Pearls – the only gemstone that is formed inside of a living organism and the classiest of them all. Often tied to marriage, fertility, and love it’s not uncommon to pick pearls to design with for a lucky lady. Not to mention they have become increasingly trendy as of late with beaders using them as the main component in multicolored mixed media pearl necklaces. Like other gems, there are fake pearls made of materials like glass so be careful to not purchase false pearls. False pearls are often uniform, lightweight, and have a painted layer on top to give a real pearlescent effect. Not to mention, pearl beads almost never have a perfectly drilled hole! Many qualities can distinguish real pearls, let’s talk about some of the most common types of pearls:
Tahitian pearls are harvested from black-lipped oysters and are the only pearls on the market that occur in a natural black color. They are one of two pearls that don’t receive any color treatment after harvest.
A freshwater pearl, as suggested by its name, is a pearl that is grown inside of a freshwater mussel, commonly found in china. Freshwater pearls are a favorite and common choice amongst many jewelry makers and designers. They are produced in a large variety of shapes and sizes. Mostly formed in pastel shades such as pink, peach, purple or white. Many freshwater pearls are also dyed to give us some of the fun colors we get to see such as green, red and blue.
A key factor to a baroque pearl is its shape. While most pearls that are leaning more towards perfectly rounded are considered a traditional shape. Baroque pearls are any pearls that don’t have a non-spherical or irregular shape such as coin pearls, twin pearls, rice pearls, egg pearls, heart pearls and keshi pearls.
South sea pearls
South sea pearls are the most highly sought after kind of pearls. They are the largest naturally occurring pearls and can range from 8mm- 20mm. South Sea pearls come in a variety of colors, mostly rich white but can be found in a bright gold, pastel pink or silver. They are naturally a perfect round shape, unlike freshwater pearls which can have slight dents to make them irregular.
Whether natural or cultured pearls are the only jewels that are made from animals and that do not need to be mined, shaped or polished. A cultured pearl is a pearl created in a human assisted, controlled environment and it occurs when an irritant is purposely placed inside the oyster. Culturing pearls has many benefits, one being cost efficiency. As natural pearls are rarer and rely on nature to occur, it skyrockets their price tag on the market. Another huge benefit to cultured pearls is its help to the environment, despite these being grown on a farm and not in the ocean like natural pearls, we are still able to get the same pearl quality. Although the irritant is placed by a human inside the oyster, the rest of the growth process is still natural and the same as the pearls harvested in the ocean.
There are many aspects that affect the color pay off of a pearl. The basic body color of a pearl, generally white, black or gold will vary depending on what oyster they are harvested from. Another important factor would be the type of mollusk in the oyster. Mollusk is the inner lining of nacre on the shell that will greatly affect the body color and luster of the pearl. Location and human manipulation are also big factors.
White pearls commonly come from freshwater, akoya and south sea varieties. Black/ dark pearls are exclusive to Tahitian and sea of cortez varieties. All other pearls on the market with these colors have been artificially dyed or enhanced. There are also naturally occurring gold pearls found in the south sea. Their rarity makes them some of the most valuable.
There are a handful of methods to artificially change the color of a pearl. Pearl pinkin is a method in which a pearl is “pinked” aka dyed to keep up with the rosy pearl demand. Irradiating is a process in which farmers can alter the color of a pearl using gamma rays, this treatment can be used to enhance the shine of pearls. Many bright white pearls we see are polished and bleached, the most common practice amongst these methods is the process of polishing a pearl in a saline solution to achieve a perfect white color. With these techniques we’ve been able to create a whole rainbow of pearls.