Pearls are one of the most coveted and popular gemstones, especially for jewellery. They exude vintage glamour, are the birthstone for the month of June and are the only gemstone that is created by a living animal. Pearls are extremely popular, adored by celebrities and royalty, but how much do you know about pearls? If you’ve ever been interested in buying pearl jewellery, you need to know the basics of pearl creation, maintenance, quality checking and the best pearls to buy.
Here’s the JewelStreet guide to buying pearls...
Pearls are hard, glistening gemstones, made within the soft tissue of a shelled mollusk, like an oyster or mussel. A pearl is made when an irritant, like sand or a stone gets inside the shell of the mollusk. In order to get rid of the irritant, the mollusk produces a substance known as nacre, that envelops the object to protect the mollusk's internal surface (this surface is also known as Mother of Pearl). After multiple layers have coated the object, this forms a pearl. This is the most natural way to make a pearl and usually the process takes up to 7 weeks. Natural pearls are very rare and tend to be the most perfect pearls as well as the most expensive.
As natural pearls are few and far between, there are cultured pearls or farmed pearls. Here, mollusks are helped with the production of pearls from human intervention. Divers insert an irritant into the shell of the oyster and leave the mollusk to do the rest. Oysters are often referred to as the ‘canaries of the sea’, as they are very sensitive to their environment and are the first to suffer when their water isn’t right. Pearl farmers go to extreme lengths to ensure the water is clean, like disposing of and preventing water pollution and stopping dynamite and cyanide fishing in these areas.
It is most likely that any kind of pearl jewellery that you buy is cultured, as natural pearls are so rare. However, there are also imitation pearls, a.k.a fake pearls that can make their way into jewellery. But don’t worry, there are handy ways to evaluate whether your pearl is real or if its fake.
It is relatively easy to tell whether a pearl is real or fake. Follow these 4 steps to ensure your pearl jewellery is at a high quality. Firstly, start with the lustre of the shell. How shiny a pearl is determines its quality and its price. If you have a dull coloured pearl, it is most likely to be of less value. If your pearl is very shiny, it is of the highest quality. Second is the surface quality, which is if there is any blemishes or imperfections on the outside of the pearl - the less imperfections the better.
Next is the shape of the pearl. Pearls tend to be perfectly round and smooth. If you have one of these, chances are they are natural. However, some natural pearls can come in different shapes, like a blister pearl where the pearl has got stuck on the inside of the mollusk’s shell. Lastly, the size of the pearl. Pearls come in various sizes but it is easy to tell the type of pearl by the size. For example, tahitian pearls are large in size due to the mollusk they are from. Alternatively, natural pearls tend to be smaller in size.
Now that you’ve learnt how pearls are made and how to ensure their quality, take a look at the most popular styles of pearls and our top picks for pearl jewellery.
Akoya pearls are made by the akoya oyster and are mostly found in Japan and China. Akoya is the Japanese word for saltwater and akoya pearls are the main cultured saltwater pearl type. They tend to be smaller and rounder pearls and are mostly used in string of pearl necklaces. Akoya pearls have a classic white colour with overtones of rose, silver and cream. They have a higher price range than other cultured pearls, due to the fact that they have the highest lustre and shine of cultured pearls.
Freshwater pearls are the most common cultured pearl, made in freshwater farms. They come in various shapes, colours and sizes, ranging from hues of white, to pink, to purple. Freshwater pearls tend to be bleached and dyed the most. They are the cheaper of the pearl types as they are the most common.
Baroque is a style and shape of pearl that can come from freshwater or saltwater mollusks. Where pearls tend to be round, baroque pearls aren’t in the traditional sphere shape but instead have curves and ridges. They range in price but tend to be on the lower end of the spectrum. However, they are very popular as a lot of people like the unusual and unique shapes of the baroque pearl, as no two are the same.
Tahitian pearls are made by the black lip oyster, which produces naturally coloured black pearls. They are mostly found in Tahiti and range from a charcoal black to a deep green colour. The black lip oyster is very big, so a tahitian pearl is also large in size and is one of the biggest natural pearls. It is therefore easy to tell if a black pearl is real or fake. Tahitian pearls are very shiny and rare, so they are the more expensive types of pearl.