Pearls have been a favorite gemstone for thousands of years. The oldest piece of natural pearl jewelry is more than 4000 years old. In ancient times, the perceived glow of the gem symbolized a strong inner self. Today, the pearl is June's birthstone and commonly associated with success, love and happiness. The gem has endless possibilities for jewelry and can be worn with any kind of outfit from casual-chic to black tie.
Pearls are produced in saltwater oysters and freshwater mollusks. When a foreign object gets lodged in its shell, the oyster or mollusk begins its defense mechanism. It excretes layers of nacre, a luminous substance created from very fine organic crystal. The layers result in a pearl. Natural pearls are extremely rare and very expensive. Due to that fact, Kokichi Mikimoto, founder of the luxury pearl brand Mikimoto, created a patented process for cultivating the gems in the late 1800s. Since then, other manufacturers have developed ways to cultivate pearls. Essentially, humans introduce a foreign object into a mollusk or oyster to produce cultured pearls.
This guide can help you make an informed decision when purchasing pearl jewelry.
Characteristics that Affect Pearl Quality
Nacre Thickness and Quality: The thickness of nacre determines the life of a pearl. The quality of nacre determines how luminous a pearl looks.
Luster and Orient: The pearl's luminescence distinguishes it from other gemstones. It is a sign of the quality and thickness of the pearl's nacre. The finest pearls have an intense luster. Orient refers to the play of colors on a pearl's surface. Pearls with a combination of luster and orient are the most expensive.
Color: Since pearls are created in natural organisms, their colors vary. Pearls come in a range of colors including white, cream, yellow, silver, pink, gold, purple, gray and black. Pearls can also have an overtone of another color which can be seen when light is reflected off the gem. Note that some pearls are treated to enhance color.
Surface: Since pearls are organic, some have surface blemishes.
Size: Cultured pearls are measured in millimeters. Depending on the type of pearl, the gem can range from 1 millimeter or less to 20 millimeters.
Shape: Pearls are natural and come in various shapes. A completely round pearl is rare, therefore the rounder the pearl, the more expensive. Common shapes are listed below:
Round: Perfect sphere. Extremely rare.
Near-round: Slightly flattened or elongated.
Oval: Shaped like an oval.
Button: Resembles a button or a disk and commonly used in earrings.
Drop: Shaped like a teardrop. They are often used in earrings and pendants
Semi-baroque: Has a slightly-irregular shape.
Baroque: Has a completely irregular and interesting shape.
Caring for Pearl Jewelry
Extreme heat, hairspray, perfume, cosmetics, hairspray and household chemicals can damage pearls. When getting ready, we recommend putting your pearls on last. After each wear, wipe with a soft cloth. You can use mild soapy water once in awhile for a deeper cleaning. Avoid jewelry cleaners as they can harm your pearls. Be sure the strings are dry before wearing again. Store pearls separately in your Sidney Thomas presentation box, so other jewelry does not scratch them.