Pearls, both natural and cultured, are most commonly found in white or cream, with pink overtones. Pearls also come in black, gold, and grey. The difference between natural Pearls and cultured Pearls is there is no human interference with the development of a natural Pearl. Natural Pearls have become less available in recent years due to pollution and economic factors.
The process of culturing pearls first started nearly a century ago and it has become the main source of pearls in today's market. It can take up to 18 months to be harvested.
Pearls have long been associated by many cultures with mystery, elegance, beauty, and the power of nature. Pearls are also associated with the moon and it's believed to offer protection to it's wearer.
Different types of pearls:
Akoya: Akoya pearls are traditional cultured pearls and are traditionally found in the Japanese Ocean. The pinctada fucata oysters which produce cultured pearls are only found in salt water. They produce pearls from 2mm (small) in diameter to 10mm (rare) and are generally white and round. One oyster can hold up to six pearls.
Freshwater Pearls: Freshwater pearls are generally found in freshwater lakes in China. They are grown in a mussel which can hold up to 30 pearls. Freshwater pearls trade at a significant discount to Akoya pearls due to their oval shape and the fact that they do not have a deep nacre shell, thus they do not have the same luster as Akoya pearls. They previously were made in sizes greater than 10mm but in recent years they have started to be available in similar sizes to large akoya pearls (7mm-10mm).
South Sea Pearls: These rare pearls are found in the South Sea north of Australia. The pearls are found in the Pinctada Maxima oyster which can be white or gold lipped. The two types of oysters will produce a different colour of south sea pearl; the white lipped oyster produces a grey pearl and the gold-lipped oyster produces a gold pearl. These pearls can be found in a range of sizes from 8mm to 16mm although larger pearls are found but command a large premium due to their rarity.
Tahitian Pearls: These grey-black pearls are found near the South Sea island of Tahiti. They are found in the Pinctada Margaritifera oyster and are found sizes ranging from 8 to 16mm in diameter. Larger sizes can be found but they command a large premium.
Natural pearls: These are the rarest pearls and are highly sought after in Mid East and Far East. These are pearls that form naturally in nature, without the use of a bead. They take many years to form in the oyster. An irritant becomes lodged in the oyster, such as a grain of sand, and the oyster coats the irritant in a nacre to stop the irritation. Natural pearls rarely come in perfectly round or tear-drop shape.
Baroque Pearls: These are any type of pearl where the pearl is not round or oval. These can be used in a necklace but will trade for significantly less than round pearls.
Keshi Pearls: These are small non-nucleated pearls which occur as a by-product of the culturing process. They come in an assortment of shapes and sizes.
Pearl Quality Factors:
Luster refers to the degree of light reflection shown on the surface of the pearl. A crisp land bright light reflection is favourable.
2. Surface Quality:
Blemishes are marks on the surface of the pearl. The lesser the amount of blemishes the more valuable the pearl.
A round shape is more sought after that off-round or baroque shaped pearls. A symmetrical tear drop shape is also highly regarded.
White is the most desirable colour in pearls but other colours such as black, gold, and silver are highly collectable from specific sources like the South Sea.
5. Nacre Thickness:
Nacre is the coating the oyster applies to the pearl. The longer the pearl is inside the oyster the thicker the nacre. A thicker nacre will lead to a higher luster.
Pearls can be found in sizes from 2mm to 25mm dependent on the type of pearl. As the size increases the more difficult it is to find a pearl with good shape and blemish-free, thus these type of pearls go up in price the larger the pearl.
A good set of pearls will have pearls that have similar size, colour, luster, surface quality, and shape. This is referred to as a well-matched string of pearls.
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