All About Pearls
Pearls are known to be one of the most popular and highly valued gemstones since time immemorial. They are exceptional as unlike most other gems that are found inside the earth, pearls are organic and are formed by living organisms underwater. Due to which pearls have always embodied the mystery, power, and life-sustaining nature of water. All types of pearl that come in a variety of shades are used as gemstones for jewellery, especially in gemstone necklaces
. Pearls are also extensively used in bracelets, rings, earrings, and pendants. They bring a splash of poise and elegance to anything they are added, be it for trendy jewellery
or other accessories.
For thousands of years, people have their hearts set on natural pearls as it symbolized wealth and status, and this desire only became more potent with each passing century. A Chinese historian in 2206 BC recorded the oldest written mention of natural pearls. Later, royal families and wealthy citizens in Asia, Europe, and other parts of the world treasured natural pearls and passed them on to their next generations. Christopher Columbus repeatedly came across native people adorned with natural pearls during his third (1498) and fourth (1502) expeditions to the New World. He also discovered sources of natural pearls in the waters of present-day Venezuela and Panama, which later increased the demand in Europe.
Pearl culturing at first occurred hundreds of years ago in China, as the production of natural pearls started to decline. Japanese pioneers began producing whole cultured pearls around the beginning of the twentieth century, and by the 1920s, these became commercially important. From the 1930s, pearl culturing diversified and spread to various countries around the globe.
A natural pearl is produced within the soft tissue of a living shelled mollusk (like oysters, scallops, etc.). These are found in the earth’s fresh water as well as saltwater of ponds, lakes, seas, and oceans. Until 1492, some of the significant sources of natural pearls were the Persian Gulf, the waters of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Chinese rivers and lakes, and the rivers of Europe.
Presently, natural pearls are found in places like Sri Lanka, India, the Persian Gulf, Venezuela, Mexico, and Australia. Australian pearl stones are generally considered less desirable while Sri Lankan pearls are known to be the best, though pearls from Bahrain are of the highest value. The Bay of Bengal and Tuticorin in South India produces the best natural pearls in India.
Although pearls are precious gems that occur naturally in the wild, their occurrence is infrequent and limited. Almost all pearls currently available commercially are cultured. Cultured Pearls are created by inserting a nucleus inside an oyster or mussel, which causes the organism to grow a layer around the nucleus that turns into a pearl. Oysters are cultivated and harvested in bulk for growing cultured pearls within them. The leading sources of cultured pearls currently are China, Japan, Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
The unique lustre of pearls depends upon three components - the reflection, refraction, and diffraction of light from the translucent layers. A good indicator of its quality is the percentage of blemishing. High-quality pearls should be around 95% to 99% blemish-free. Although, there is virtually no such thing as a “perfect” Pearl and customers should not expect to find one.
Other Properties of the pearl gemstone include – hardness on the Mohs scale is between 2.5 to 4.5, specific gravity is 2.60 to 2.85 and refractive index for a normal pearl is 1.52 - 1.66 while for a black pearl is 1.53-1.69.
Variety & Colours
Pearls are available in hundreds of types and several colours, and individual dealers have coined many names for such variations. Let’s take a quick look at some of the most commonly referenced pearl types:
Natural Pearls - Pearls that are produced naturally from calcium carbonate secretions that form within a mollusk without any human intervention are known as natural pearls. Natural pearls are formed in various colours, and these colours originate from the colour of the mollusk shell that forms the pearl. Not only white or cream, but these naturally occurring pearls can also come in shades like yellow, orangy-red, pink, blue and even black.
Akoya Cultured Pearls - Akoya pearls are the most popular saltwater cultured pearl sold in the U.S and other western markets. Many customers know of white or cream coloured Akoya pearl as the classic pearl used in jewellery, especially for necklaces. Japan and China both produce this kind of cultured pearls as well as some parts of Vietnam, South Korea and Australia.
South Sea Cultured Pearls - South Sea pearls are highly valued pearls and can come in white to silver or golden shade, depending on the type of oyster. Their large size and thick nacre, as well as their limited critical growing conditions, are all factors that add to their high value. These saltwater pearls are cultured in areas throughout the Indian and Pacific Oceans, primarily in Australia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Burma (Myanmar).
Tahitian Cultured Pearls – Tahitian pearls are highly regarded type of pearls cultivated primarily around the South Pacific Island of Tahiti and other islands of French Polynesia. These saltwater cultured pearls are often referred to as black pearls, while they have a wide colour range along with grey, black or brown shades, as well as blue, green, purple or pink overtones.
Freshwater Cultured Pearls - Freshwater pearls are the most abundant form of cultured pearls. Due to their incredible range of size, shape and colour, as well as their commercial availability at lower prices, they are one of the most favoured pearl types among buyers and jewellery designers. These pearls are generally cultured in freshwater lakes and ponds, usually many pearls (up to 50) are grown in one oyster to fulfil the vast demand. Apart from white, freshwater pearls naturally occur in a variety of colours like peach, pink, purple, and even periwinkle blue. China is the leading source for these type of cultured pearls.
Since ages, pearls have been associated with purity, humility and innocence. So it can be said that the June birthstone signifies ‘simplicity’. As such, pearls were used by royals for their precious gemstone jewellery
and also traditionally given as a wedding gift.
The pearl birthstone was also believed to have beneficial powers. In Asia, pearls were believed to help recover indigestion and haemorrhages. Some Arab physicians of the 19th century also thought that pearls could improve eyesight, quiet nervous tremors and ease the effect of depression.
In India, a pearl gem is worn to get the blessings of Laksmi, the goddess of prosperity. People believe it bestows long life and well-being and is a symbol of positivity, vitality and intelligence. Wearing a pearl is also said to help achieve much renown and come to a high position by utmost wisdom.