This guide is intended to be a simple introduction to pearls and pearl farming. I hope you find it useful
Pearls are an organic gem so called because they are created by living creatures. Each pearl begins its existence when a foreign object (like a piece of shell or coral) makes its way into the shell of a marine or freshwater mollusc - oysters, mussels and clams. A defence mechanism kicks-in and coats the particle with layer after layer of a substance called nacre until a pearl is formed. Nacre gives the pearl its unique lustre and sheen, and as the nacre becomes thicker, so does the quality of the pearl.
Sadly, the romantic image of the pearl fisherman diving off the side of a small boat to harvest pearls from the ocean floor is gone. Natural pearls are now very rare and most pearls these days are cultured. These are grown mostly in freshwater and are initiated by man, by the process of inserting a bead or other object into the mollusc. They are known as “freshwater pearls”.
Types of Pearls
Spherical pearls are completely round, which is traditionally the most desirable shape. The rounder the pearl, the higher its price tag.
Symmetrical pearls include pear or egg shapes that have symmetry from one side to another, but are not round.
Baroque pearls are irregularly shaped but are unique and quite beautiful. Dancing pearls and floating pearls are both examples of this type.
These are also irregularly shaped and are sometimes quite flat, like flakes.
Button pearls are flat on one side and round on the other.
Pearl quality is based on the following factors: size, shape, lustre, colour, surface quality and matching on the strand. Because pearls are a natural product, even strands of high quality can have slight imperfections but this is all part of their special beauty and charm.
Pearls come in a variety of natural colours - shades of white, cream and pink being the most common and most popular. Colour depends on many factors including diet and water quality and content (the presence of chemicals or pollutants) also play a part. Sometimes pearls are dyed or injected to achieve a particular colour. Black pearls (eg. the famous Tahitian black pearl) are often not really black at all but contain shades of grey, blue and green.
Caring for Pearls
Pearls are a delicate gemstone, but with a little TLC, your pearls will last a lifetime. Keep them away from cosmetics, perfume, hairspray etc as these can dull their lustre. To avoid these damaging effects, your pearls should be the last thing you put on before going out and the first thing you take off when returning home.
Wipe your pearls with a soft cloth or chamois before putting them away. Store your pearls in a soft pouch or bag (never plastic) and keep them separate from other jewellery items which can scratch their tender surfaces. Never clean pearls with solutions that contain ammonia or harsh detergents but you can use a mild soap and water solution (soap flakes are good) and remember to dry thoroughly with a soft cloth.
A Beginner's Guide to Pearls
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17 May 2006
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