COLORS: white, pink, silver, cream, brown, green, blue, black and yellow.
SPECIFIC GRAVITY: 2.6 – 4.5
HARDNESS: 2.5 – 4.5
REFRACTIVE INDEX: 1.52 – 1.69
Pearls are timeless, sophisticated elegance. And there is perhaps no other gemstone that is as versatile.
Ideal jewelry for a professional look, pearls are also worn with looks as feminine as romantic as a wedding dress. They’ve certainly got history behind them!
Treasured for their lustrous beauty since 2206 BC, pearls were extremely rare prior to the development of pearl cultivation.
In virtually every human culture that has known them, the word “pearl” has become a metaphor for something rare, beautiful, admirable and valuable.
The Life of a Pearl:
Unlike other precious gems, pearls are created by organic beings, specifically pearl oysters, freshwater mussels and other mollusks.
When an irritant such as a grain of sand makes its way into the mollusk, the animal protects its soft inner body by depositing minute crystals of calcium carbonate in concentric layers around the piece of grit.
The rarest and most prized pearls are formed naturally when grit enters the mollusk in the wild, while equally beautiful cultured pearls are formed when humans introduce the irritation that causes the pearl to be formed.
It is said that the most famous pearl necklace is the 2 strand Baroda pearl necklace (known as “The Baroda Pearls”).
Made of 68 graduated (9.47 to 16.04 mm) natural pearls, they are all matched to color, luster, size, and shape. It is assembled from the original 7 stranded pearl necklace owned by the Indian Maharajas of Baroda.
The Abernethy Pearl, found in 1967, is a 44-grain natural freshwater pearl said to be the most perfect pearl ever found in the rivers of Scotland.
And speaking of Scottish pearls, Julius Caesar invaded Britain in 55 BC in part because he wanted the freshwater pearls to be found in Scotland!
Other examples of famous pearls are too numerous to mention.
Pearls have been adorning beautiful women from the times when they were first portrayed in ancient portraits, to the Girl with a Pearl Earring immortalized by Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer masterwork painting, to style icons such as Madam Nordica, Coco Chanel, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and Sarah Jessica Parker.
A diadem made of natural pearls made in 1853 using jewels from the French state treasury is held in the Louvre.
As treasures from the Earth’s waterways, pearls have always embodied the mystery, power, and life-sustaining nature of water. The ancient Chinese believed they guaranteed protection from fire and fire-breathing dragons. In Europe, they symbolized modesty, chastity, and purity.
Today, pearls have come to symbolize for some victory over adversity because they represent “grit” entering a life and something beautiful being made from it.
The phrase “no grit no pearl,” popularized in social media often accompanies the similar phrase “no pressure no diamond.”
The spherical shape of pearls and their luminous quality has meant they are most often associated with the Moon.
There is as much to know, or more, about buying pearls as there is to know about buying other precious gems. It’s worth your time to gain a little knowledge before you buy.
Are They Real?
You can usually tell if pearls are real by rubbing them against your teeth. If you get a slick feeling they’re fake, while if they feel gritty, they’re more than likely real. Majorica pearls, for example, are not actually pearls but are made from fish scales and will feel slick against your teeth instead of gritty like real pearls.
Pearls’ popularity led to the development of a special vocabulary used to describe various lengths of necklaces, quality, and shapes of pearls.
Pearl Necklace Lengths
Collar — 10 to 13 inches, sits directly against the throat and does not hang down the neck at all; often made up of multiple strands of pearls.
Choker — 14 to 16 inches, nestles just at the base of the neck.
Princess Length — 18 inches in length, comes down to or just below the collarbone.
Matinée Length — 20 to 24 inches, falls just above the breasts.
Opera Length — 28 to 35 inches, long enough to reach the breastbone or sternum of the wearer and can be knotted.
Pearl Rope — more than 45 inches, or any length that falls down farther than an Opera Length, and can be knotted.
Evaluating the Quality of Pearls
Six factors are used in judging the quality of cultured pearls: “lustre,” “surface,” “shape,” “color” and “size.”
Lustre: refers both to a pearl’s brilliance and its inner glow, to the way its surface reflects light to the way it refracts light. A pearl’s lustre is generally evaluated in terms of “high” to “low,” with grades of “medium” in between. Lustre is the most important factor in evaluating the quality of a pearl.
Surface: means exactly what it says — it describes the surface area of the pearl, with pearls having the none or fewer blemishes, such as spots, bumps, pits, cracks, circles or wrinkles being classified as “clean,” while those with some imperfections are deemed “damaged,” and those with many such flaws are called “heavily damaged.”
Shape: eight different terms describe the shape of pearls: “round,” “drop,” “button” “oval,” “semi-round,” “circle — or “ringed”, “baroque,” and “semi-baroque.”
“Mabe” or “Blister” pearls are half-spherical cultured pearls grown on the inside shell of a mollusk, as opposed to inside a mollusk’s body. As a general rule, rounder pearls are more valuable. However, while the irregularly shaped “baroque” pearls are often less costly, they can be just as lustrous and appealing as round pearls and can convey a more contemporary, modern look.
Color: As noted above, pearls come in a wide variety of colors, and no particular color is considered more valuable than another. Your preference is what guides your choice. When buy pearls for yourself or another, always hold them against your skin to see which colors are most flattering. Often the pink and silver/white pearls look best on fair skins, while cream and gold-toned pearls flatter darker complexions.
Size: As a general rule, the larger the pearl, the greater its value. However, smaller pearls of higher quality can be more valuable than larger pearls of poor quality, just as is the case with other gemstones, such as diamonds. The size of a pearl is indicated both in terms of its dimensions and weight. Dimensions are given in millimeters and weight in carats or grains.
Nacre: refers to the actual outer lining of the pearl, and nacre is also seen on the inside layer of the oyster or mollusk. Most often, a pearl with high luster has a thick nacre, but this is not always the case.
Types & Grades of Pearls
South Sea: These are typically the highest grade, most rare pearls, formed in deep ocean areas of the South Seas. They are the color of their host oyster — white, silver, pink, gold, or cream or any combination of those.
Tahitian Black: These rare beauties with their sensuous “black” colors ranging from hues of green, aubergine, purple, blue, gray, silver or peacock. They are harvested in lagoons.
Akoya: Akoya pearls come from lagoons in China and Japan. Most freshwater Akoya pearls come from China.
Freshwater: If you want the look of a fine, round, cultured pearl at a lower cost, today’s freshwater pearls, cultured for near-perfect roundness and lustre, are an excellent option.
Keshi: These are a byproduct of the cultivation process and as such are not considered natural pearls. They are almost always just a few millimeters in size.
Professional Pearl Stringing & Care:
Pearls are sold to jewelers in “hanks,” which are several strands of pearls without clasps, tied together. One of the nicest ways to buy pearls is to choose a hank, then specify the length and the type clasp you want.
At Copeland’s, our professional pearl stringer will string your pearls on silk to the precise length you specify, with knots at each pearl. The benefit to knotting is that if the strand ever breaks, the knots keep the pearls from scattering and you from losing all your pearls. Most strands get a filigree pearl clasp in sterling or gold but you can also get special clasps. Some clasps have diamonds, colored stones or more pearls on them, or are shaped like flowers, bows or animals and can be worn to the front.
Pearls do have to be re-strung from time to time as part of their normal maintenance over the years. It’s time to have this done when you notice more space between your pearls than when they were first strung.