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Pearl Information Guide by Todd Doherty

Pearl Information Guide


It is believed that pearls were discovered during prehistoric times, probably while someone was walking along a seashore trying to find something to eat. The citizens of Babylon prized pearls with the belief that they restored youth. The Greeks thought the gem held the essence of love and beauty. By the Middle Ages, pearls were reserved for church decor and basically left alone by the aristocracy. With the changing views of the Renaissance, however, and the new discovery of the Americas and their plentiful pearl fisheries, interest in pearl jewelry for the aristocratic costume increased. This interest (or passion, for a better word) can be seen in some of the most well known pictures of Henry the VIII, or better yet, his daughter, Elizabeth the I. The European appetite for pearls became so great that eventually laws were passed that forbade any middle class and some upper class people from even wearing pearls! Pearls were reserved for only the very rich!

With the rise of the United States, Americans joined their European sisters with the love of pearls. However the sources of these naturally occurring pearls began to run low. During the 1800's, Freshwater pearls were discovered, but it was soon realized that this source would not last forever either. Then in 1905, a Japanese man named Mikimoto introduced to the world his procedure of culturing pearls. This idea used the oyster's naturally occurring process of forming the pearl with man stimulating the process by producing the initial irritant (or nucleus). By mid-century, the love of these cultured pearls was as great as the previous love of natural pearls. Culturing pearls also meant that the precious jewel was available to more people other than just the very rich. With their elegance and refinement, cultured pearls became an essential part of every woman's wardrobe.

Types Of Pearls


These pearls are cultured in the Japanese Akoya oyster and account for the majority of retail pearl sales worldwide. The Akoya oyster is a small mollusk, so the pearls it produces range from 2mm to 9mm.

After the oyster is grown to maturity (takes about three years), a polished shell bead and a piece of mantle tissue are surgically implanted into the oyster. This bead is the nucleus of the future cultured pearl; in nature, it would be the piece of sand or parasite that would irritate the oyster. The oyster secrets nacre to cover the bead. Nacre is composed of microscopic crystals that are uniquely aligned perfectly with one another. Light passing along the axis of one is reflected and refracted by the other. This is what gives the pearl its unique "glow".

The oyster secretes and covers the bead with layer upon layer of nacre. The longer the pearl stays in the oyster, the more nacre will be layered and, usually, a better quality pearl will result. The average time to make a cultured pearl is two to three years. Afterwards, the pearls are harvested and sold to processors. The pearls are sorted, processed, and strung into hanks for export.

A large number of Akoya pearls are strung into uniform and graduated necklaces, though these pearls are also very attractive in earrings, pendants, and rings. They are versatile gems, with different colors and shapes that can even be used for many one-of-a-kind pieces. While the traditional Akoya came from Japan, China has also started cultivating Akoya oysters in their own waters. However, they have not produced the same brilliant lustre and quality that Japan has -- as of yet...



In China, Japan, and the US. of A., pearls are cultivated in freshwater mollusks. Different from the sea oysters, pearls in these mollusks are seeded with just pieces of mantle tissue. They produce large numbers of pearls in a single harvest. The high volume harvest allows these pearls to sell at lower prices. Also, the variety of colors, shapes, and sizes allow designers to create one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces.



Mabe pearls are also cultured. A hemispherical nucleus is inserted directly next to the inside oyster shell. The oyster will secrete nacre over this and form a "shell" of nacre in the shape of a half sphere. The nucleus is removed and the "shell" is filled in with paste and mother-of-pearl. These "half pearls" will range from light pink to rose to bluish in color.


South Sea

South of Japan, you will find a bigger oyster around the countries of Australia, Indonesia, Myanmar, and others. This bigger oyster forms a cultured pearl in the same way as was outlined in the above Akoya pearl section. These pearls, however, range in size from 9mm to 16mm (or larger in special cases). They are divided into two main groups- White South Sea and Black South Sea. The "white" group contains colors from white to more bronze to a more metallic blue. Generally speaking these are the most expensive of all cultured pearls.



The "black" group of South Sea cultured pearls are from oysters living in the waters around the island of Tahiti (hence, the name "Tahitian"). These oysters actually secrete a "black" nacre with color ranging from bluish to greenish/grayish to even a brownish hue. With the thick nacre layering, their distinct colors, and various shapes, Tahitian pearl is more expensive than the Akoya but more reasonably priced than the white south sea pearl.

Features to Look for in Cultured Pearls:

Lustre - The best lustre is considered to be "bright" with the ability to see an object's reflection on the surface.

Cleanliness - Cleanliness refers to bumps, cracks, or spots on the surface of the pearl. Of course, the cleaner the surface the more valuable the pearl.

Shape - Pearls are formed in nature, so a perfectly round pearl is rare. The rounder the pearl, the more valuable it is. Baroque is the name given to off-round pearls.

Color - Color is really a matter of personal preference, though rose or silver/white usually look best on fairer skin types and cream or gold pearls look best on darker complexions.

Imperfections - Pits and blemishes are undesirable in high quality pearl jewelry.  However, odd shaped (Baroque) and oddly formed pearls can be used to create unusual and, often, one of a kind fashion jewelry.

Start a tradition on our tradition of excellence

Princesse Cultured pearls are the perfect way to preserve memories of special occasions. Over the last six decades, Princesse pearls have gained a reputation as the finest in the industry. Our assurance of superior quality and consistency in matching the product is one that customers rely on.

Giving a beautiful Princesse necklace is as easy as it is affordable. Pearls are added a few at a time or several inches at once.

There are two types of necklaces - Graduated and Uniform.





This article was published on Friday 19 January, 2007.
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