The pearls a person finds in jewelry are one of three types: Natural, Cultured, and Synthetic. Natural pearls are formed by chance, and occur rarely in nature, while cultured pearls have been given a helping hand by man. Pearls are formed in both saltwater and freshwater mollusks. Today nearly all pearls, both freshwater and saltwater, are cultured. Here at Beaudet Jewelry we help you select from our wide selection of both freshwater and saltwater cultured pearls.
A pearl is formed when a small irritant or parasite penetrates and lodges in the mantle tissue of a mollusk. In response, a substance called nacre is secreted, and the creation of a pearl begins. Nacre is a combination of crystalline and organic substances. The nacre builds up in layers, as it surrounds the irritant to protect the mollusk, and after a few years, this build up of nacre forms a pearl. By inserting a foreign object into a mollusk, usually a bead or piece of tissue, pearl farmers can induce the creation of a pearl.
Saltwater pearls often have a core bead of mother of pearl implanted in the Oyster. This is true for both the Akoya and South Seas cultured pearls. The oyster finds the bead irritant and coats it with layer upon layer of nacre. When the nacre is thick enough it produces the shimmer we think of as the essence of a pearl's look.
Freshwater cultured pearls come from a clam. A core bead, or a piece of mantle tissue is used by the pearl farmers as an irritant. Some core beads that are used are made from freshwater pearls rounded into the bead. Recently very large sizes of round freshwater pearls are becoming available, which can reach over 18mm in size.
Pearls can come in a multitude of colors, shapes, and sizes, however all pearls are not created equal. Knowing how pearls are evaluated can aid in your decision making process. When choosing pearls there are five main criteria to keep in mind.
The pearl's body color can be very white, pink, dark cream, gold, blue, gray and silver with overtones ranging from green to rose. In the United States the most popular is Light Cream Rose. Pearls are generally bleached with a thin hydrogen peroxide solution. Because the lighter colors are more desirable, some of the darker pearls are bleached more heavily. Brown and lavender brown "French dyed" pearls may also have been heated.
The luster of the pearl should be as close to glassy as possible. Think of it as reflecting light like a glass marble. Appraisers will grade the luster as Very Bright, Bright, High, Medium, Slightly Dull or Dull. If the pearl has been waxed it may lose some of its luster shortly after starting to wear it.
Blemishes are surface bumps or lines. Usually these appear as raised blotches or spots but sometimes as surface cracks or an orange peel surface. Graders use a percentage system with under 20% of the surface marred being good to very good quality. Appraisers use the terms Spotless, Lightly Spotted, Spotted, and Heavily Spotted.
The roundness of a pearl has a significant impact on its value. Baroque pearls are often overlooked when shopping but thicker nacre and higher luster might make them a more beautiful pearl, more durable and save money at the same time. The appraisers usually grade pearls shape as Round, Slightly Off-Round, Off-Round, Semi-Baroque and Baroque.
Size on any pearl has a dramatic impact on its value. For round pearls of 7mm and greater the price at least doubles for each millimeter the size increases. Orient is the "oil on water" iridescent colors that can be seen on some pearls. It adds to the feeling that the pearl glows. Heavy bleaching removes this, I'm told.
Pearls are graded on a scale from AAA to A, with AAA being the highest grade. This grading scale is often only applied freshwater and Akoya pearls, but occasionally it is applied to other varieties like the South Sea and Tahitian pearls.
The highest-quality pearl, virtually flawless. The surface will have a very high luster, and at least 95% of the surface will be free from any type of defect.
The surface will have a very high luster, and at least 75% of the surface will be free from any type of defect.
This is the lowest pearl jewelry-grade, with a lower luster and/or more than 25% of the surface showing defects.
Pearls are made of calcium carbonate which makes them an organic gemstone. This means that pearls must be taken care of in a special way to ensure that they will last for several generations. Since they are softer and more delicate, pearls can be more easily scratched, cracked, and damaged. For these reasons, your pearls require a bit of special care.
Substances such as perfume, hair spray, natural body oils, and perspiration can dull pearls' luster and brilliance. A great rule of thumb is to always have your pearls be the last thing you put on when getting dressed, and the first thing you take off at the end of the day. This way you can minimize the amount of products that come into contact with the pearls. It's also a good idea to wipe them with a soft damp cloth to remove any traces of cosmetic products or body oils.
Pearls should never be stored in any type of plastic bag. The plastic can emit a chemical which can cause the pearls surface to deteriorate. Try not to store your pearls near a direct source of heat, in a very dry room, or in a safe deposit box. Peals require some natural humidity or else they can dry out.
Pearl strands require some extra care to prevent strand breakage. It's a good idea to have your pearls restrung periodically - perhaps once a year or so if you wear them often. Knotting the strand between each pearl will prevent all of the pearls from falling off the strand in the event the strand breaks. Also, knotting prevents the pearls from rubbing against one another and causing damage. It's also never a good idea to hang your pearls. This will weaken the silk threads that hold the strand together. A little bit of care can go a long way toward ensuring that your pearls remain safe and bright for years to come!
Tahitian pearls are produced in the black-lipped oyster in and around Tahiti and the French Polynesian islands. This oyster itself is quite large - sometimes over 12 inches across and weighing as much as 10 pounds - which often results in much larger-than-average pearls. The pearls are unique because of their natural dark colors. Most "black" Tahitian pearls are not actually black, but are instead silver, charcoal, or a multitude of colors with the dominant color being green. Truly black pearls are among the most beautiful pearls in the world, and are extremely rare.
South Sea Pearls
South Sea pearls are among the largest varieties of pearls in the world. They are harvested in a large oyster that can often grow up to 12 inches in diameter. This oyster is found in two varieties, the silver-lipped and the gold-lipped which can be distinguished by the coloration on the outer edge of the interior shell. This type of shell is also known as mother-of-pearl, and is the reason for the pearls lovely colors. These oysters are found in the South Seas between the northern coast of Australia, and the southern coast of China.
The size of the oyster itself, and the fact that this oyster can take a much larger size of bead, is a big part of the reason these pearls can range in size from 9mm up to 20mm, however, typically the pearls are 13mm in size. South Sea pearls also grow in the oyster for a longer period of time. While an Akoya is harvested after about 9-16 months, the South Sea pearl will be harvested after a minimum of two years, leaving the pearls with uniquely thick nacre. The warm waters of the South Seas give these pearls an unusual satin luster, and they can be found in a variety of colors including white, silver, and golden.