ALL ABOUT PEARLS - PEARL BUYING GUIDE
For centuries, pearls have been a symbol of beauty and purity. Today they are regarded as both classic and contemporary, coming in many more fashionable styles than your mother's traditional strand of pearls.
Pearls, be they natural or cultured, are formed when a mollusk produces layers of nacre (pronounced NAY-kur) around some type of irritant inside its shell. In natural pearls, the irritant may be another organism from the water. In cultured pearls, a mother-of-pearl bead or a piece of tissue is inserted (by a human) into the mollusk to start the process. For both, the quality of the nacre dictates the quality of the luster, which is very important to the final beauty and value. The surface of the pearl should be smooth and free of marks while the overall shape could be round, oval, pear-shaped, or even misshapen. The misshapen pearls are called baroque pearls and have their own unique style.
NATURAL VS. CULTURED
Natural pearls are extremely rare. Historically, many were found in the Persian Gulf; unfortunately, today, most have already been harvested. You may be able to purchase small natural pearls, but they will be costly.
Cultured pearls are grown in special pearl farms. The mollusks are raised until they are old enough to accept the mother-of-pearl bead nucleus. Through a delicate surgical procedure, the technician implants the bead, then the mollusks are returned to the water and cared for while the pearl forms. not all produce a pearl, and not all pearls produced are high quality. Over 10,000 pearls may be sorted before a 16-inch single strand of beautifully matched pearls is assembled.
SALTWATER VS. FRESHWATER
Pearls can be found in both saltwater and in freshwater. There are also different types of mollusks that produce very different looking pearls.
Saltwater pearls include the akoya cultured pearls grown in Japanese and Chinese waters. They range in size from the tiny 2mm to the rare 10mm and are usually white or cream in color and round in shape. Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines produce the South Sea pearl - the largest of all the pearls. They range in size from 9mm to 20mm and can be naturally white, cream, or golden in color. Tahitian pearls are interestingly not exclusively from Tahiti - they're really grown in several of the islands of French Polynesia, including Tahiti. Their typical size ranges from 8mm to 16mm. These naturally colored pearls are collectively called black pearls, but their colors also include gray, blue, green, and purple.
These popular pearls are farmed mostly along the coasts of China and Japan, and usually have a high luster, near-perfect roundness, and high quality all around. Many natural and treated colors, including black, are available.
These pearls often come in more exotic colors, like silver, golden green, and gray-black. Often they have a metallic luster along with their large size.
Freshwater pearls are, obviously, grown in freshwater lakes, rivers, and ponds. These are primarily sourced in China. Although many are white and resemble the akoya cultured pearls in shape and size, they can also be produced in various other shapes and in an array of pastel colors. Many freshwater pearls don't have an original bead.
PEARL CARE AND CLEANING
Clean with a damp cloth only as needed. If your pearls are visibly stained, you can mix a solution of lukewarm water and mild dish soap, dip a soft cleaning cloth in it and wipe the pearls. Do NOT submerge a pearl or pearl necklace in water, as it will weaken the silk thread.
The surface of a pearl can chip and scratch away rather easily, and the luster of pearls can quickly be dulled by solvents, household cleaners, alcohol, cosmetics, and chlorine. Wipe them with a soft cloth before putting them away, and store them separate from other jewelry to avoid scraping away the tender outer coating. If you're careful, you can preserve a pearl's beauty for ages.