Although pearls are the birthstone of June (you lucky June birthday lady) I would advise the experts urgently to make them the birthstone of every month, every week, and every day. It is such an exceptional gem that it deserves it! Besides that ‘pearls can make every woman stunning’.
With amber and coral, the pearl is the only animal-made material, that is considered by the big experts as a gemSTONE. And don’t think about taking some oysters in as a pet, and make your own ones. It takes a lot for the animal to make such a beautiful gem, like very clean water, the right temperature, the right oysters, no pesticides, etc. Let me tell you about this wonderful gem.
The secrets of the pearl
Just a few types of oysters and sometimes snails are capable of making one. That is: in every 15.000 wild oysters that can produce a pearl only ONE is found! The core is a little sand or another small thing that comes –by accident- inside the oyster and they don’t like that. The oyster tries to smoothen that foreign particle by making a nice coat of mother of pearl around it. And that becomes the pearl, as we know it.
The gloss depends on the reflection and the refraction of the light in the transparent layers. With more and thinner layers, the shine is finer. Beads are obtained by divers and pearl growers. They are often round, but sometimes irregular in shape. Although the hardness is only 2.5 to 5 on the Mohs scale, they are extremely difficult to break. They occur from the size of a needlepoint until about 24 cm / 9.45 inches wide (the Pearl of Allah and the Hope Pearl).
Normally a pearl will lose the mother of pearl layer in about 100-105 years. But archeologists found copies in Pompei from 79 AC. You can say mankind is familiar with them for about 6000 years. In Egypt, people have pearls (Cleopatra!), but also in Mexico, they have found them from about 2500 BC. In India they have used these gems as an amulet, the Mongols thought that when you cook them, the water empowers men, the Chinese used it as medicine and the Romans thought they were the symbol of luck, power, and wisdom.
People, who lived ages ago, loved it as much as we do. But because a pearl is not easily and frequently found, just the very rich of this earth could afford the have one or more. And then the stories and legends take over…
Cleopatra tricks her boyfriend
Cleopatra was a very smart and powerful, but also a very rich lady: she was the Pharao of Egypt and dated with a high Roman general, Marc Anthony. One day Cleopatra boasted that she could spend ten million sestertii (old coin) on a dinner. Marc Anthony took the bet since according to him such an expensive dinner was impossible to organize.
The first course was cheap and Marc Anthony started laughing: ‘see, you cannot do it’. The second course was a cup of vinegar with water. Cleopatra took a very very expensive pearl from her earrings and tossed it in the vinegar. After a little while, she drank the vinegar with the pearl of at least ten million sestertii worth. And she won the bet.
A lot of people through history thought that dissolving such a gem in vinegar is not possible and the story cannot be true. Professor Prudence Jones of the Montclair State University tried to dissolve a 5 karat copy in vinegar and water and it dissolved in around 24 -36 hours. It is known that the Romans and Egyptians knew a lot about chemistry, therefore an educated person like Cleopatra could have known this ‘trick’.
Are there more exceptional pearls?
Yes, there are, as the Pearl of Allah or Pearl of Laozi. This one is about 24 cm / 9.45 inches big and weighs 6.4 kilos / 226 ounces. This is the biggest pearl in the world: it’s white but without any brilliance. A Phillipinian diver found this giant in the Sea of Palawan in the Philippines. This Tridacna Pearl is the product of a Baptismal Font Shell, i.e. Tridacna gigas. That is a large oyster and the animal got a body foreign object in the shell. The maximum age of the baptismal font shell is probably around a hundred years.
The ‘pearl of Allah’ looks like a head with a turban, and that turban has been associated with Mohammed and Allah. In 1966 a legend came up that in the gem there would be an amulet (already for thousands of years) with a verse of the Chinese philosopher Laozi. It was placed every time in a bigger shell so that it could grow. At the moment an American family owns the Pearl and now and then the gem is exhibited. The estimated value in 2007 was about 93 million dollars / € 83 million.
Exceptional 20th century pearl stories
In August 2015 a shell was found in the Oosterschelde (estuary between Belgium and the Netherlands) with 21 pearls. Normally you can find at the most 2 copies in a shell like that. The fisherman sold it to a fish store in the south of the Netherlands and there they discovered the exceptional amount in only one shell. The shell was auctioned in the Hague/the Netherlands for € 2600 / $ 2902.
In all kinds of shapes and colors
Most people have only seen pearls that are round or maybe you know them in the shape of rice (rice pearls). But there are more shapes and colors, much more…
Natural pearls are formed without any help from people. A strange particle penetrates the shell by accident and the shell protects itself against this intruder by forming the mother of pearl around the intruder: the pearl. The Orient Pearl (coming from the Persian Gulf) is so rare that the name ‘pearl’ is used for cultivated copies too.
Nearly all the pearls now are cultivated (cultivé). You put a little grain of mother of pearl in the clamshell or oyster and after two years you can harvest one. Kokichi Mikimoto from Japan found this out and he got in 1896 a patent on this process.
Blister and Mabé pearls
A blister or mabéparel is a half-round pearl, which has been created between the shell and the body of the shellfish, instead of IN his body. Growing outside his body you will see In a few year’s time a round pearl with a flat rear.
The blister pearl looks like a blister. As long as the pearl grows against the inside of the clamshell, we are talking about blister pearls. In some cases, the full-grown blister pearl is cut out of the clamshell, together with a part of the inside of the shell (mother of pearl). The pearl is surrounded by a mother of pearl with the pearl inside.
In the 19th century, Japan started with the cultivation of the half-round blister pearl, and these cultivé pearls are called Mabe pearls.
Keshi pearls are composed entirely of nacre. “Keshi” was first used in Japan to describe pearls without nuclei. Keshi pearls occur when the oyster rejects the contributed nuclear, but a piece of graft tissue is left behind or with the implantation of a nuclear a piece of graft tissue shears off. These graft tissue cells grow into a pearl bag. Because this pearl bag is not filled with a core the pearl grows in a unique form. These pearls are completely built from Pearl giving them an exceptional shine.
Now the occurrence of a Keshi pearl is less common, since they check every clamshell, whether the nuclear grow properly. And when the nuclear has vanished, they install a new one.
Keishi pearls can grow in salt and in sweet water. A Keshi pearl from an Akoya clamshell is very small (about 1 mm / 0.04 inch), but Keshi pearls from the South Sea and the ones from Tahiti are bigger (4-8 mm / 0.15-0.30 inches)
Biwa Lake is the biggest lake in Japan. You can find here a Sweetwater mussel. A real breakthrough in the nuclear-free cultured pearls from Japan, from the famous Biwa-lake, only took place in the middle of the last century. Biwa-pearls became a very famous type of pearl, with a soft luster and warm colors such as very light creme, ochre, and gray. The production of cultured pearls in the Hyriopsis Schlesinger shell remained not long. Especially environmental pollution brought the production in approx. 1985 to a standstill.
Freshwater pearls have -in comparison with pearls from saltwater areas- played a minor role. What today is usually indicated as a freshwater pearl is a nuclear-free cultivated pearl from freshwater areas. Freshwater pearls have a very long tradition. Since 100 BC. with pearl exaggerated Buddha figurines were found in China.
Chinese freshwater pearls are farmed in a large number of forms and with intense colors: white, cream, orange, mauve and pink are typical natural colors. The development of the Chinese cultured pearls is amazing and they will continue to evolve.
Tahiti pearls are cultivated and are called after an island in French Polynesia, Tahiti. The Pinctada margarite Fera oyster forms pearls in the colors silver-gray, blue-blackish, brown-blackish, and aubergine. These colors can occur due to the minerals, the plankton, and the temperature of the water. This pearl is an expensive one, because of the rareness, the smoothness, the shape, and the metallic brilliance. It takes more than 6 years before they can harvest the pearls and only 10 pearls of the 2000 oysters have the right quality.
For about 100 years Japan cultivates the Akoya pearl, which is produced by the oyster Pinctada martensii. The oyster lives in the saltwater areas around Japan. The Akoya pearl has a solid round nuclear, the oyster of about 8 cm / 3.15 inch wide forms pearls of a maximum of 12 cm / 4.72 inches. The quality of these pearls is high: the round shape, the brilliance, and the very rare color pink make these pearls costly.
You would expect that a pearl is formed by clamshells (sweet and saltwater shells) or by oysters (saltwater shells). But there are varieties, which are formed by snails. The Strombus Giga snail produces purple or conch pearls: in about 1000 of these snails, you will find about 1 pearl. The perfect snail pearl is very smooth and purple. They are very expensive: one necklace with matching earrings, made of conch pearls was auctioned for $178.500 / €160.352!
You have so many different names for a certain kind of pearl. They are named after the place where they grow or they have different names because they come from a different type of clamshell or oyster. Or they live in different circumstances, like sweet and saltwater. But you have also a pearl named after its shape, like button-, potato- (very small flat ones), rice pearls, etc.
It’s logical that a pearl is called a gem or even a gemstone. They are so ingeniously formed by such ‘clever’ animals, who give us such beautiful pieces of nature to make the most beautiful jewelry. For every budget and taste, there is a pearl. And FlorenceJewelshop has made handmade unique (no duplicates) and exclusive necklaces and earrings or bracelets made of pearls. Just have a look.
Which lady should have pearls in her jewel box?
That is a very simple question: every lady from 18-118 years old should have a pearl necklace or pearl earrings or bracelet. There are some stories that a bride should not wear a strand of pearls because they represent tears. So happy, this is only a story, because what is more beautiful than a bride with a white wedding dress and a delicate pearl necklace with matching earrings.
As always there is one but… or maybe two things you should know about wearing these beauties. First, you have to consider your features. So don’t wear a tiny one-strand pearl necklace when you are tall or wide-figured, but do when you are small. For detailed advice, pls have a look at the other blog posts from FlorenceJewelshop. Second, a pearl is delicate and the shine can vanish. So put your pearl jewelry on when you don’t wear them with a soft cloth and don’t use perfume or hairspray after you have put your pearl necklace or earrings on.
I wrote a great and free e-book about pearls. You will find a lot of information there. It’s free and just let me know where I can send it to.
Hugs Florence from FlorenceJewelshop