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Pearls are one of the most intriguing of all gems; however, they are also one of the most misunderstood.

A natural pearl forms when an irritant works its way into an oyster, mussel or clam. As a defense mechanism, the mollusk secretes a fluid to coat the irritant. Layer upon layer of this coating, called the nacre, is deposited on the irritant until a lustrous pearl is formed.

What is a Cultured Pearl?
Nearly all pearls on the market are "cultured" pearls, where a relatively large bead is placed in the body of the host oyster (cultured saltwater pearls - Akoya and South Sea) or a small piece of tissue from a fresh water mussel is inserted into another mussel to stimulate pearl formation.

Are Cultured Pearls and simulated pearls the same thing?
No. Cultured Pearls form over time inside the oyster or mussel in their natural environment. Simulated, imitation and "faux" pearls are man-made from a variety of products.

What makes some Cultured Pearls more expensive than others?

Because Cultured Pearls are organic gemstones formed by nature no two pearls are exactly alike. A variety of factors go into determining the quality and price of pearl jewelry.

Pearls are classified by Origin (cultured Japanese Akoya salt-water, South Sea cultured, and freshwater cultured), then graded by size, shape, nacre thickness, color, luster, surface clarity and matching (uniformity of color, luster, shape and graduation).

These qualities are not considered equal. Some factors will be weighted to give them more influence in arriving at a final grade. A very thin nacre thickness, for example, could never yield a fine quality pearl.

Grading Pearls

Size: A large pearl can be produced only by a mollusk large enough to hold it. Thus, the pearl farmer has a significant investment in raising the mollusk before it can even be nucleated. Because of this, size is a significant factor in valuing pearls.

Shape: This refers to the roundness or symmetry of the pearl. Round pearls are the rarest and most highly prized. Even though they start with a round bead, the action of the mollusk and movement of the water usually cause the pearl to become a shape other than perfectly round.

  • Round - Rated as Round-in-all, Mostly Round, Slightly Off-Round, Off-Round and Semi-Baroque. Some are called potato, rice, or button shaped. (Baroque pearls are considered a separate category.)
  • Drop - a pear- or teardrop shaped pearl. The more symmetrical, the higher the quality.
  • Baroque - pearls with a pleasingly organic shape, without ‘tags’ or sharp tails.

Nacre Thickness: Nacre is the single most important factor in the beauty and durability of the pearl. If you can see the bead through the nacre, or if it is cracked or peeling or has chalky-looking patches, it is a very low grade pearl.

Luster: The brightness, or reflectivity of the pearl. The very top pearls have a metallic luster, while fine pearls have a sub-metallic luster but still reflect objects sharply on the surface.

Color: Body color - the base color of the pearl. White and silver-white are the preferred colors, with grays and cream colors being less desired. However, color is a personal preference and should be chosen to complement skin tone. Overtone - one or more colors that may (or may not) overlay the body color.Pink overtones are preferred.

Surface blemishes, or texture: refers to blemishes or spotting on the surface of the pearl. They are graded by their size, type, number, location and visibility.

Pearl Care

Protect pearls from chemicals and abrasion.

Pearls are very soft, and are easily damaged by other jewelry. Keep pearls in their own soft case or bag, and wait to put them on until your hair, make-up and perfume have all been applied. After wearing them against the skin, wipe pearls gently with a very soft, damp cloth.

Cleaning Pearls
After you wear pearls, just wipe them off with a soft cloth or chamois, which may be dry or damp. You can even use a drop of olive oil on the cloth to help maintain their luster. Be careful using non-pearl jewelry cleaner or soap. Some liquid soaps, such as Dawn, can damage pearls.

After washing your pearls, lay them flat in a moist kitchen towel to dry. When the towel is dry, your pearls should be dry.

As pearls seem to benefit from exposure to the light, remember to wear them often!

Pearls are very soft and need special care. They never should be tossed on top of or next to other gems in a jewelry box. Store them in a jewelry pouch. Some women's skin are more acid than others.

  • Only use jewelry cleaners labeled as safe for pearls.
  • Never use an ultrasonic cleaner.
  • Never use (or expose pearls) to dish or wash detergents, bleaches, powdered cleansers, baking soda, or ammonia-based cleaners (like Windex).
  • Never use toothbrushes, scouring pads or abrasive materials to clean pearls.
  • Do not wear pearls when their string is wet. Wet strings stretch and attract dirt, which is hard to remove.
  • Do not hang pearls to dry.
  • Take your pearls off when applying cosmetics, hair spray, and perfume, or when showering or swimming.
  • Avoid wearing pearls with rough fabrics like Shetland wool.
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