Given the rarity of naturally occurring pearls, a process of cultivating pearls in farms was introduced in the early 1900s.
The mollusks are raised until they are old enough to accept the mother-of-pearl bead nucleus. Through a delicate surgical procedure, the technician implants a small bead of polished shell into each mollusk. Then, they are returned to the water and cared for while the pearl forms - which can take up to 24 months.
Not all produce a pearl; and not all the pearls are high quality. Over 10,000 pearls may be sorted before a 16" single strand of beautifully matched pearls is assembled.
Pearls can be found in saltwater and in freshwater. There are also different types of mollusks that produce very different looking pearls. Pearls are classically elegant and never go out of style!
Scroll down to learn more about the classifications of popular cultured pearls.
The Akoya cultured pearl is grown in Chinese and Japanese waters. They are generally around 2mm, but in some rare cases can be as large as 10mm. They are round, and usually cream or white in color. They come from the Pinctada Fucata Martensii Oyster, which are fairly small, thus produce the smaller pearls.
Tahitian pearls are interestingly not exclusively from Tahiti - they're grown in several of the islands of French Polynesia, including Tahiti. Their typical sizes range from 8mm to 16mm.
The Tahitian pearl comes from the black lip Pinctada Margaritifera Oyster. These pearls are considered the most striking and sought-after in today's market.
While collectively described as black, their colors cover the complete spectrum from dark-black to silver-white, and almost every color in between, including gray, blue, purple and green. The colors of these Tahitian pearls are completely natural and guaranteed to be unprocessed. For the most stylish pearls, consider a full strand of Tahitian pearls.
These pearls are grown in freshwater lakes, rivers and ponds, predominately in China. Although many are white and resemble the Akoya cultured pearls in shape and size, the freshwater pearl is usually slightly less round, smaller in size, and possesses less luster than other varieties of saltwater pearls. They can also be produced in various shapes and in an array of pastel colors.
These pearls are usually cultivated in China and provide a value-priced option.
The most difficult aspect of choosing a pearl is the grading. Unfortunately, there is no standard or recognized system for all pearls. This is due to the fact that each class of pearls has its own unique grading criteria. Generally, the factors that contribute to pearl quality and price include its luster, shape, surface and size.
The pearl is rated in each category that applies to its class and then graded from A to AAAA or on the A-D Scale.
A pearl's luster is the result of multiple layers, also called the nacre (NAY ker), that the oyster or mollusk secreted to make the pearl. The thicker the nacre, the more luster a pearl has. You will notice the luster as the deep sheen that reflects light on the surface of the pearl.
Pearls come in a variety of different shapes. The most coveted of these is round. Akoya, Tahitian, and South Sea pearls are most often the roundest of the pearls. Other shapes can make beautiful jewelry as well, sometimes providing you with different price options.
Because pearls rely on an uncontrollable environment in which to grow, very rarely will you find a perfect pearl. The surface of a pearl may not always be smooth, often including spots, bumps, etc. The beauty of these pearls may be enhanced by the ability to sometimes be camouflaged during the stringing and setting process.
The size of the oyster or mollusk that a pearl is produced within will have a direct effect on the size of the pearl. The size alone may not greatly impact the price of a pearl, but when you combine it with a perfectly round shape and beautiful luster, the value will dramatically increase.
Pearls are produced in a variety of colors, as noted in the types of pearls. Most range from white, cream, and yellow to pink, silver, and black. Most pearls will have both a primary color, the first color you will notice, and a secondary color, the overtone you notice when you take a closer look. Color variation does not decrease the value of the pearl, but is important when matching pearls to be used in strands, earrings, bracelets, etc.
As the world's lone organic gemstone, they are rather delicate. Taking proper care of your pearls is an essential aspect of ensuring that your investment lasts a lifetime. Many personal hygiene products, such as hairspray and perfume, can damage the beauty and luster of a peal. You should always invest in a pearl care kit for your pearl jewelry.