A Lesson on Pearls

A Lesson on Pearls

Published On: 11-09-2011 08:15pm

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Category: Gemstones

Pearls are one of my most favorite gemstones to create designs around. If you take a peek at my shop, you'll see how often I use them. They're mystical, they're magical...



The first known source of pearls was the Persian Gulf and the ancients of the area believed that pearls were a symbol of the moon and had magical powers. The stories of pearls were widely known, some fact..some fiction. But there was one fact that is simply undeniable, pearls are the oldest known gem and was considered the most precious for centuries.

A pearl is formed when a tiny foreign object(a parasite or organic matter) is embedded in the tissue of mollusk. The mollusk will begin to secrete a calcium carbonate substance called nacre to cover the irritant and protect the soft tissue. After a few years, the nacre builds up to form the pearl.

A natural pearl is simply an accident of nature and is extremely rare. Most pearls today are cultured. While a cultured pearl undergoes the same process of nacre building up to form the pearl, the inital foreign object(typically a small bead called the nucleus) is introduced by a pearl farmer.

Freshwater pearls are grown in freshwater mollusks. They are generally not formed around a bead nucleus. Freshwater mollusks are nucleated by creating a small incision in the fleshy tissue of a 6 to 12 month old freshwater mussel. A 3mm square piece of mantle tissue taken from a donor mussel is then inserted. Soon, the mussel will begin its natural process of forming nacre over the inserted tissue. The mussel gets put back into its natural freshwater enviroment and are taken care of for 2-6 years. The pearl is solid nacre but can be irregularly shaped because it wasn't formed around a perfect nucleus bead. Freshwater pearls are not as round as saltwater pearls and lack a bit of luster. But the postives outshine the negatives! Freshwater pearls are available in a wide variety of shapes and natural colors. Price-wise, they're more inexpensive that pricey saltwater varieties. They are also quite durable due to the solid nacre, resisting wear and chips. I exclusively use freshwater pearls in my designs because of this.

Pearls need a little extra care once you choose your jewelry piece. Since they are an organic gemstone, they are more delicate than an emerald or topaz. Perfume, hairspray, lotions can dull the pearls natural sheen so its a good idea to apply these before putting your pearls on. You can wipe them down every once in awhile with a slightly damp soft cloth and store them away from hard jewelry items. I like to put my pearl pieces in small velvet bags inside my jewelry box.

Please take a look at all of my pearl pieces as you can tell, I genuinely love and respect the process that goes into making them. Even though I know they've had a little help from a farmer's hand, to me..they're little moondrops sent from above :) 

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