Pearl Jewelry

Pearl jewelry has long been considered a symbol of wealth. Until approximately 1910 all pearl jewelry was created using natural pearls.

Due to the popularity of pearl jewelry, however, supplies around the world were eventually depleted. Then, a process was developed involving the insertion of a bead of mother-of-pearl (shell) along with a piece of tissue from an oyster into the body of the oyster, which resulted in the assisted growth of a pearl. One of the men responsible for cultured pearl jewelry was Kokichi Mikimoto.

Normally, the growth of a natural pearl depends on a grain of sand being lodged in an oyster, mussel or clam, such that the irritant inspires the production of nacre around the grain and, thus, over time layers accumulate and a pearl forms. Cultured pearls undergo a similar process only humans insert the irritant and the mollusk lives in a cage where its environment is carefully monitored. The initial introduction of cultured pearl jewelry caused a major depression in the prices of natural pearl jewelry since high-priced, rare, natural pearls could not be distinguished from cultured ones. Today, this market has recovered and cultured pearls have gained the esteem of collectors around the world. Cultured pearls are grown in both salt and freshwater.

The factors involved in determining the value of pearl jewelry include: color, luster, texture, shape, size and matching. The color of pearl jewelry depends on the body color and surface tone, or orient. Body colors range from white to cream to black to blue to gold, green and rose. The orient is due to diffraction at the edges of overlapping crystals at the surface of the pearl. These edges actually cause a feeling of roughness when rubbed across the teeth. The luster of pearl jewelry is the amount of brilliance or glow to the human eye. Pearls with more layers of nacre, generally have a higher grade of luster. Texture refers to the surface condition of pearls. Spots, discolorations, cracks or blemishes may be apparent and, if so, will tend to lessen the value of the pearl jewelry. Beautiful round pearls are considered more valuable, however, misshapen, baroque pearls can also be very attractive and usually cost less. Pearl size is extremely important since larger pearls are considered more rare. Measured in millimeters, their size may vary from tiny seed pearls to those the size of a pigeons egg. Matching pearls to create beautiful pearl jewelry involves much care and time resulting in jewelry that is more expensive and desirable.

Pearl jewelry is very sensitive to hairspray, perspiration, cosmetics, perfume or other acids such as lemon juice or vinegar. Care should also be taken against exposure to heat, as this may dry the pearls and lead to cracking. Store your pearl jewelry separately in individual jewelry pouchs and away from direct heat. Pearls may be cleaned using a soft polishing cloth and if necessary, pearl jewelry may also be cleaned in a solution especially for pearls. Do not hang pearl jewelry to dry, however, as this may stretch the string and attract dirt which is difficult to remove. Rather, lay your pearl jewelry on a towel and allow it to dry naturally. Having pearl necklaces restrung once a year is a good idea, if they are worn often. Moh's scale of hardness for pearls is 3-4. Pearls are the birthstone for June.


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