Pearls are said to lift a woman’s complexion with their unique lustre, no wonder they have been the pride of the rich and famous for over 4000 years. They are the birth stone for June and they are traditionally given for 30th wedding anniversaries.
Pearls are a concretion produced by a mollusc as a reaction to a foreign body in the shell. All pearls can occur naturally but the vast majority are cultivated and known as ‘Cultured Pearls’.
Pearls consist of overlapping plates of aragonite (a form of calcium carbonate) in concentric layers. These layers allow incidental light to be diffracted giving pearl it’s lustre. In 1893 Mikimoto successfully cultured hemispherical pearls revolutionising the pearl industry by making pearls accessible to all, before this time they were the property of royalty & the super rich.
The main types of pearl are:
- Natural pearls, completely created by nature
- Cultured Pears, nature helped along. Divided into four further groups (Akoya, Freshwater, Tahitian & South-Sea).
- Imitation Pearls – fake pearls
Akoya pearls are neat, white, round pearls from Japan, they measure from 2 -10mm approximately and vary from white to cream. Akoya pearls are cultured pearls, a nucleated bead in the centre.
South-Sea Pearls are from Australia, Indonesia, South Pacific & China. They measure 10-20mm approximately and are white or golden in colour. South-Sea pearls are cultured pearls, with a nucleated bead in the centre.
Tahitian Pearls are black & grey iridescent pearls, they are found in Tahiti and the Cook Islands. They measure 10-18mm approximately. Tahitian pearls are cultured pearls – with a nucleated in the centre.
Freshwater Pearls – Freshwater pearls are mainly cultivated in China, most pearls you see are Freshwater. These are non nucleated pearls so with no central bead (although this is possible in larger pearls). Measuring up to approx 15mm. A vast range of colours and shapes available.
There are a great deal of fake and faux pearls around, although not the nicest thing to do your tooth test is your real friend here..
- Tooth test – real pearls feel slightly gritty when rubbed across teeth. This is caused by the overlapping layers of aragonite. ‘Pearls’ that feel smooth when rubbed across teeth are likely to be simulants like plastic or glass.
- Look with magnification at the drill hole for signs of single coating
- Look at knotting between pearls & surface condition. Quality pearls will be strung well on silk.
If in any doubt get advice.
Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but Pearls are her most reliable allies!