Showcase Jewellers Guide to Pearls_webtie

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The Showcase Guide to

the World of Pearls

The pearl is one of the ocean’s rarest treasures. Since ancient

times natural pearls have been used as jewellery and ornaments

and the oldest known pearl necklace is more than 4000 years


Pearls were often regarded as having a mystical quality and a

life of their own because of their unique glow that seems to

radiate from their very centre. In Roman times, women would

take pearls to bed in the belief that they would assist them to

have pleasant dreams.

So what exactly is a

Natural Pearl?

It is an accident of nature. A natural pearl is produced when

a minute foreign object, perhaps a tiny living sea creature,

becomes stuck inside the shell and tissue of an oyster. When

the oyster cannot get rid of the ‘irritant’ it eases the discomfort

by coating it in ‘nacre’. Nacre is made up of microscopic

crystals; each crystal perfectly aligned with the others so that it

reflects light to produce a glow of light and colour.

The pearl is built up of layer upon layer of nacre. The more

layers, the more lustrous the pearl. However, because natural

pearls are so rare, they are expensive which is why ‘Cultured

Pearls’ are a more affordable option.

Cultured Pearls

Giving nature a helping hand

Most pearls sold today are cultured pearls. These are pearls that

are made the same way as natural pearls in so far as an oyster

coats an ‘irritant’ with nacre. However the ‘irritant’ does not

find its way inside the oyster by accident. This ‘irritant’ that is

implanted is actually shell bead in salt water cultured pearls,

or, in the case of freshwater cultured pearls, a small piece of

tissue, which is implanted by a technician. These technologists

then supervise the process so that the oyster produces the best

pearl possible by ensuring it has the food it requires and that

the water temperature remains constant and free of pollutants.

Because there are a larger number of cultured pearls available

than natural pearls, it is easier to match pearls that are much

the same size and shape. So a necklace of cultured pearls will

be more even in shape and colour than one made up of natural


Imitation Pearls are exactly that

They are not real pearls. Both natural and cultured pearls are

produced by an oyster, however imitation pearls are manmade.

A round glass or plastic bead is simply coated in a pearly

substance. The best way to tell if a pearl is imitation or not is

to place it directly alongside a real one and compare the lustre.

The real pearl will have a depth of lustre that the imitation

cannot match. An imitation pearl generally will have a surface

shine but no inner glow. Also look in the shaded area, in

the real pearl you will see a clearly defined reflection, in the

imitation pearl you won’t.

Your Guide to

the Perfect Pearl

Whether a pearl is natural or cultured, there are five factors that

need to be looked at to determine its quality.

Lustre and Orient - A pearl’s ability to reflect and

refract light (lustre) creates an underlying play of colours within

the pearl (orient) which gives a pearl its unique inner glow.

The higher the lustre and orient the finer the pearl. The best

way to judge the lustre and the orient is to see how bright the

“reflections” are from the surface of the pearl (lustre), and to

see how the strong the “rainbow colours” are surrounding the

reflection (orient).

Colour - Colour is another important factor when

determining value. There are two elements when considering

colour: body colour and overtone. The ‘body colour’ refers to

the basic colour; white, yellow or black. The ‘overtone’ refers

to the slight tint that may be present. Very white pearls with

a rose-coloured tint are the rarest and most expensive. The

creamier the colour becomes the less costly they are. Cultured

pearls are available in many colours including gray,black, pink,

blue and gold.

Size - As it is more difficult for oysters to grow large pearls,

large pearls are more scarce and therefore more expensive.

However two pearls of the same size may be valued differently

because one may have a higher degree of lustre and orient than

the other.

Blemishes - How clean a pearl is depends on how free it

is from surface imperfections. Small blisters, spots and cracks

can all diminish a pearl’s worth. The cleaner the surface, the


Shape - The more symmetrical the shape, the more valuable

the pearl. Perfectly round pearls are extremely rare however

nicely proportioned round, oval and tear shaped pearls are all

highly valued. Irregularly shaped (baroque) pearls are less costly

but their unusual shape can make for quite a dramatic look.

Types of Pearls

Akoya - Grown in pearl saltwater oysters off

the coast of Japan and are one of the most familiar

types of cultured pearls. They have a lovely orient

and warm colour and rarely reach more than 9mm

in size.

Mabe - Large half-round cultured pearls that grow

against the inside shells of oysters rather than within

the body. Because of their hemispherical shape are

less expensive than regular round cultured pearls.

They are usually mounted in earrings, rings and


Freshwater - These are pearls that are cultivated in

mussels rather than oysters and are found in freshwater lakes

and rivers. Generally they have an elongated shape and a milky

translucent appearance.

Keshi - Small, irregular shaped seedless pearls that form

naturally in many cultured pearl oysters.

Freshwater Saltwater Akoya South Sea Tahitian

South Sea Pearls

Australian - Rare and valuable large cultured pearls

(10mm and larger) grown in the warm waters off the

Australian coast. Found in a variety of colours including white,

silver, gold, and rose.

Indonesian - Large cultured pearls (8mm and larger)

slightly smaller and creamier than their Australian counterparts.

Tahitian - Large gray to black cultured pearls (typically

8mm – 14mm) with overtones of reds, blues and greens.

How to care

for your Pearls

Cultured pearls are precious gems and need to be

treated as such.

• When storing them in a purse or jewel box place them in

a soft gem bag or wrap them in a silk cloth to protect

them from being scratched by harder stones, metal edges

or other jewellery.

• Don’t wear pearls in the shower, in the swimming pool

or while playing sport.

• Put your pearls on after you have applied your cosmetics,

hairspray and perfume.

• To help prevent discolouration wipe them frequently with

a damp, clean cloth.

• Never clean pearls with a harsh detergent or jewellery

cleaner. A drop of mild detergent in warm water should

be all you need.

• Restring pearl necklaces at least

once every two years to keep your

jewellery looking its best and

to keep your pearls secure.

• For further information, visit your

local Showcase Jeweller.

showcasejewellers.com.au | showcasejewellers.co.nz

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