Clams And Oysters And Pearls, Oh My!

By on November 20, 2012

Ever wonder where pearls come from?   If you guessed ‘oysters’ and ‘clams’, you guessed absolutely correctly!   Organic pearls have a fascinating beginning, and the ‘birth’ of a real pearl is as simple as it is intriguing.

Stop Irritating Me!

Natural Pearls:  Every organic pearl has its humble beginnings inside the shell of various fresh or salt-water oysters or clams.  At times, a parasite, or other irritant, can invade the inside of the shell of a live mollusk and wedge its way into the fleshy organism that calls its shell its home.  The mollusk attempts to rid itself of its unwelcome intruder by coating the uncomfortable particle with continuous layers of a substance called nacre, or more familiarly known as ‘mother of  pearl’–the same material that makes up the interior lining of the shell.  The constant layering builds and thickens to the point of actually forming a rounded or irregularly-shaped object that we, affectionately, call a ‘pearl’.  Interestingly, the shape of the natural pearl will depend on the shape of the irritant being coated.   Natural pearls are considered rare and expensive.

One in ten thousand mollusks naturally produce gem-quality pearls, which means we have a viable, less-expensive alternative….

Cultured Pearls:  These little gems are totally natural and are formed in the same way as ‘natural’ pearls, but with one small exception–the irritant is placed inside the shell of the mollusk by a human.  Great care is taken to make sure the object is inserted without damage or harm.  The resulting pearl is a natural work of art.   A cultured pearl takes up to three years to form.

From Mollusk To Magnificent!

That little layered irritant goes through a wondrous make-over by being transformed into delightful, sensuous colors including:  black, pink, white, blue-white, rose-rose, white-rose, yellowish-white, hard-white, silver, peacock green, violet and cream.  An array of shapes adds an appealing dimension to this natural beauty.  Some include round, irregular, oval-like, flat-sided and water-drop shape.

Pearl Pricing:

1.  Size–The bigger the better!  Natural pearls are pricier than cultured pearls of comparable size, due to the natural pearl’s rarity.   The size of a pearl is expressed in terms of its diameter, which is measured in millimeters.  One millimeter’s difference is, on record, to have raised the price by between 100 and 200%

2.  Shape— There are four basic shape groups in order of value:  Round, Off-Round (slightly round or ovalish), Semi-baroque (pear, drop, egg and button shapes), and Baroque (very irregular with very uneven surfaces).

3.  Surface–‘Rough’ to’ smooth’ describes the surfaces of pearls; and the smoother the surface, the more expensive.  The fewer the spots or blemishes, the higher its value.

4.  Luster–This refers to the glowing appearance of the pearl’s surface, and is judged by its brilliance and ability to reflect light.  The grade of the luster goes in descending order from ‘very bright’, ‘bright’, ‘medium’, ‘slightly dull’, and ‘dull’.

5.  Color–This category is much more subjective in that it boils down to a personal choice.  The color of your skin, hair and clothing will have an impact on what color of pearl would best compliment your unique appearance.  The color of a pearl is NOT an indication of its quality!

Whatever pearl selection you may decide to purchase, whether expensive or not–wear it, love it and know that when you put it on, even though it began as a tiny little parasite, it transformed into a delightfully beautiful gem that will make you feel like a million bucks!

K.C. writes regularly about jewelry.  Some of her topics include pearls and Jeanine payer jewelry.

About News Editor