How are pearls made?
Natural pearls form in the bodies, or mantle tissue, of certain mollusks, usually around a microscopic irritant, and always without human help of any kind. The mollusk secretes multiple layers of nacre (a type of protein) around the irritant, which over time forms a pearl.
Perfectly created by nature and requiring no human assistance to enhance their beauty, pearls were the first gems coveted by prehistoric people.
Found by chance while opening shells for food, early humans were enchanted by the luminous glow shining from these gifts of the sea. As civilizations grew, both men and women began to appreciate beauty and personal adornment.
Pearl jewelry became the gem of choice for the highest echelons of societies around the world. The monetary value of pearls restricted ownership of them throughout history. Only kings, queens and other elites could afford them. In many societies ownership was even restricted by law.
How Are Cultured Pearls Made?
In the late 19th century—Kokichi Mikimoto from Japan developed a technique for culturing pearls. Mikimoto first became interested in pearls while watching the pearl divers. At the time, only natural pearls existed. Coaxing shells to create whole pearls was widely seen as biologically impossible.
Mikimoto began experimenting with the native Akoya shell. Using a method developed in China many years earlier, he attached domed nuclei to the inner lips of Akoya shells and returned them to the water to grow blister pearls. While these half-pearls were valuable, his dream was to grow whole, round pearls.
In 1905, Mikimoto happened upon a discovery. By wrapping a nucleus in the tissue that grows just under the lip of the mussel shell and implanting it into a live host, an occasional whole pearl would develop.
Fast forward 100 years and the cultured pearl industry has completely replaced diving for natural pearls. Today all pearls, with very rare exceptions, are cultured on pearl farms around the world.
Cultured Pearls - Freshwater vs Salt Water
Cultured pearls can be divided into two broad categories: pearls grown in salt water and pearls grown in fresh water.
While both are beautiful and used extensively in fine jewelry, pearls grown in salt water are considered to be more valuable overall.
There are four major types of cultured whole pearls:
Akoya Cultured Pearls
Akoya cultured pearls are the most familiar type of saltwater cultured pearl to most people in the U.S and other western markets.
Many customers think of white or cream colored akoyas as the classic pearl used for jewelry, especially single-strand necklaces.
Japan and China both produce akoya cultured pearls.
South Sea Cultured Pearls.
Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines are leading sources of these saltwater cultured pearls.
South Sea cultured pearls can be white to silver or golden, depending on the type of oyster.
Their large size and thick nacre, due to a long growth period, plus their limited critical growing conditions are all factors contributing to their value.
Tahitian Cultured Pearls.
Cultivated primarily around the islands of French Polynesia (the most familiar of these is Tahiti).
These saltwater cultured pearls, sometimes referred to as black pearls, have a wide color range. They might be gray, black or brown, and they can have blue, green, purple or pink overtones.
Freshwater Cultured Pearls.
Freshwater cultured pearls are the most commonly produced pearls and they are one of the most popular pearl types among shoppers and jewelry designers. This is due to their remarkable range of sizes, shapes and colors, plus their commercial availability at lower price points.
They are usually cultured in freshwater lakes and ponds, often with many pearls grown in one oyster.
China is the leading source for freshwater cultured pearls.
Pearl Jewelry Buyer's Cheat Sheet
Right, so i know that was a lot to take in, so to make it easy for you to choose pearl jewelry, we have put together the Pearl Jewelry Buyer's Cheat Sheet. It’s like having the cheat codes for the pearl jewelry business.
This will guide you on what to look for to ensure you get great deals on high-quality pearl jewelry.
For a free copy of the Pearl Jewelry Buyer's Cheat Sheet, click the link below.