Pearls have long been prized for their color and luster. Get familiar with the properties and characteristics of these gems of the sea.
A HISTORY OF PEARLS
Early on, the value of pearls was driven by their scarcity — and the fact that their existence couldn’t be detected without opening the shell of the mollusk they were hidden within.
By the early 1900s, several Japanese entrepreneurs had secured patents on the tools and methods used to introduce foreign bodies into oysters for the purpose of creating pearls. By the 1920s, Japan had become a leading supplier of cultured pearls. Today, there are farms worldwide, with the majority of freshwater pearls grown in China. A mussel can produce several dozen pearls in one harvest season while a saltwater oyster may only produce one or two pearls in the same amount of time.
Cultured pearls are the standard today, with natural pearls showing up mainly in vintage jewelry. Naturally colored pinks are the most expensive, followed by white, light cream, cream, dark cream, and yellow. As an organic material, both saltwater and freshwater pearls are susceptible to damage by water temperature, cosmetics, hair products, and other chemicals.
HOW TO IDENTIFY DIFFERENT TYPES OF PEARLS
Natural pearls are formed inside oysters around an irritant or nucleus, such as a grain of sand. Natural pearls are the rarest and consequently considered the most valuable pearls. Cultured pearls are formed the same way as natural pearls, but people introduce an irritant and raise the oysters in a controlled environment on mussel farms. The majority of pearls sold are cultured pearls.
SO, WHAT ARE GLASS PEARLS?
Glass pearls are actually beads that have a finish similar to the look of natural or cultured pearls. White glass beads are made and strung on thread, then sprayed with a thin layer of “nacre” created to mimic the same sheen that happens organically when a pearl grows in a shell.
Glass pearls are far more affordable than any other type and are used in many designs because they can be created in so many interesting colors. They are not as delicate as a natural or cultured pearl, but care must still be taken as the painted finish can peel off over time. Take normal care (such as not wearing them in the shower!) and you should get years of wear from them.
Here are the most common types of pearls used in jewelry today.
- BUTTON: Button pearls are circular but rounded on one side and flat on the other. They can be drilled lengthwise or through the center or double drilled.
- COIN: The coin pearls are flat and shaped like disks, but they also come in shapes like teardrops, triangles, or squares. They can be drilled through their edges or from front to back.
- FACETED: Faceted pearls are cut to create facets after they have been harvested.
- FAUX: Imitation pearls are manmade and therefore consistent in size, shape, and color. These pearls are manufactured from glass, plastic, clay, or other materials.
- KEISHI: Keishi pearls form when debris enters a mollusk. The mollusk covers the debris with nacre, creating small free-form pearls that resemble corn flakes.
- POTATO: Potato pearls are oval, or egg-shaped. They can be drilled lengthwise or diagonally.
- RICE: Rice pearls are small and shaped like grains of rice. They are usually drilled lengthwise.
- STICK: Stick pearls are also called biwa pearls. They are long, flat, and free-form in shape. They can be side, center, diagonally, or top drilled.