Pearls are, in my opinion a staple in the making of jewelry. They can be worn with your favorite jeans, or your wedding gown and everything in between. A single strand pearl necklace or pair of pearl earrings is a wonderful timeless addition to any jewelry box! For those of you who know me you know this is one of my favorite "beads" to use in making jewelry...
- It is almost impossible to tell the difference between natural and cultured pearls, one way is the natural pearl will have a low density most pearls over 2.73 in density are cultivated.
- Pearls should feel gritty/sandy when you gently rub then against the bottom of your front teeth, if they are smooth they may be fake...although this test isn't completely fool proof.
- Rub two pearls together they will feel gritty, if they are smooth the are not real, often glass or coated plastic.
- For freshwater pearls only...scrape the surface of the pearl with the end of a pair of scissors, the scrapped area should retain its luster on a real pearl.
- Here is one that is more reliable as genuine pearls have overtones in their coloring...place outside in the sun and observe the color...if they are consistently one color they will most likely be fake.
- Real pearls will have imperfections and variations of shape and size...fake do not.
- Under an ultraviolet light a cultured pearl has a yellow luminescence and under x rays a green one but these techniques are not dependable...
- The most reliable method to determine the natural pearl from the cultured pearl is to look inside the pearls. To check the inside structure of the pearl an endoscope is used inside the drilled hole...along with certain types of Xrays. The natural pearl have a concentrically layered structure, while the cultured pearls structure varies depending on the kind of pearl it is.
Pearls come in many sizes and shapes…ranging from the size of a pinhead to the size of a pigeons egg, the largest know being the “Hope Pearl” which is 2inches long and weights 454ct or 90.8grams and is in the South Kensington Museum in London.
Stick pearls paired with swarovski crystals and tiny round pearls
All pearls are valued according to their size, shape, color, luster, and the condition of the surface of each pearl…the most valuable shape is round.
The color of the pearl is determined by the type and varies a great deal ranging from white, cream, pink, bronze, black, with overtones of green, blue, dark gray. There are color-enhanced pearls available as well, but care must be taken with some of these as the colors may run if exposed to water.
The pearl is soft…2.5 to 4.5 on the Mohs’s hardness scale, but due to their shape they are difficult to crush.
Types of Freshwater Pearls
- Biwa Pearls, Mabe Pearls, Blister Pearls, Seed Pearls, Chinese Freshwater Pearls
- Akoya Pearls, South Sea and Tahitian Pearls, Black Pearls, Keshi Pearls, Angel Wings Pearls
Mauve cultured peals paired with swarovski crystals
Shapes of Pearls
Drop Pearls, Potato and Rice Pearls, Full Round and Off-Round Pearls, Blister Pearls, Fancy Pearls, Button Pearls, Drop Pearls, Baroque Pearls, specifically manufactured shapes.
Sources of Pearls
Natural Pearls: Persian Gulf(off Bahrain” Gulf of Manaar, Red Sea
Natural pearls are those which are produced without the help of man…these pearls are formed by saltwater oysters and freshwater mussels…created by a living creature, each pearl is uniquely different in shape, sizes, color and luster.
Cul – tured:
2.artificially nurtured or grown: cultured bacteria.
Due to the high demand for pearls, the natural supply has been reduced. This has lead to the “cultivation” of pearls by humans; approximately 90% of the total pearls sold come from cultivation farms.
Contrary to what some people believe these pearls are not “faux” pearls they are real pearls formed the same way as natural pearls with some assistance. Basically the process is …a person inserts something into the mollusk forcing it to cover the foreign substance with nacre…a cultured pearl is born! Now having said that there is more to the process but you get the idea.
Top drilled cultured pearls with a large round faux pearl clasp
Like natural pearls, cultured pearl farms are found in both the ocean and freshwater rivers.
There are also pearls produced by snails, Abalone Pearls, which are irregular in shape and a stunning combination of colors including blue, pink, purple, silver and occasionally white. These stunning pearls are rare, an estimate 1 in 50,000 is ever found in the shells…these are cultivated pearls.
Another rare beauty is the Conch Pearl, they are irregular shaped, pink in color with a porcelain look to the finish. These “gems” are found in the “conch” shell, a large snail found in the Caribbean…one of my favorite places to visit!
Care of your Pearls
The life span of pearls can be estimated at 100 to 150 years depending on the quality of the pearls. They are organic, therefore are soft and will scratch easily, they are susceptible to drying out and can become dull, develop fissures or chips. Limit the contact of your pearls to heat, acids, hairspray, perspiration, makeup anything that may damage the surface including metal or other gemstones. Store in an acid free tissue paper or a soft cloth pouch, do not store in a plastic bag, as this will cause condensation to form.
It was my intention to write an interesting, informative post without getting too technical ...I hope you enjoyed the information!
Information courtesy of:
Gemstones of the World, Walter Schumann, Third Edition, Sterling Publishing Co. Inc.,
The Jeweler's Directory of Gemstones, Judith Crowe, Firefly Books, 2006
Modern Language Association (MLA): "cultured." Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 12 Jun. 2008. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/cultured>.
All photos with exception of the pearl in a shell are jewelry made by Heather Cote...the pearl in a shell is courtesy of Vladimir Sazonov...click on picture to be taken to the Fotolia pictures.