Learn About Pearls
What are pearls about? Why are they so popular? What are the ideal pearls? These are just some of the many questions that frequently asked when it comes to pearl jewelry. We have created this Pearl Guide to help you to make an educated decision when purchasing pearls.
Feel free to click on each of the tabs below to learn more about each of factors involved in purchasing your ideal piece of pearl jewelry. When you are ready to begin shopping for pearls, or if you have any additional questions, please visit one of our showrooms.
Pearls have fascinated civilizations for thousands of years. Although it is unknown when pearls were first discovered, civilizations in China, India, and the Middle East are among the first civilizations known to have cherished these rare treasures. Over time, pearls have continued to grow in popularity, and today, they are one of the most popular gemstones.
Regardless of whether a pearl is natural or cultured, both types of pearls are formed through a similar process. Pearls are formed inside the shell of certain mollusks as a defense mechanism against a potentially threatening irritant such as a parasite inside its shell, or an attack from outside, injuring the mantle tissue. The mollusk creates a pearl sac to seal off the irritation.
Natural Pearls versus Cultured Pearls
The difference between natural and cultured pearls focuses on whether the pearl was created spontaneously by nature – without human intervention – or with human aid. For thousands of years, natural pearls were the only pearls available to the numerous civilizations that treasured them. Nevertheless, natural pearls are incredibly rare, which has partially led to their value. In recent years, however, modern technology has allowed us to make cultured pearls.
Natural pearls are formed inside of oysters, under a set of accidental conditions when a microscopic intruder or parasite enters the inside of the oyster shell. The oyster, being irritated by the intruder, forms a pearl sac of external mantle tissue cells and secretes natural chemicals to cover the irritant. This chemical secretion process is repeated many times, thus producing a pearl. Because this entire chemical process is entirely natural, it is rather rare for an oyster to create a perfectly round pearl. In fact, most of the natural pearls created come in many shapes other than round.
Cultured pearls are created by transplanting a mother of pearl bead into a recipient oyster shell. Thinking that an intruder has invaded its shell, the oyster will respond by secreting its natural chemicals to cover the “intruder.” Unlike natural pearls, the “intruder” in cultured pearls is always spherical. Accordingly, the chemicals that the oyster secretes will simply cover the sphere, which always results in spherical cultured pearls.
Cultured pearls can be distinguished from natural pearls by X-ray examination. Nucleated cultured pearls are often 'pre-formed' as they tend to follow the shape of the implanted shell bead nucleus. Once the pre-formed beads are inserted into the oyster, it secretes a few layers of nacre around the outside surface of the implant before it is removed after six months or more. When a cultured pearl with bead is X-rayed, it reveals a different structure to that of a natural pearl. A cultured pearl shows a solid center with no concentric growth rings, whereas a natural pearl shows a series of concentric growth rings.
Types of Pearls
There are a wide variety of both natural and cultured pearls, each of which we have described below.
Akoya pearls are named after the Japanese oyster. These pearls are cultured to produce the traditional round pearl.
Baroque pearls can be found in both natural and culture types. These pearls are unique in that they valued for this asymmetrical shapes.
Biwa pearls are natural pearls found in Lake Biwa, Japan. Typically, they are oval in shape, and are rarely perfectly round.
As the name implies, Double Pearls are two pearls that were joined together during initial creation.
Drop Pearls are shaped like a water droplet, with a spherical bottom that tapers off to a point at the top.
Mabe Pearls are cultured for their particularly large size.
Oriental Pearls are natural pearls that are found only in salt-water. For the most part, these pearls are found in Oriental seas.
Paragon Pearls are large in shape, size, and color. These pearls are particularly popular because of their large, round shape.
Factors to Consider in Pearl Shopping
When purchasing pearls, you should take into consideration several different factors. These factors include the size of the pearls, their shape, the surface of the pearls, the luster, and their color. We’ve provided a general overview of each of these considerations below.
Often the size of the pearls is most important factor in determining the price of a pearl necklace. Because larger pearls take longer to grow, the larger each pearl, the more valuable the necklace becomes. It is also important to note that, all sizes being equal, a large natural pearl is more valuable than a large cultured pearl. The chart below shows the different sizes of some of the most commonly sold pearls.
Perfectly round pearls tend to be the most desirable pearls. However, there are some pearls found in other types of shapes that are still very sought after. Some of these sought after irregularly shaped pearls include button, drop, egg, and pear shaped pearls. The image below shows some of the most popular pearl shapes.
The surface of pearls can vary depending on the specific type of oyster the pearl is harvested in. Typically, smooth pearls are more valuable than rough or grainy pearls. Some pearls also feature uneven surfaces, such as a bump, color spot, or depression.
Pearl luster describes the quality and quantity of light that reflects from the surface of a pearl. The luster of a pearl can be detected when viewing it under a microscope. Although undetectable with an unaided eye, one can see a plethora of miniscule ridges viewing a pearl under a microscope. Generally, the more ridges a pearl has, the less amount of luster the pearl has. Often times, saltwater pearls are more lustrous than freshwater pearls.
Pearls come in an assortment of colors, including white, cream, white rose, rose, blue white, yellow white, and hard yellow. When determining on which pearl color you like, think about what colors would best compliment your personal styles.