Pearls are organic gemstones that are formed by shelled molluscs; mainly bivalved oysters and mussels. Pearls are made up of nacre (mother-of-pearl) which is mostly aragonite (calcium carbonate) and conchiolin (complex proteins that form mollusc shells). The aragonite microcrystals build up around an irritant. The name “pearl” is said to have originated from the Middle English word “perle”, which in turn came from the Latin word “perna”, meaning “leg”, thought to be due to the ham-leg shape of the bivalve mollusc.

Natural pearls are extremely rare, incredibly expensive and typically small. Therefore people have developed ways to culture pearls, so that these beautiful gemstones can be enjoyed by many. In cultured pearls, some tissue or a mother-of-pearl bead is introduced into the mollusc shell. If successful, this process induces the animal to form a “pearl sac” whose cells secrete a layer of brownish protein called conchiolin over the irritant. This is followed by the secretion of numerous mineral layers of nacre composed of calcium carbonate in thin overlapping plates. Pearls can come from fresh or seawater molluscs. The beauty of pearls is that they can be plucked from the shell naturally beautiful, fully-formed and displaying perfect luster with no need to be cut or polished.

The oldest recorded reference to pearls in history is the 7,500 year-old “Umm Al Quwain Pearl”, which was found in a grave in a place that is now known as the UAE. Before pearls were cultured by man, they were harvested from the Persian Gulf, Sri Lankan waters, fresh water sources in China and the rivers of Europe. Later, Christopher Columbus discovered pearls in South America. When these natural pearls were almost depleted in the early twentieth century, the Chinese and Japanese began to culture pearls and the rest is history. Nowadays, pearls remain a treasured adornment and are cultured all around the world.


Pearl Color

Pearls are found and cultured in waters all over the world. Natural sea pearls are found in Australia, Japan, Central America, the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Manaar (between India and Sri Lanka), the coast of Madagascar, Burma (Myanmar), the Philippines, the South Pacific Islands (including Tahiti and Fiji) and South America.

Pearls are available in a variety of colors. Colors of pearls include the following: White, pink, silver, cream, golden, green, blue and black. Some pearls exhibit iridescence, which is known as orient.

Pearl Clarity and Luster

The luster of pearls depends on the quality of the nacre. Pearls should have the characteristic shiny pearly luster and their surface should show sharp and bright reflections. The surfaces of good quality pearls are smooth and blemish-free with a suitable layer of nacre to increase durability.


Pearl Cut and Shape

Pearls can be round, oval, pear-shaped or misshapen (baroque pearls). However, the best materials are regularly shaped. The most valuable shapes are symmetrical spheres or symmetrical drops. Pearl sizes depend on the type of mollusc that they form in and they typically range from 2 mm to 16 mm in diameter.


Pearl Jewelry

Pearls are popular as beaded necklaces, which come in a variety of lengths, from short collars and chokers to long opera and matinee strings. Pearl beaded necklaces can also be uniform, which means that the pearls are all the same size, or graduated, which means that the pearls taper gradually in size, with the largest at the middle of the necklace. For jewelry that uses several pearl gemstones, it is important that the pearls match in shape and color or that different colored pearls are well coordinated. Sizes should also be well calibrated for classic pearl necklaces. However, modern pearl cluster necklaces often mix sizes. Misshapen baroque pearls are used to make interesting modern pearl jewelry. Pearl pairs make beautiful earrings, and single pearls are perfect for pendants. Pearls also make attractive hair decorations and can be used to embellish wedding dresses. Both silver and gold settings compliment the luster of pearls. Pearls are popular for bridal jewellery and can be mixed with diamonds, for stunning rings, earrings or necklaces. Pearls can be simple or dramatic, vintage or modern, according to the preferred style. The wide variety of pearl colors means that there is a pearl to suit each and every skin tone.

Source: Gem Select