Pearl, the birth stone for month of June, is among the most timeless, classic and treasured of all gems. Through out history, these noble gems have been associated with wisdom, wealth, purity, romance and mystery. The ancient Egyptian were buried with them. In Rome, Pearls were considered the ultimate symbol of wealth and status. The Greeks prized them for their beauty and association with love and marriage. Medieval Knights wore them in battle as a talisman against injury. And, during the renaissance, some European countries banned all but nobility from the right to wear them.
It is hard to believe that such a luscious, beautiful gem come from such humble origins. A natural starts out as a grain of a sand or microscopic worm that works its way into an oyster and can not be expelled. To protect its soft body from this irritant, the oyster secretes a smooth, hard crystalline substance called nacre. Layer upon layer of nacre coats the foreign object and hardens, ultimately forming a pearl. In general, the thicker the nacre, the richer the glow of pearl, which can greatly enhance its value.
Although early pearl gathering depended on divers braving the oceans’ depths to retrieve these treasures, the vast majority of pearls today are grown, or cultured, on pearl farms by surgically inserting a small shell bead, or nucleus, into the mantle of an oyster.
Even though pearls are harvested en masse on pearl farms, producing a quality pearl is an extremely rare event. It is estimated that half of all nucleated oysters do not survive, and of those that do, only 20% bear marketable pearls.
Pearls, the recommended jewelry gift for couples celebrating their third and 30th wedding anniversary, are cultured in a variety of sizes, shapes, colors, and kinds:
– Akoya Pearls are the classic round pearls found in most quality pearl jewelry. They are mainly grown in the waters off Japan. They come in a range of hues, including white, cream, pink, and peach.
– White South Sea pearls are grown in Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines and other and other areas of the South Pacific and are prized for their large size.
– Tahitian pearls grown in French Polynesia, Can be very large and come in a range of natural colors from gray to black to green to purple. Because of their large size and unique dark colors, they command very high prices.
– Mabe pearls, grown in Japan, Indonesia, French Polynesia, and Australia, are usually flat backed because they form against the inside shell of the oyster rather than within oyster’s body. They are often used in earring and rings.
– Freshwater pearls are grown in bays, lakes and rivers primarily in Japan, China, and United States. They are often irregularly shaped, of various colors, and are less lustrous than saltwater cultured pearls; hence, they are substantially inexpensive.
When shopping for pearls, five factors that determine value are luster, surface brilliance; surface cleanliness, absence of spots, bumps or cracks; shape, generally, the more rounder he pearl, the higher its value; color, pearls come in virtually every hue of the rainbow, and a few others, too; and size, the average pearl sold is 7 – 7.5 millimeters, but these gems can be as small as 1 millimeter or as large as 20 millimeters. High quality pearl strands will feature pearls well matched in these characteristics.
Because pearls are soft, ranking 2.5 – 4.5 on the Mohs scale for hardness, they require special care. Natural oils from the skin, as well as hair spray, lotions and cosmetics, can dull their luster. Like other jewelry, they should be cleaned with a soft damp cloth and stored in cloth or cotton away from other jewelry to prevent scratching. Also, avoid allowing your pearl to come in contact with harsh chemicals, which can erodes its surface. And, if worn frequently, pearl necklaces should be brought to a jeweler once a year for restringing to prevent strand breakage.