Gemstone Focus: Pearls Pearls Pearls

I love June, it’s the month of pearls and I love pearls! They have been used in jewellery for thosands of years and in fact the first recorded mention of pearls was by a Chinese historian some 4000 years ago! Unlike most other gemstones which are forms in the earth under tremendous heat and pressure. The pearl is formed within an organic living creature, the oyster or mussel.

Long associated with the sea and the moon, the pearl symbolises purity and love. One legend says that they are formed from the tears of the gods and another says the tears Eve shed when she was cast out of the garden of eden turned to pearls.

Pearls are not only the birthstone of June, but the 30th wedding anniversary gemstone.

To be honest, there is too much information about pearls to do them any justice here, so I will only talk about them at the highest level. You could spend years learning all of the detail!

Facts, care and value

Pearls are formed in the interior of oyster or mussles. The formation is triggered by the arrival of an irritant in the muscle tissue of the mollusc. It’s similar in a way to when you get a spec of dust in your eye and it feels like a stone! If the oyster can’t expel the irritant it begins to secrete a substance to coat the irritant. The substance is made from layered “plates” of the mineral aragonite and conchiolin (which acts as glue). This is often referred to as nacre. But technically the nacre is what gives a pearl its amazing lustre and sheen.

Naturally occurring pearls are incredibly rare in the wild and today most pearls available are cultured. What this means is that a small piece of shell, bead etc is inserted into the oyster and then left to grow into a pearl. Usually this takes anywhere from 6 months to several years. The longer the pearl is allowed to grow the more layers of nacre will be laid down around the irritant the the greater the luster and sheen.

In a fine quality pearl if you were to hold up a printed paper to it you could actually read from the pearl (although it would be in reverse). Lower quality pearls will have a more subdued sheen or play of colour. And in poor quality pearls you will see no luster or sheen at all and it will appear dull and flat. In general look for pearls with good even lustre and sheen.

Pearls also come in beautiful colours in the pastel range of pinks, silvers golds, greens and more. Natural pearls will never be bright colours. That is a sure sign they have been dyed. Pearl shapes are also plentiful and the most highly prized are the rounds and slightly off round. That said the baroque pearl has become increasingly popular. Baroque simple refers to any pearl that is not round. You may also hear people talk about biwa, keshi, mabe, southsea, akoya,tahitian etc pearls. Some of those labels apply to the location of where the pearl was grown and thus the characteristics of the pearls of that region and some are not true pearls as in the case of the mabe pearl which is actually mother of pearl.

Because of their oranic origins, pearls are very delicate and prone to scratching so they do require a lot of care when wearing them in jewellery. They should always be set into protective settings when worn in rings or bracelets. Pendants and earrings are usually fine. They should never be cleaned with chemicals of any sort and you should put them on only after you have fully dressed and avoid spraying perfumes,and hairsprays on them. Wiping them with a soft cloth before you put them away in their own storage pouch should prevent any damage.

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