Pearls of wisdom – A guide to pearls

pearl drop pendant & earrings with grain set cz's

There are 3 main types of pearls; natural, cultured & synthetic. The differences are as follows:

Natural – Natural pearls are extremely rare. They occur when grit enters the oyster (or mussel) & is then coated with ‘nacre’. This is the same material as the inside of the shell is made from. The oyster does this to protect itself. The nacre then builds up layer by layer to form the pearl. The only true test to distinguish a natural pearl for a cultured one is to have it X-rayed. This is done to determine the nucleaus of the pearl & the formation of the nacres ‘growth rings’. Cultured –The way cultured pearls are formed is the same as natural pearls but there is one main difference. In cultured pearls the process is kick-started by the mollusc being inject with the foreign object (often a spherical bead) to encourage the formation of the pearl.

dyed fresh water pearl studs

Synthetic –Some imitation pearls are known as shell pearls. These are made of mother-of-pearl. Others are made from glass and are coated with a solution containing fish scales called essence d'Orient. Lesser quality synthetic pearls are just painted plastic beads. Synthetic pearls rarely have the lustre of natural & cultured pearls & what lustre they do have tends to fade over time.

pearl pendant & matching studs in silver 'nest' design

Pearl facts:

  • From the age of 20 Kokichi Mikimoto ate 2 pearls for breakfast every day. He believed it would give him a long life. He died at the grand old age of 96!
  • When Cartier bought it’s 5th Avenue store in New York in 1917 the wife of the building’s owner loved pearls so much Cartier paid for the building with a double strand!
  • Cleopatra dissolved a priceless pearl in wine to demonstrate her wealth to Marc Antony
  • Coco Chanel said “woman need ropes & ropes of pearls”
  • Elizabeth I thought her pearls conveyed her purity as the virgin queen so she valued them over any of her other jewels
  • The largest known pearl in the world is 'The pearl of Lao Tzu' discovered in a giant clam

    The pearl of Lao Tzu - largest known pearl from a giant clam

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