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PEARL GUIDE


About Pearls

A pearl is a natural gem created by a living organism found in many parts of the world. When a foreign object (tiny irritant) is introduced into a Mussel, Clams or Oyster, the animal coats the irritant with a substance called nacre. Layers of nacre build up to make a pearl. They are usually white, sometimes with a creamy or pinkish tinge, but may be tinted with yellow, green, blue, brown, or black. Black pearls are often highly valued because of their rarity.

Pearls are either natural or cultured. Natural Pearls are harvested from the ‘wild’, while Cultured Pearls are cultivated in ‘Pearl farms’. Pearls are harvested from the sea bed (Saltwater Pearls) and Inland water bodies (Freshwater Pearls).


Types of Pearls

The pearls differ in their luster and mysterious colours depending on the way it has been produced:

Natural Pearls

Natural pearls are formed naturally by the oyster. After three or more years, a Natural pearl of good size (4-12 mm) can be found inside an oyster. The natural pearls produce only single pearl at a time. These are extremely rare and hence, are known to be expensive. Natural pearls are sometimes worth around 10 times more than their cultured pearl equivalent. Due to their natural origin, natural pearls have many shapes: baroque or odd-shaped, drops, ovals, buttons and -very rarely- round.

Cultured Pearls

Cultured pearls are formed by the joint efforts of Man and Mussel, as opposed to a natural pearl. Farmers implant a fine bead into the oyster where it cannot be expelled. The oyster does the rest and creates its lustrous masterpiece – the cultured pearl. For each oyster, 1 pearl can be got. As natural pearls are rare, people have started dealing with cultured pearls these days. The majority of pearls that are used in jewellery today are farmed and not naturally grown.

Types of Cultured Pearl
1) Akoya: Akoya, one of the most familiar type of cultured pearls, are round, white and lustrous gem. They are a symbol of elegance and beauty. They are saltwater pearls and come from the smallest of all pearl oysters. Akoya’s from Japan and China are grown in pearl oysters and depending on the size of the oyster, they rarely grow more than 9mm in size. They are known for their lovely orient and warm colour.
2) South Sea: South Sea pearls are among the largest commercially harvested cultured pearls in the world. A South Sea pearl can range from 9 - 20mm with an average size 13 mm. Their colour ranges from silvery white to gold. They are quite costly due to their size and rarity. They are also identified by their thick nacre or ‘mother of pearl’ (an organic mixture of Calcium carbonate and crystals).
3) Tahitian Black Pearl: The natural black colour of the Tahitian pearl comes from the black-lipped variety of the Pinctada maxima oyster. They range from 10mm size and above, which has made them one of the most sought-after, expensive pearls in the world. These pearls are seldom round; they come in a variety of shapes and a range of metallic colours - from grey to black to green, peacock-blue and aubergine. The “Tahitian pearls” are found around the islands and atolls of the French Polynesia.
4) Mabe: Mabe (pronounced Mar-bay) are known as half-pearls or blister pearls. They are large hemispherical cultured pearls grown against the inside shells of oysters instead of within the body. Because of their hemispherical shape, they are most popular in earrings, rings and brooches. The size of mabe pearls varies from 12 to 20 mm in diameter. Mabe cultured pearls are less expensive than regular round cultured pearls.
5) Freshwater: Freshwater pearls, unlike other pearl types, are cultivated in mussels, not oysters and are found in fresh water lakes, rivers and ponds of China, Japan, North America and Europe. Triangle Shell mussel is a common source of Freshwater pearls and can yield between 30-40 pearls. Fresh water pearls generally are elongated in shape and have a milky translucent appearance. Their wide range of interesting shapes such as freeform, rice shaped, off-round or spherical and colours ranging from milky white to peach, pink and lavender, make up in fashion appeal for their relatively affordable value.
6) Keshi: Also known as seed pearls, these tiny cultured pearls can be as small as a grain of sand and form accidentally in many cultured pearl oysters. Many Keshi pearls are curved, while some can be rock-shaped baroques measuring 4MM to 15MM. Keshi pearls can form in either saltwater or freshwater mollusks. 7) Baroque: Baroque pearls are pearls with an undefined, irregular shape and almost never round. Freshwater pearls are most commonly baroque. Due to their shapes, baroque cultured pearls are often less costly than round cultured pearls.

Imitation / Synthetic pearls

Imitation Pearls are usually a coated glass bead. Most have a high luster, but not the depth of luster seen on high quality cultured pearls. Some imitation pearls (also called shell pearls) are simply made of mother-of-pearl, coral or conch shell, while others are made from glass and are coated with a solution containing fish scales called essence d'Orient.

Types of Synthetic/Imitation Pearls:

1) Bathed pearl: A mother-of-pearl core coated with a mixture of plastic enamel, lead carbonate, mica, and titanium dioxide, then with a film of iridescent nylon.

2) Bohemian pearl: Cut and buffed mother-of-pearl protuberance.

3) Glass pearl: Glass bead dipped or sprayed with pearlescent material, or hollow glass bead filled with pearlescent material. Wax-filled pearl simulants are hollow glass beads coated with essence d'orient and filled with wax.

4) Mother-of-pearl pearl: Crushed nacreous shell powder, sintered into the desired shape.

5) Plastic pearl: Plastic core coated with pearlescent material.

6) Roman pearl: Alabaster core coated with pearlescent material.

7) Shell pearl (1): Cut, buffed, and sometimes dyed nacreous portions of mollusc shells. Variations and alternate names include cat's-eye pearl, coque de perle (from nautilus shells), mother-of-pearl pearl (from mother-of-pearl), and hinge pearl (from the hinge of bivalve shells).

8) Shell pearl (2): Spherical shell core coated with pearlescent material


Characteristics of Pearls

Each pearl harvested has its individual characteristics, making it essential to establish quality grading standards.

1) Luster: Luster is the amount of light a pearl reflects. The inner glow of the pearl combined with the surface brilliance. The better the nacre quality of the pearl, the more superior is its luster



2) Surface Perfection: Slight blemishes and little marks are part of a pearl's natural texture and proof it being genuine. These blemishes are caused by sea particles that drift into the oyster and brush against the pearl as it forms. Fewer surface imperfections denote a higher quality, more valuable pearl.



3) Shape of a Pearl: Due to their natural origin, pearls come in eight basic shapes: round, semi-round, button, drop, pear, oval, baroque, and circled. Of the many shapes available, perfectly round pearls are the rarest and most valuable. The more symmetrical the shape, the more valueable is the pearl.



4) Colour of a Pearl: Pearls vary widely in colour, based on the type of oyster that produces them. While white and more recently black saltwater pearls are by far the most popular; pink, blue, champagne, green and even purple saltwater pearls can be found from the oceans. The rarer the shade, the more valuable is the pearl.



5) Size: While size does not affect the quality of cultured pearls, it contributes to its price. Large pearls are more difficult for oysters to grow; thus, their rarity creates higher value. Pearls are measured in diameter increments of millimetres (mm).




Pearl Qualities and Grades

There is no international standard for grading pearls so identical pearls may be graded differently by different suppliers. Pearls have their own jargon but most reputable pearl sellers use the two below mentioned grading system and follow accepted industry conventions.

1) A, AA, AAA grading system
2) A to D system for Tahitian Pearls and South Sea Pearls

1) A, AA, AAA grading system



2) The A-D System ( or Tahitian System)

This grading system grades pearls on a scale from A to D, with A being the highest grade.

A: Highest-quality pearl, very high luster and only minor imperfections over less than 10% of its surface.
B: High or medium luster. Surface may have some visible imperfections over no more than 30% of its surface area.
C: Medium luster with surface defects over not more than 60% of the surface area.
D: May have many slight defects over 60% of surface or deep defects over no more than 60% of surface.

Pearls of the 'D' variety may have a combination of minor and deep defects over no more than 60% of its surface. In this grade of pearl, the luster is irrelevant. Even the most lustrous pearls will be graded 'D' if their surface area is blemished to this extent. Pearls below 'D' grade are considered not acceptable for use in jewellery.


Certification & Authenticity

One way to determine whether a pearl is cultured or natural is to have a well-equipped gem testing laboratory perform an X-ray examination of the pearl. The differentiation of natural pearls from non-beaded cultured pearls can be very difficult without the use of this X-ray technique.

Another method of testing for imitations is to rub two pearls against each other. Imitation pearls are completely smooth, but natural and cultured pearls are composed of nacre platelets, making both feel slightly gritty.


Price of Pearls

In general, cultured pearls are less valuable than natural pearls, whereas imitation pearls have almost no value.

The value of the pearls in jewellery is determined by a combination of the luster, colour, size, lack of surface flaw and symmetry that are appropriate for the type of pearl under consideration. Among those attributes, the deeper the luster and iridescence, the more precious the pearl. All factors being equal, however, the larger the pearl the more valuable it is.


Worth of Pearls

Similar to gold, pearl and pearl jewellery is exceptionally popular and holds a unique place in Indian jewellery. Pearls are one of the most sought-after natural materials for their purity, virtue and modesty. Pearls have got the credit of being one of the ancient gems and has been in existence since many centuries. It is known to be extremely valuable and it is a perfect symbol of purity, feminine charm, chastity and flawless perfection. Cultured pearls themselves are relatively rare, as they can only be developed in limited areas of the world’s oceans and take years to grow. A perfect pair of pearls are very rare because nature makes few pearls exactly alike in orient, shape and colour.


Pearl Care

Pearls are usually known to be organic gem that require utmost care when compared to any other gems. Good quality pearls have round smooth surface, a soft shine and can be quite durable, but are far more delicate than any other gemstone or metal: they are softer and more vulnerable to cracking, scratching and dulling. Hence, if well taken care of using the techniques described below, the pearls will last for generations.



Cleaning

Pearl jewellery should also be washed periodically with a mild solution of soap and warm water. Always use a soft, clean, damp cloth to wash and dry your pearls. If extensive cleaning is required, it is best to take your pearls to a specialized pearl retailer. Extreme heat and hot water can loosen settings where an adhesive has been used. Pearl rings, earrings and pendants have this type of setting, so be careful with them.

Pearl jewellery should never be exposed to chemicals, bleaches, soaps, detergents, baking soda or solvents without knowing their specific cleaning requirements as these can damage pearls. The ammonia based products should also be avoided. Also make sure not to clean it with the help of ultrasonic cleaner.

Caring

Being organic gems, pearls are vulnerable to chemicals and extremes of temperature. One should avoid letting them come into contact with cosmetics, hair spray or perfume which can dull their luster over time and cause spots and blotches. The chemicals in these products can damage the nacre of pearls or make pearls turn yellow. Even the perspiration and the natural acids in our skin can also damage pearls over time. Therefore, it is recommended to wipe pearls gently with a soft cloth after you wear them to avoid the build-up of these harmful compounds. Pearl Jewellery should always be used after the application of cosmetics and sprays. By this, you can easily minimize the problems relating to damaging of pearls. Choose pearls with thick nacre which can last long and withstand wear over time.

Before wearing, always check the prongs that support the pearls, the clasps of necklaces and bracelets and the screws of earrings. Pearl necklaces and bracelets are strung with specialized silk threads for both strength and beauty. However, if that thread stretches or is exposed to water, it may break suddenly. Do not wear loosely strung pearls for they make break while wearing. That is why it is strongly recommend that the pearls should be restrung once a year to maintain its strength and durability. This will also prevent them from rubbing against one another or slipping. With especially small pearls this may not be possible, but always consult with your jeweler.

Pearls should not be worn while bathing or swimming as the water can weaken the silk thread. It’s also advisable to avoid extended periods of direct sunlight and extreme temperatures such as saunas. If your pearls do come into contact with any substances such as juices, detergents or coffee, immediately wipe clean with a soft cloth.

Storage

Pearls are very soft and need extremely protective storage. A pearl's soft surface can be scratched by hard metal edges or by harder gemstones of other jewellery pieces. Pearls should be wiped with a soft cloth before being stored and kept separate from other precious metals or gemstones that might scratch or dull their tender surfaces.

Keep pearl jewels wrapped in a tissue inside a cloth bag and store store them in an individual, soft-lined pouch, box or protective container safe from potential harm. Make sure not to store pearls in plastic bag. Plastics usually emit chemical that deteriorates the surface of pearls. Also, care should be taken not to toss pearl jewellery carelessly into a purse, bag or jewel box. A dust free bag would be an ideal storage for them.

Always fasten clasps and locks to prevent tangles and scratches and lay out each piece of jewellery separately in a compartmentalized box. Also try and avoid storing your pearls in dry conditions for an extended period of time as this could cause the pearls to dehydrate.

Fine and high-quality pearls are often delivered in a leather or cloth, envelope-type folder. As pearls are relatively soft and the strings can be fragile, it is a good idea to continue to use the original package for storing them.



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