What is a Pearl?

Handmade Pearl Bracelet with Blue TopazPearls have been valued for their beauty and rarity for thousands of years. They are considered biological based gemstones and have records in ancient cultures for much longer than any other gemstones. Unlike other your stereotypical gemstones, pearls do not have to be cut and polished, they are ready to wear in their natural form. Pearls can be used and worn in a variety of ways. While the most traditional way to wear pearls are strung together on one strand, many jewelry designers are using them as accents and unique elements in their unique jewelry designs. (Top Left: Kincaidesigns Handmade Jewelry Photo: Handmade Bracelet with Pearls, Swarovski Crystals, Blue Topaz and Sterling Silver.)

How is a Pearl formed?
Pearl is a concretion formed by a mollusk and consisting of the same material as the mollusk's shell, which is the mineral aragonite (calcium carbonate). In addition to aragonite, the shell contains small amounts of conchiolin, a hornlike organic substance; together these are called nacre, or mother of pearl. The finest pearls are those produced by mollusks whose shells are lines with mother of pearl. These mollusks are limited to a certain species of saltwater oysters and freshwater clams. The mollusks body tissue is called the mantle, and when a foreign particle enters the mantle, the cells build up more or less concentric layers of pearl around it to protect the mantle. Pearls are valued by their translucence, luster, surface color and shape. Since most natural pearls are irregularly shaped, the round or spherical pearl are highly prized.

It is very uncommon for an oyster to produce a natural pearl. Of the small percentage of those oyster that do produce a natural pearl, only a few of those will develop a desirable pearl in shape, color and size. Only about one in ten thousand oysters will naturally produce a gem quality pearl. As pearls have been valued and desired by so many people, the need has lead to the production of cultured pearls. Actually, the cultured pearl industry has far surpassed the natural pearl industry. Natural pearls are becoming harder to find, and the demand for pearls is too great.

Are cultured pearls fake pearls?
No, a cultured pearl is an artificially created pearl, but they are still real pearls. Instead of the foreign substance entering the mollusk naturally, the foreign object is manually inserted into the mollusk and returned to the sea, allowing the pearl to develop naturally. This method not only allows pearls to develop naturally, but their shape can be easily targeted by the placement of the foreign substance.

The method for cultured pearls is used for many, if not all types of pearls.

What determines the shape of pearl?
Since pearls form naturally, pearls can come in many unique and interesting shapes. Although we associate pearls to be round, it is actually very uncommon and rare to find a perfectly round pearl. The shape of a pearl is determines by a number of variable factors, including the shape of the nucleus the pearl is formed in and the placement of the developing pearl in the mollusk. A pearl usually takes the sa
me shape of the nucleus, so if the nucleus isn't perfectly round, the pearl won't be either. It will take on the irregular shape of the nucleus. The placement of the developing pearl will also effect its shape, for example: If the pearl is positioned against the shell of the mollusk, the pearl will be flat on one side. There are three basic categories for pearl shapes, Spherical (or perfectly round), Symmetrical (balanced and regular, but not round), and Baroque (irregular and abstract, there is no symmetry to these pearls.) There are many pearl shape variations within these categories as well. The shape of a pearls is one of many factors in determining a pearls quality and value. The round pearl being the most valuable, followed by symmetrical shapes and finally baroque. However, the unique shapes to baroque pearls are increasingly desirable, as these pearls are one of a kind.

How can I tell if a pearl is real?
There are two types of genuine pearls, natural and cultured pearls. A fake pearl can be simulated, faux, plastic, resin, glass or artificial. There are some tests you can do to pearls to see if they are real or fake, however, the best test is to bring them to a certified professional. It's not always easy to tell these pearls apart.

Have you ever seen someone pick up a strand of pearls and bite them? They were making sure they were buying real pearls. Since a real pearls are made up of layers of nacre, the surface will be gritty against your teeth. A fake pearl is usually smooth. However, this method isn't as reliable as it used to be, some fake pearl manufacturers are adding a coating to their pearls to simulate the gritty feeling on your teeth. In addition, pearls are all so different and unique, you might even find some pearls to be more smooth than others, even through they are real.

If you have a strand of pearls, take them outside into natural daylight. Real pearls will not all be same color under the sun, unless they are very expensive. You should be able to see slight variations in their iridescence and color. If they are perfectly matched, they probably aren't real.

You can magnify your pearls as you would a diamond at a jewelry store. You should be able to see the ridges and irregularities of a pearl. If the surface is smooth or lack irregularities, your pearls may be fake.

Real pearls also tend to be more dense than plastic, resin or hollow pearls. Good glass pearls might have the same density and you may not want to rely on this method of testing. But you should be able to tell right away if the pearls are plastic, resin or hollow.

Look at the holes drilled in your pearls. The nacre of fake pearls tends to flake away in the area where the holes were drilled. While the nacre could possible flake away on a cultured pearl, even though it's real, it will not flake away on a natural pearl.

Finally, you could have the pearls tested by a certified professional. They will not only look at your pearls under magnification, but they will x-ray your pearls as well. An x-ray will show you what is inside of your pearls. This includes the density variations, the presence or absence of a parasite or "foreign object" that caused the formation of the pearl in the first place, and the shapes of drilled holes, if there are holes in your pearls. There are a few other tests and tricks to judge your pearls as real or fake, such as the treatment in your jewelry, the settings, the other materials used in your jewelry, etc. However, bringing your jewelry to a professional is the most reliable test.

Caring for your pearls
Pearls are softer and more delicate than other gemstones and precious metals. They can be easily scratched, cracked and damaged. In addition, substances such as hairspray, perfume, cosmetics and body oils can dull your pearls. It's a good idea to apply perfume, hair spray and other cosmetics before wearing your pearls. You want to minimize the contact your pearl will have with these substances. After wearing your pearls, wipe them with a soft cloth to remove any traces of cosmetics or body oils. You can wash your pearls with a mild soap and a soft cloth to remove build up, but don't do this every day.

Your pearls should be stored away from other jewelry in a padded hard case or a soft cloth pouch in your jewelry box. This will prevent scratches from your other jewelry.

If you pearls are strung, you can have your pearls re-strung every few years to prevent your necklace from breaking when you least expect it. The last thing you want are all your pearls on the floor of the grocery store or restaurant. If your pearls have a knot between each pearl, this will prevent all your pearls from falling off the strand if your necklace were to break. This also prevents your pearls from rubbing against each other and causing damage. For more information on jewelry care, visit Frequently Asked Questions at Kincaidesign Handmade Jewelry. www.kincaidesigns.com

Pearl Glossary
Saltwater Pearls: Pearls formed within oysters which live in the sea. Saltwater pearls tend to be more lustrous, which means they have more reflective quality ont he surface of the pearl nacre, than freshwater pearls, which increased their value. Most Saltwater pearls today are cultured saltwater pearls.

Freshwater Pearls: Pearls formed in mollusks that live in freshwater lakes and rivers. Freshwater pearls tend to appear in a wide variety of shapes and colors, and they tend to be less expensive than saltwater pearls. They are very durable and they resisit chipping, wear and degeneration.

Mother of Pearl: Mother of Pearl is the basic substance which is secreted by and oys
ter and/or mollusk to form the inside of their shells. This is the same substance which forms pearls.

Tahitian Pearls: Black Tahitian pearls are produced by the black-lippid oyster in the islands of French Polynesia. The oyster is very large and are sometimes 12 inches across and as much as 10 pounds. This results in larger than normal pearls. They are unique because of their dark colors of gray, silver, charcoal, etc. Truly black pearls are extremely rare.

To buy your own pearl embellished jewelry, visit Kincaidesigns Handmade Jewelry at www.kincaidesigns.com. You'll find: Handmade NecklacesHandmade BraceletsHandmade EarringsHandmade RingsHandmade PendantsHandmade Bridal JewelryHandmade Baby JewelryHandmade Seasonal JewelryMore Unique Handmade Gifts...

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Anonymous Anonymous said...


Can you tell me if it is possible to chip a tahitian pearl if it is dropped on a tiled floor?
I recently purchased one on a pendant and the chain came undone accidently and caused the pearl to drop off and hit the bathroom floor. It looked ok until I took a look the next day and saw it has a small chip out of it. Is this possible with a real tahitian pearl?

Thanks for any advice!

11:59 PM  

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