Learning Library

Pearl Gemstone

It is amazing to think how nature can turn an  unwanted grain of sand into one of the most  gorgeous  gems  in  the  world.  Learning  and  understanding the growth and development of a  Pearl is the first step towards truly appreciating  how unusual and precious this gem really is. 

A Pearl is one of just a handful of organic gems  (the other well-known ones being Coral, Amber  and Jet). Rather than being a mineral, Pearls  actually grow inside a mollusc (a term used for  all shells that open and close on a hinge, such as  oysters, clams, and mussels).

If a foreign object, such as a grain of sand, enters a mollusc it becomes an irritant to the creature inside, so in order to protect itself it releases a silky substance, known as nacre, to cover the  uninvited  guest.  Over  time  the  mollusc  will  continue to release nacre over the foreign body  and when the mollusc is opened three to five  years after the initial intrusion, the uninvited  foreigner has been turned into a glorious Pearl. 

It  may  be  a  very  beautiful  thought  to  think  natural Pearls form in the sea and are discovered  when  divers  find  them  at  the  bottom  of  the  ocean, but at what expense are we retrieving  this treasure? Diving for Pearls is destructive  for  the  Coral  and  the  sealife  alike,  therefore  it  has  been  prohibited  in  many  seas  for  this  reason. Cultured Pearls on the other hand, refer  to  Pearls  that  are  grown  in  environmentally- friendly  Pearl  farms.  Simply  put,  a  cultured  Pearl is one that is grown under supervision and  not one that is taken from natural surroundings.

Many people today prefer to know that their  Pearls are cultured so as to avoid the possibility  that they may have been taken from the likes  of a protected Coral Reef: the good news is  that around 99% of today’s Pearls are indeed  cultured.

Most natural Pearls one sees today are found in estate jewellery collections or museums, so  when buying new Pearls, it is not really a case of  natural Pearls versus cultured Pearls, but Pearls  versus synthetic. 

If you own Pearls and are not sure if they are  genuine or not, a great way to test them is to rub  them on your teeth; you want the Pearl to feel  slightly grainy rather than smooth. If it’s smooth  you know it is not a real one, as companies who  produce synthetic Pearls have yet to master the  grainy effect of natural nacre.

Round,  flawless,  and  orient  are  words  you’ll  hear  relating  to  Pearls  and  these  are  qualities  used to determine their value. The word round  seems a bit of an obvious one to describe a Pearl  but it is in fact the most important. It’s a common  mistake  to  think  Pearls  have  been  faceted  in some way to give them their perfect spherical shape, when in fact the shape of a Pearl is all down to the work done by the mollusc.

Because no two Pearls are identical in shape or  size, it takes a quality jeweller hours and hours  to select matching Pearls when stringing them  together for necklaces and bracelets. 

The finest Pearls do not have any flaws, bumps  or marks in the nacre and they should have an  even and clean surface. The final consideration  when valuing Pearls is their orient. This is the  word used to describe the lustre of a Pearl (also  referred to as pearlescence). The orient is a soft  iridescence caused by the refraction of light off  the layers of nacre.

Pearls are one of the oldest and most precious  gems discovered in the world and are believed  to have been traded more than 5000 years ago.

There are many myths and legends surrounding  Pearls,  and  one  of  the  most  common  sayings  is,  “Pearls  bring  tears”.  This  originates  from  ancient times when people thought that Pearls  were the tears of angels or of the moon. Despite  the widespread use of this phrase, most cultures  actually believe the opposite to be true. 

The Greeks have always regarded Pearls highly for their beauty and association with love and  marriage. They thought Pearls would promote  marital bliss and prevent the bride from crying  on the wedding day, which is where the tradition  of giving Peals to a bride came from. 

In Ancient Rome, Pearls were recognised as a  definitive sign of wealth and social status and  it was believed that they would promote a long  and healthy life. During battle in the Crusades,  knights would wear them as a talisman, believing  they would help protect the wearer. During the  Renaissance  period,  Pearls  were  regarded  so  highly that some countries passed laws allowing only the nobility to wear them. 

When cared  for  properly,  Pearls  will  last  a  lifetime. It is recommended to wear them often as the body’s natural oils help maintain the Pearl’s orient, but it is also advisable to keep them away  from household chemicals, as well as perfume,  make-up and hair spray. Along with Moonstone  and Alexandrite,  Pearl  is  also  a  birthstone  of  June.


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A gorgeously feminine Pink Pearl set from Jessica Lili


Classic White Pearls in a necklace from Jessica Lili