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.