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Pearl Jewelry

How a Pearl is Formed.

A pearl can start with the tiniest grain of sand. The sand works its way inside a mollusk shell and stimulates the production of nacre. You probably think of oysters when you think of pearls, but mussels can also produce these valuable little orbs of iridescence. Whenever an irritant enters the mollusk shell, nacre is produced and it forms a protective barrier around the irritant. Nacre is that iridescent coating you see on the inside lining of a mollusk shell. It has the oil on water look. The nacre forms layers around the grain of sand and as the layers grow, a pearl is formed.

Where Pearls Come From

The main supplies of natural pearls come from the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the coasts of Sri Lanka and India. For thousands of years, people have mined these oceans for the lustrous pearl. Japan is another supplier of saltwater pearls. Freshwater ones have several sources including the Mississippi River and locations in China, Austria, Scotland and France. Pearls are so exotic; you probably never thought your freshwater pearl necklace could have come from the Mississippi river.

Natural versus Cultured Pearls

Cultured pearls are formed nearly same the way as natural pearls. The only difference is cultured pearls are farmed, meaning, the nucleus that creates the pearl is placed inside the mollusk shell by hand. Cultured pearls offer the same quality as their natural counterparts; however, they are not nearly as rare, so they are much more affordable. The difference between natural and cultured pearls can be seen only by x-ray, but cultured pearls offer the advantage of control, allowing pearl farmers to create the shape, size, quality and type of pearl needed to create jewelry, such as an elegant black pearl necklace, with much more control.

The beginning of the cultured pearl industry came in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Renowned Japanese researcher, Kokichi Mikimoto, worked to find ways to control pearl shape. He eventually created a technique to foster round pearls which he patented in 1916. The first pearl to be cultured was the classic Akoya pearl. Known for their smoothness, luster and roundness, an Akoya pearl necklace epitomizes the classic pearl look. Today, cultured pearls make up nearly 100% of those on the market. Natural pearls are extremely rare, and very expensive to purchase.

The Value of a Pearl

Numerous factors play a role in determining the value of a particular pearl. Luster is often seen as the most important factor, referring to shininess of a pearl. The higher luster a pearl has, the greater its value. Nacre thickness is another factor. Pearls with thick nacre offer greater luster, are generally larger and do not chip or mar as easily. Shape is another important element. Though pearls are sold in numerous shapes, such as Baroque, pear-shaped and drop pearls, perfectly round pearls are the rarest, therefore the most valuable shape. Other factors include size, symmetry and surface perfection, which all play their role in a pearl's value.

Pearl: Birthstone for June

The pearl is celebrated as the birthstone for June. Pearl ring purchases are probably not as common as a pearl pendant or a strand of pearls, but they are still popular gifts for a June birthday, and are very beautiful indeed.

Pearl or mother of pearl is also a common gift for the first wedding anniversary. And a matching set of a black pearl bracelet and black pearl necklace makes a unique and memorable 30th wedding anniversary gift.

How to Care for Pearls

Pearls are very sensitive to chemicals so the best way to clean is with a damp soft cloth. Take care with perfumes, hairsprays and other cosmetic products when you wear your cultured pearl necklace. If you happen to get some chemical on them, gently clean with a baby soap and water. Wipe gently and, if it is a necklace, let the silk string dry completely before wearing.

Pearls are quite soft. They rank no higher than a 4.5 on the Mohs hardness scale so you should wear and store them with care. The best place for storage of your Akoya pearl necklace and other pieces is in a soft jewelry bag or a separate box just for your pearls.

Pearls have long been considered a precious gift, something that is passed down from mother to daughter on her wedding day. A cultured pearl necklace is often worn with the wedding dress as something old since it is being passed down. For a sweet sixteen birthday or debutante ball, a strand of pearls and white gloves epitomize the innocence of youth. These traditions may have begun because the pearl is believed to symbolize purity and innocence.

Pearls come in many varieties. They range in color, origin, size, luster and shape. They are fashionable on their own in a freshwater pearl necklace and make great accents to other gemstones as well. However you decide to wear them, and whatever variety you choose, pearls are classic and never go out of style.