What Is A Pearl?
Pearls, natural or cultured, are formed when a mollusk produces layers of nacre (pronounced NAY-kur) around some type of irritant inside its shell. In natural pearls, the irritant may be another organism from the water, such as sand. In cultured pearls, a mother-of-pearl bead or a piece of tissue is manually inserted into the mollusk to start the process.
For both, the quality of the nacre dictates thequality of the luster, or shine of the pearl, which is very important to its beauty and its value. Luster results from reflection of light rays off the pearl’s surface, and from concentric inner layers of nacre, like light bouncing off a convex mirror.
The surface of the pearl should be smooth and free of marks while the overall shape could be round, oval, pear-shaped, or even misshapen. Misshapen pearls are called baroque pearls.
Four Major Pearl Types
- Akoya—This type is most familiar to many jewelry customers. Japan and China both produce saltwater Akoya cultured pearls.
South Sea—Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines are leading sources of these saltwater cultured pearls.
Tahitian—Cultivated primarily around the islands of French Polynesia (the most familiar of these is Tahiti), these saltwater cultured pearls usually range from white to black.
Freshwater—These are usually cultured in freshwater lakes and ponds. They’re produced in a wide range of sizes, shapes, and colors. China and the US are the leading sources.
Imitation pearls are usually a coated glass bead. Most have a high luster, but not the depth of luster seen on high quality cultured pearls.
It’s possible to separate an imitation from a cultured or natural pearl but it can be a challenge, as many pearls undergo treatments to either enhance their luster or alter their color. Since this treatment affects their value, you will want to obtain the educated advice of a professional jeweler.
Physical & Spiritual Healing Properties
Pearls are treasures from the Earth’s ponds, lakes, seas, and oceans, and they’ve always embodied the mystery, power, and life-sustaining nature of water.
The spherical shape of some pearls led many cultures to associate this gem with the moon. In ancient China, pearls were believed to guarantee protection from fire and fire-breathing dragons. In Europe, they symbolized modesty, chastity, and purity.
They are renowned to promote sound sleep, prevent nerve disorders and nerve weakness, and can be used to prevent and overcome fatigue. Pearls promote the regeneration of new cells and make the skin smooth, elastic and healthy.
Caring For Your Pearl
Pearl is ranked 2.5 on the Mohs hardness scale, which means it’s very soft and easily scratched or abraded. But with reasonable care, pearl jewelry can be a lasting treasure. It’s toughness is usually good, but aging, dehydration, and sometimes excessive bleaching during initial processing might make some pearls more fragile.
High heat can burn cultured pearls or cause discoloration, splitting, or cracking. Although they are generally stable to light, heat from intense light can cause dehydration and cracked nacre.
Pearl can be damaged by many chemicals and all acids. The list includes hair spray, perfume, cosmetics, and even perspiration.
Pearls should never be cleaned in an ultrasonic or steam cleaner. It’s safe to use warm, soapy water for occasional, thorough cleaning. If the pearls are strung, be sure the string is completely dry before wearing. For routine care, it’s best to wipe cultured pearls with a very soft, clean cloth after each wearing.