Pearls are the most unusual of all gemstones. It is a biogenic gemstone just like coral and amber that comes from reshaped natural materials and not from crystals in the earth’s rock or surface layers.
Surprisingly, not a lot of people know that pearls come in various shapes other than a round or that they come in various colors – not just white. Learning more about pearl origin and types will be an interesting reading activity for you, but it can also make you a better pearl buyer when visiting online stores like www.purepearls.com and looking at the wonderful shiny pearl collection.
Below, we share some interesting facts about pearls that will leave you feeling like an expert when you go out to purchase top-quality pearls.
Where Do Pearls Come From?
Pearls can be formed in mussels and oysters (mollusks) in salty or freshwater. There are quite a few species that have this ability, some snails can form pearls but those pearls have other properties and lack the special pearl luster.
Natural pearls are the result of a reaction in the mollusks when an external body slips between the shells. It rubs and irritates them, triggering a defense mechanism in the animal that begins to smoothen it out by layering nacre. In thin layers, the spherical shape is eventually formed. It is not angular or sharp and simply stays in the mussel/oyster like a pearl.
How are They Formed?
Many people believe that pearls are formed from grains of sand and that is probably a myth. The mollusk animal needs a much higher degree of irritation for the process to start and form a pearl. These animals often live in the sandy bottom and there is probably a lot of sand splashing inside the shell all the time.
Finding a natural pearl, that is, a pearl formed in nature without human influence is extremely rare.
Today, people have completely switched to growing pearls. In principle, all pearls in the trade today are cultured pearls, except for old pearl necklaces that can be found at auctions.
Types of Pearls
There are three different types of pearls:
- Natural pearl – created by nature,
- Cultured pearl – cultivated by humans in fresh or saltwater, and
- Imitation pearl – made with, among other things, synthetic materials.
Cultured pearls are made by adding a foreign object and a piece of another mussel to a live mussel. After a few years, the mussel creates several layers of mother-of-pearl around the foreign object and a pearl is formed. The cultivation of freshwater pearls occurs mainly in Southeast Asia and China.
Pollution of the seas makes it increasingly difficult to obtain fine pearls from saltwater mussels, and due to their rarity, prices have skyrocketed for saltwater pearls. If you rub saltwater pearls against your teeth, they feel rough.
These pearls, which are usually completely round, are much rarer than freshwater pearls and are found mainly in China and Japan. There’s not as much cultivation of the saltwater pearl as of the freshwater pearl, but it is much more expensive, especially the Akoya pearl. The color of the saltwater pearl varies from white and creamy to pale pink.
The most famous imitation pearls are probably Majorica pearls. The Majorica pearl is made by giving a glass ball a coating with a special chemical solution.
Other imitation pearls that can be mentioned are plastic pearls and seashell pearls that have a pearl ball as a core and are then dipped in a chemical solution to get the pearl luster.
How are Pearls Graded?
Pearls come in many different sizes and shapes and the perfect pearl is completely round and smooth. In trade, the weight of pearls is measured and expressed in carats, grains, and mommes.
A real pearl is cool and feels rough if rubbed gently against a tooth. Imitation pearls are perceived as glassy and feel smooth against the tooth. Natural pearls of the highest quality can be valued as much as gemstones.
The value of a pearl is determined by the luster, origin, color, and shape. Unusual-looking pearls most often have the highest market value. Natural pearls have a higher value than cultured pearls which are the most common form of pearls.
Throughout history, pearls have been cherished by people and this is seen today as well. Educating yourself about pearls will put you in the best position to embark on your journey as a proud pearl owner.
Anika Sachdev is a freelance writer, who writes about fashion and lifestyle. She is currently pursuing her diploma in Fashion Design from iNIFD. She enjoys styling, making fashion illustrations and is a big fan of the work of Coco Chanel. Based in Mumbai, she likes to draw and listen to Bollywood music in her free time. For any questions, feedback or concerns, please email [email protected]