What You Should Know Before Buying Pearl Jewellery

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What You Should Know Before Buying Pearl Jewellery

How to Care for Your Pearls
History of Pearls
Pearl Quality
Preparing Cultured Pearl Jewellery
How are Pearls Grown?
The Difference Between Natural, Cultured and Imitation Pearls
About Freshwater Pearls
Where to Wear Your Pearls

How To Care For Your Pearls

Cultured pearls are relatively soft compared to other gemstones and precious metals. So it is important to take special care of your pearls to ensure they retain their lustre and beauty for many years.

A pearl’s lustre can be affected by cosmetics, hair spray, perspiration, body oils, chlorinated water and sea water. Contact with hard, sharp objects can also damage a pearl.

So here are a few do’s and don’ts:

Put your pearls on after applying makeup, perfume and hair spray.
Don’t wear your pearls when swimming, or to the beach.
Wipe your pearls with a soft slightly damp cloth before you put them away.
Every few months wash your pearls in a mild soap solution (not detergent), rinse carefully and allow to dry on a soft dry cloth before putting them away.
Keep your pearls separately in a soft cloth or bag, or lined jewellery box.

History of Pearls

Throughout history, the pearl has been one of the most highly prized and sought after gems. Many references to the pearl can be found in religions and mythology of many cultures from the earliest times.

The ancient Egyptians prized pearls very highlty. Cleopatra, to prove to Marc Antony that Egypt was too rich in culture and wealth to submit to conquest, made a wager with him over who could serve the most expensive meal. When they met, she dissolved a single pearl in a glass of wine and drank it. Marc Antony immediately conceded that she had won the bet. He also declined the offer of his meal, the matching pearl to the one Cleopatra had just consumed. At the time the value of the two pearls was the equivalent of over seventeen million dollars.

During the Dark Ages knights often wore pearls onto the battlefield. They believed that the magic they possessed would protect them from harm.

In the royal courts of Renaissance Europe pearls were regarded as a symbol of nobility. Since pearls were so highly regarded, a number of European countries passed laws forbidding the wearing of pearls by anyone not of noble birth.

With the discovery and exploitation of America, the discovery of pearls in Central American waters caused a flood of pearls in Europe.

Unfortunately, by the end of the 17 th century, the American pearl beds were almost wiped out by the demand for pearls in Europe.

Until the early 1900’s, natural pearls were accessible to only the very rich. In 1916, famed French jeweler Jacques Cartier bought his landmark store on New York’s famous Fifth Avenue. The price? Two pearl necklaces.

In 1907 two Japanese men, Tokichi Nishikawa and Tatsuhei Mise, patented what became the Mise-Nishikawa method for making cultured pearls. Meanwhile, Kokichi Mikimoto had also discovered the method but could not patent it due to the earlier patent. So he changed his patent to make it a technique for making round pearls, and with this technical difference was able to receive his patent. Mikimoto was a natural born businessman, entrepreneur and promoter. He grew his business quickly and soon had purchased the Mise-Nishikawa patent. The cultured pearl industry grew very quickly, and soon pearls became very affordable and available to all.


Pearl Quality

A pearl’s quality is based on four basic criteria: lustre, surface, shape and size. Colour is also a criterion that is considered when evaluating pearls, but is entirely a matter of personal preference and does not influence the quality of the pearl. That is, a black pearl is not a higher quality than a white pearl, where all the other criteria are equal.

The  most important indication of a pearl's quality is lustre. The lustre of a pearl refers to how shiny and reflective the surface of the pearl is, and is judged by it brilliance and ability to reflect light. A pearl with a high lustre will show reflections almost like a mirror, while at the same time appearing to have a “depth”, almost an inner glow. A pearl with poor lustre will appear very milky or chalky.

When choosing pearls, always buy lustre first. A pearl with high lustre will glow and shine when worn, while pearls with low lustre, while still attractive, will not catch the eye in the same way.

A surface free of bumps, spots or cracks is more valuable than a blemished pearl. Blemishes can imhibit the natural shine of a lustrous pearl and diminish its beauty. Cleanliness, or lack of blemishes, should be the second criterion, after lustre, that you consider when buying pearls.

Pearls come in all shapes (and sizes, see below). Perfectly round pearls are rare and the most highly prized, and therefore most expensive shape. However, baroque pearls, which are asymmetrical in shape, can be lustrous and appealing, and can be used to create unusual designs that are very attractive. Shape is, therefore, like colour, largely a matter of taste. While a string of perfectly round pearls is classically beautiful, jewellery featuring baroque pearls (of high lustre and cleanliness) can be just as beautiful and more intriguing than classic round pearls.

Cultured pearls are measured by their diameter in millimeters. They can be as large as twenty millimeters for a big SouthSea pearl, but pearls this size are exceedingly rare (and expensive!) The larger the pearl, other factors being equal, the more valuable it will be. Size is less of a consideration for baroque pearls, although still important.

Colour, while an important consideration in the purchase of pearls, has no bearing on quality, as it is purely a matter of taste. Pearls come in many colours, from shades of white, pink, silver, gold and blue, through to peacock green, purple, grey and, of course, black.


Preparing Cultured Pearl Jewellery

Unlike imitation pearls, no two cultured pearls are ever exactly alike. Each has its own unique combination of size, shape, lustre and color. The art of assembling pearls in a necklace, a pair of earrings or other jewelry calls for refined skills in blending similar looking pearls together so they look like they match. Here, pearls are sorted by experts with highly trained eyes and years of experience.

Drill holes must be made with care and precision. An inexperienced operator can split or ruin pearls with careless handling. A hole drilled even slightly off-center can ruin a necklace or piece of jewelry that depends upon the symmetrical assembly of its pearls. This stage in the preparation of cultured pearls for jewelry is a very delicate operation.

Stringing and Blending
Because no two cultured pearls are ever exactly alike, pearl dealers must cull through about 10,000 pearls to find enough that are so closely matched that they can be assembled together to make a single necklace, bracelet or pair of earrings. Here, closely matching pearls are blended to be strung into a beautiful necklace.

How Are Pearls Grown?

The birth of a pearl is truly a miraculous event. Unlike gemstones or precious metals that must be mined from the earth, pearls are grown by live oysters far below the surface of the sea. Gemstones must be cut and polished to bring out their beauty. But pearls need no such treatments to reveal their loveliness. They are born from their mother oysters with a shimmering iridescence, lustre and soft inner glow that is unlike any other gem on earth.

A natural pearl begins its life as a foreign object, such as a parasite or piece of sand, that by accident lodges itself in the oyster’s soft inner body where it cannot be expelled.

In an effort 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 the irritant, layer upon layer. After a few years, the irritant will be totally encased by the silky crystalline coatings. The result — the lovely and lustrous gem called a pearl.

But how precious pearls are formed from what an oyster regards as merely protection against irritation is one of nature’s most prized secrets. For the nacre is not just a soothing substance. It is composed of microscopic crystals, each crystal aligned perfectly with each other so that light passing along the axis of one is reflected and refracted by the other to produce a rainbow of light and color.

Culturing pearls is a delicate process, not assured of success - only 25 - 50% of the altered mollusks produce pearls and generally, only a small percentage of the pearls harvested are of gem quality.

Cultured pearls are formed by oysters in almost an identical fashion. The only difference is that man surgically implants the irritant — a small piece of polished shell — in the oyster rather than leaving it to chance, then steps aside to let nature and the oyster create their miracle.


The Difference Between Natural, Cultured and Imitation Pearls

Both natural and cultured pearls are grown by oysters and are therefore considered valued jewels - gifts of nature. The only difference between them is that natural pearls begin by accident while cultured pearls are initiated by man. A skilled jeweller can usually look down the drill hole of a pearl and determine the origin. However, the only sure way to tell the difference between a natural and cultured pearl is by using an X-ray machine.

Imitation pearls, on the other hand, are man made by mechanical processes and have no real jewel value.

Better imitation pearls are made from beads of glass, ceramic, shell, or plastic which are coated with a varnish generally made of lacquer and ground fish scales to simulate the iridescence and color of a pearl.

Imitation pearls go by many names. Some, unfortunately, are used to mislead consumers. The words “fashion, faux, simulated, organic, man-made, ‘Mallorca’,” or simular regional names are all terms that are currently applied to manufactured, imitation pearls.

Most pearl experts can readily tell the difference between imitation and real pearls by sight alone. However, due to sophisticated manufacturing and polishing techniques, it may be difficult for the average consumer to distinguish a natural or cultured pearl from a good imitation by sight. An easy way to tell the difference is the “tooth” test. A strand of imitation pearls slowly rubbed across the front teeth will feel smooth. A strand of natural or cultured pearls will feel a little gritty. This “grittiness” that is felt is from the crystalline structure of nacre that forms real and cultured pearls.

Please note : The freshwater pearls in the Discount Pearls store range are all cultured pearls.

About Freshwater Pearls

Freshwater Pearls are a kind of pearl that comes from freshwater mussels or oysters. A single mussel can produce up to 50 pearls. While saltwater pearl-bearing oysters are nucleated in a small organ known as the gonad, freshwater mussels are nucleated in the actual mantle tissue. Each side of this bivalve can handle up to 25 nucleations at one time.

Pearls are generally named by their shape; so we have baroques that can be any shape, stick pearls, button pearls, seed or rice pearls, rounds and drops. There are blister pearls, which are created by attaching a bead or other nucleus to the shell of the mollusk and then cutting it out after it has become nacreous. Mabe pearls are assembled from blister pearls, which are filled and glued to a shell base. The term "Keshi" has come to be used for just about any baroque pearl, but in its strictest sense refers to a pearl that spontaneously forms in the oyster during the culturing process, without mantle tissue or bead. Each freshwater pearl is unique, both in colour, size, lustre and shape.

Many pearls, both natural and cultured, have beautiful color and luster. Freshwater pearls are noted for their wide range of pastel colours. They can be found in white, silvery white, pink, salmon, red, copper, bronze, brown, lavender, purple, green, blue, cream, and yellow. Although white is the most common color, the most desirable are the pastel pinks, roses, lavenders, and purples. The different colors are a function of the mussel species, genetics, water quality, and the position of the pearl in the shell.


Where To Wear Your Pearls

Enjoy your pearls, wherever you are! These are some suggestions :

The races
Art galleries
Live shows and performances
Restaurants – lunch or dinner (probably a bit early for breakfasts!)
Visiting friends
Weddings (especially if you are the bride or a bridesmaid)
The theatre
Out on a date

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