suspended in the water. From the rafts above, technicians check water temperatures and feeding conditions daily at various depths, moving the oysters up or down as appropriate. Periodically, the oysters are lifted from the sea for cleaning and health treatments. Seaweed, barnacles and other seaborne organisms that might interfere with their feeding are removed from the oysters’ shells. The shells are also treated with medicinal compounds to discourage parasites.

Over time, after eight to 36 months of growth and care, the oysters are ready for harvest. Those that have survived the many perils of the sea are brought ashore and opened. All pearls must be cleaned and washed to remove residue and odors. They are typically tumbled in rotating
barrels with salt during this procedure. The tumbling must be closely monitored; otherwise some of the nacre may wear off.

When everything has gone well, a beauty is revealed — the result is a lovely, lustrous and very valuable cultured pearl. Chinese freshwater pearls and Akoya pearls are often treated with chemicals after drilling. This whitens them and makes the color look more even.

Sorting, Matching & Stringing

After harvesting, gem quality pearls must be sorted. Because no two pearls are ever exactly alike, sorting pearls is an extremely difficult and time-consuming effort performed by experts. Each pearl must be sorted by size, shape, color and lustre, so it is handled hundreds of times. After sorting, the pearls are drilled with great care and precision.

Finally, it’s time for matching and stringing. This can be even more difficult than sorting, because now experts must compare pearls that are similar in size, shape, lustre and color — looking for nearly exact matches. As an example, to find 47 pearls for a perfectly matched 16-inch necklace, a pearl processor must cull through more than 10,000 pearls.

Quality of Pearls

Millions of oysters are nucleated every year, but only a small proportion live to produce fine-quality cultured pearls. On average, only 50 percent of nucleated oysters survive to bear pearls, and of them, only 20 percent bear pearls that are marketable. The rest are simply too imperfect, too flawed to be called jewels. A perfect pearl is truly a rare event; less than five percent of nucleated oysters yield pearls of such perfect shape, lustre and color as to be considered fine gem quality like Hanadama pearl jewellery.













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