Pearls, the birthstone for June and the gemstone for 30th anniversaries, have long been associated with purity. First recorded by a Chinese historian in 2206BC and “discovered” during Christopher Columbus’s New World expeditions pearls quickly became associate with wealth and status. Coveted by royals throughout the centuries not least by our own Queen Elizabeth II (and QE I come to that!) whose first serious piece of personal jewellery was a pearl necklace given to her by her grandfather, George V, to celebrate his Silver Jubilee in 1935.
Both natural and cultured pearls are formed when a foreign body makes its way into a mollusc such as oyster and that mollusc then reacts to defend itself from the irritant by forming a coat of nacre around the irritant. This depth of the nacre coat determines the lustre (shine) of the pearl and those pearls that are most lustrous, smooth and free of marks being the most valued. In natural pearls this nacre occurs without any human intervention but in the creation of the more widely seen cultured pearls, a tiny bead is put into the oyster to begin the process. Natural pearls are now rarely available as most have been harvested, however, as natural pearl production began to decline in the 1920s cultured pearl production came to the fore.
Pearls, whether natural or cultured, are available in a wide variety of colours with white and cream the most widely seen. However, there are pearls in every colour from shade of green, silver, grey to black, pinks to peach, purple to blue. The most desired shape is spherical but as they become more mis-shapen, known as baroque pearls, they too become coveted.
There are two main categories:
Akoya from Japan and China which grow from 2.00 to (rarely) 10.00mm in white and cream colours;
South Sea Pearls ranging in size from 9.00mm to 20mm in white, cream or golden hues and found in Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines
Tahitian from, not surprisingly, Tahiti by also other French Polynesian islands pearls. Ranging in size from 8mm to 16mm Tahitian pearls are commonly reverred to as black pearls but in reality their shades include greens, blues, grays and purples.
Cultivated mainly in China the freshswater pearl produces pearls a little like Akoy in terms of shape and size, mainly in white colours and many without a nucleus which produces a pearl with a greater nacre than their saltwater cousins.
Care of Pearls
Wearing: just wearing pearls next to the skin allows them to absorb the skin’s natural oils keep pearls’ colours bright and lustrous. Just remember to use hairspray and let your perfume dry before your dress yourself with your pearls.
Storage: We recommend storing your pearls in individual soft cloths away from other jewellery which might scratch the pearls’ surface.
Cleaning: many products are available but we would simply and gently wipe the pearls with a clean soft cloth before storing them as above.
Maintenance: don’t pull or play with your pearl necklace because the silk may stretch giving your pearls a “gappy” appearance. Have your pearls restrung at regular intervals preferably knotted as the knots prevent the pearls from scratching each other and, should you break the silk, you’re only ever at risk of losing one pearl (per break!). Once the pearls have begun to move between the knots it’s time to visit your jeweller to have them restrung.
But the best thing of all about pearls is their universal appeal and versatility in vintage or contemporary designs.