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Pearl Information
Post On:2013-09-23 15:09:55

Pearl History

Since ancient times, the pearl has been a symbol of unblemished perfection. The Romans and Egyptians prized pearls and used them as decorative items as far back as the 5th century BC. Chinese records mention them even earlier. It is the oldest known gem, and for centuries it was considered the most valuable. A fragment of the oldest known pearl jewelry, found in the sarcophagus of a Persian princess who died in 520 BC, is displayed in the Louvre. To the ancients Romans, pearls were thought to be the frozen tears of oysters or the gods; therefore, only persons above a certain rank were allowed to wear pearl jewelry. Greeks believe the pearls were formed when lightning struck at sea. During the Dark Ages, nobility cherished pearl necklaces whereas knights often wore pearls into battle because they believed the magic of pearls would protect them from harm. Most European countries in the 13th and 14th centuries had laws regarding who could and could not wear pearls. Teachers and lawyers, for example, could not wear fringes or chains with pearls. Until the early 1900's, natural pearls were accessible only to the rich or famous due to their rarity. In fact, jeweler Jacques Cartier bought his landmark store on New York's Fifth Avenue in 1917 by trading a magnificent double strand pearl necklace for the mansion.
 
The culturing of pearls in China is documented from the 5th century, where the Chinese attached objects to the inside surface of a pearl-producing mollusk thus creating blister pearls. However, the culturing of unattached pearls was not considered commercially successful until Kokichi Mikimoto created a market for Akoya cultured pearls in the 1920's. Previously, cultured pearls had been created but not sold to or accepted by the general public. Initially, the market was not accepting of cultured pearls because there was no method to differentiate between inexpensive cultured pearls and the expensive natural pearls. To protect the high price of natural pearls, the European pearl syndicate sued Mikimoto, filing that his pearls were “fakes". Based on the testimony of several prominent scientists, Mikimoto's pearls were deemed genuine. Mikimoto continued to promote his cultured pearls to gain acceptance and became well-known for his excellent quality pearls.
 
Today, cultured pearls are fully accepted, and few consumers know that natural pearls exist. The culturing process has effectively modified the concept of the perfect pearl. The ideal cultured pearl is round, a shape that rarely occurs in nature. Even the most spherical natural pearls may be off-round, historically described as hazelnuts or filberts. The irony is that the standard for cultured pearls is now perfectly round.
 
Before diamonds were given as engagement rings, pearls were the most popular wedding presents in the 19th century and an essential part of wedding apparel. The diamond's modern reign began around 1870, when DeBeers Consolidated Mines, Inc. gained control of the majority of the world's diamonds mines and regulated diamond supply to bolster demand.  Harry Oppenheimer, son of the DeBeers founder, teamed up with advertising mogul Gerold Lauck in 1939 to start a new advertising campaign.  This campaign established the engagement ring's importance and the diamond as the standard for engagement rings. Pearls continue to be considered ideal wedding gifts or adornment for the bride because they symbolize purity and modesty.
 

Pearl types

Although almost most people know that oysters make pearls, a common misconception is that the next plate of oysters might contain a gem. Edible oysters do in fact sometimes create pearls made of calcium carbonate, similar chemically to commercially cultured pearls, but these pearls may crack your tooth. However, these pearls do not contain nacre so they resemble small white marbles. Oysters and freshwater mussels, the animals that create pearls, are all from the phylum Mollusca or mollusks. A mollusk is defined by a specialized tissue called the mantle, which is the thin tissue membrane that attaches a mollusk to its inner shell. Mollusks live in saltwater, freshwater, and even land. They include snails, slugs, clams, mussels, scallops, oysters, octupus, squid, chitons, and more. On the other hand, most pearl-producing mollusks are edible but not tasty.
 
When a foreign particle (usually microscopic parasites), lodges itself between the mollusk shell and mantle, a natural pearl is created. If the particle is small or flat, the particle becomes a blister pearl or part of the shell. The shell simply secretes more nacre to cover the particle that is attached to the shell. If a larger particle enters the mollusk or the mantle tissue curves around the particle, this pocket becomes a pearl sack that secretes nacre to cover the particle ?which is now the nucleus. Since natural pearls are rare, pearl farmers create a pearl by inserting a piece of mantle tissue and, in saltwater mollusks, a round bead made from a freshwater mollusk shell. For a freshwater mollusk, the pieces of mantle tissue are used as nuclei alone.
 
All real pearls should first be classified as natural or cultural pearls. Nearly all pearls in jewelry or department stores are cultured pearls. Dahlia is one of the few that carries natural pearls in our vintage line. These pearls are relatively small or approximately 2mm. Roughly one in 10,000 uncultivated oysters will yield a pearl, but 90% of these pearls are below 1.75 mm and only 0.5% of these natural pearls are larger than 6 mm. Natural pearls are so rare that they are typically sold at auctions like Sotheby's or Christie's for thousands of dollars if they are larger than 6 mm. Natural pearls are difficult to find on the market, and the cultured pearls of today rival the finest natural pearls of the past. After a pearl has been classified as natural or cultured, it may also be classified from either in saltwater or freshwater. Saltwater pearls are grown in oysters that inhabit ocean and seas. Freshwater pearls are grown in mussels that inhabit lakes, rivers, and non-salt environments.
 
Imitation pearls are man made by mechanical processes and do not have any real value. Better imitation pearls are made from beads of glass or shell, coated with a varnish generally made of lacquer and ground fish scales to simulate the iridescence and color of a pearl. Imitation pearls may be called "fashion, faux, simulated, organic, man-made, or Majorica®" pearls. Pearl experts may be able to distinguish between imitation and real pearls by sight alone. However, it may be difficult for the average consumer to distinguish between a natural or cultured pearl from a good imitation by sight. An easy way to tell the difference is the "tooth" test. An imitation pearl slowly rubbed across the front teeth will feel smooth whereas a natural or cultured pearl will feel a little gritty. The texture of a real pearl is from the crystalline structure of nacre.
 
There are many mollusks that grow pearls, however, the most popular commercial pearls of today are Akoya, Freshwater, South Sea and Tahitian.

Freshwater

Approximately 350 species of freshwater pearl mussels can produce pearls. However, the most common freshwater mussel is Hyriopsis cumingii: Freshwater mollusks are grown in the waters of Japan or China. These pearls generally range in size from 2 mm to 18 mm and range in color from white, cream, gold, silver, pink, rose, lavender, plum, tangerine, and mocha shades.

Saltwater

Although 70 species of oysters can produce pearls, most of them belong to the Pinctada family. Below are the three most common oyster types.
  • Pinctada fucata or Pinctada martensi: Akoya cultured pearls-producing saltwater mollusks grown in the cooler waters of Japan or China. Akoya pearls generally range in size from 2 mm to 10 mm and range in color from white, rose, or cream shades.
  • Pinctada maxima: The world's largest pearl oysters found in the waters around Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Japan. Colors include silver-white, pink, cream, and gold. These oysters, also called Silver or Golden-lipped pearl oysters, grow in excess of 12 inches in length and can produce a wide range of South Sea cultured pearls in sizes from 8 mm to over 22 mm;
  • Pinctada margaritifera: Saltwater mollusks grown in French Polynesia that produce Tahitian or “black cultured pearls. Considered as adult at 3 years old, it has a diameter of 10 to 18 cm large. Some of these Black-lipped oysters can weigh up to 5 kg (11 lbs.), live 30 years and reach 30 cm (12 inches) in diameter.
Name
Species
Type
Size
Colors
Origin
Akoya
Pinctada fucata
Saltwater
2 - 10mm
White body color with overtones of cream, gold, silver, green, blue, and rose
Japan & China
South Sea
Pinctada maxima
Saltwater
8 - 22mm
Silver-white, pink, cream, and gold
Australia, Myanmar, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, and more.
Freshwater
Hyriopsis cumingii
Freshwater
2 - 18mm
White, cream, gold, silver, pink, rose, lavender, plum, tangerine, and mocha
China, Japan, America, Thailand, Vietnam, India, and more.
Tahitian
Pinctada margaritifera
Saltwater
10 - 18mm
Grey, black, green & purple
French Polynesia
 

Pearls Quality Factors

A pearl may be judged by seven factors. Luster is perhaps the most important indicator in evaluating cultured pearl quality. Other important factors include nacre thickness, surface, shape, size, color, and weight. As a general rule, the overall balance is more important than any single attribute, and it may be helpful to keep this in mind as you read on.

Luster

Luster can be considered the radiance or glow of a pearl and is determined by the quality of the nacre coating. Thicker nacre increases the quality and durability of a pearl as well as its luster, but thicker nacre requires a long cultivation period. High luster pearls reflect objects almost like a mirror with high contrast between the light and dark areas. If the luster is good, your reflection will be visible in the pearl's surface. The clearer the reflection is, the higher the quality of the luster. Low luster pearls have poor reflective qualities and appear dull or chalky. Dahlia only carries pearls of medium to excellent luster. With all other factors such as surface, shape, color and size being the same, a medium luster 7mm pearl will cost about 30% more than a low luster pearl of the same size. A pearl with high luster will often be priced about 60 - 70% higher than a cultured pearl with low luster.
Luster
A
 Excellent, sharp reflection
B
 High, clear reflection
C
 Medium, vague reflection
D
 Low, indistinct reflection

Nacre Thickness

Nacre is the crystalline substance secreted by a mollusk to form a pearl. Thicker nacre translates into a more durable pearl. Natural pearls are all nacre, whereas most cultured pearls have a bead nucleus in the center. Due to rising production costs, there is a tendency to harvest pearls before a sufficient nacre coating has developed. For example, an Akoya 7mm pearl has an average coating only 0.4mm thick (11.4% of the diameter), and an Australian South Sea 15mm pearl has about 4mm nacre (53.3%) coating. Dahlia pearls, like natural pearls, are PURE nacre, due to a special nucleation process. Our pearls take 2.5 - 5 years to cultivate to reach 5 to 10mm. Akoya pearls typically grow for 6 months to 2 years before harvest.

Surface

The surface of a pearl may range from clean to very blemish. The visibility of surface imperfections may decrease the value of a pearl by 30 - 70%. Clean pearls have virtually no flaws, and these pearls are the most valuable and rare. Blemished pearls may contain bumps, abrasions, and spots. Inferior pearls may contain damaging blemishes. Damaging blemishes such as "cracks" and "chips," often near a pearl's drill holes, are blemishes that may become larger.
Surface
S
No blemishes can be found unless under magnification
S1
Very minor blemishes visible with the naked eye
S2
A few blemishes visible with the naked eye
S3
Minor bumps, pits, & light circles visible with the naked eye
S4
Surface may have bumps, pits or circles

Shape

Most common cultured pearl shapes are round, nearly-round, off-round, drop, oval, button, and baroque. Baroques are an infinite variety of shapes. The closer a pearl is to a perfectly round or drop shape, the greater its value. Round pearls represent only 3% of the entire harvest, near round pearls about 5%, and oval pearls approximately 15%. Dahlia only uses the top 20% of the harvest. The remaining pearls not suitable for fine jewelry are sold for scrap - ingredients in wine, medicine, and cosmetics.

Size

The diameter of a pearl is measured in millimeters (mm). Dahlia cultured pearls range in size from 2-18 mm while natural pearls range from 0.5-2 mm. When all other factors are equal, a larger cultured pearl is worth more than a smaller one. In fact, the value of a cultured pearl may double for every 0.5mm diameter increase.

 

Pearl Colors

Natural pearl colors

Although most people are used to seeing white pearls, pearls are actually available in a natural rainbow of colors. The primary determinant of pearl color is the species of mollusks that produce them. For cultured pearls implanted with a bead to begin the nacre producing process, the color of pearl may also depend on the color of the bead as well as the origin of the tissue inserted with the bead. The color of the bead may show through the layers of nacre, thereby influencing the color of the pearl. Because the implanted tissue secretes nacre, the tissue origin also affects the color of the pearl. For example, if the tissue is from a region that secreted black nacre, the pearl created will also be black. Last, trace elements present in the water, such as iron, magnesium, or aluminum, may also affect the pearl color.
Variety
Type
Implant
Natural colors
Akoya
Saltwater
Bead + Tissue
White body color with overtones of cream, gold, silver, green, blue, and rose
South Sea
Saltwater
Bead + Tissue
Silver-white, pink, cream, and gold
Freshwater
Freshwater
Tissue/ Implant + Tissue
White, cream, gold, silver, pink, rose, lavender, plum, tangerine, and mocha
Tahitian
Saltwater
Bead + Tissue
Grey, black, green & purple
Each pearl is a complex layering of color. The body color is defined as the dominant overall color of a pearl. The overtone, or secondary color, may be one or more translucent colors that appear over a pearl's body color. To observe the overtone in a white pearl, place the pearl on a white background under direct light. The outside ring of the pearl will reflect the white background, but the overtone will appear in the dark area in the middle area of the pearl. For dark pearls, the overtones will appear in the lighter areas of the pearl when placed under light.

Color preference

Color does not affect the quality of a pearl, but it may affect the perceived beauty of the pearl according to individual preferences. At Dahlia, we occasionally offer rare colors that may be available on a limited basis. Extremely rare colors may be priced higher, and unusual pearl colors such as blue may be auctioned at Sotheby's or Christie's. Some colors are more popular than others in particular markets. For example, white pearls are the most popular in America, while silver colors are more sought after in Asia.

Dyed pearl colors

Some pearls are the market may be dyed, and according to the Federal Trade Commission, manufacturers are required to disclose this information to the customer. However, many manufacturers fail to disclose this information. Dyeing is typically applied after drilling, and frequently leaves color concentrations in cracks, fissures, and drill holes. These dye residues can be difficult to see, particularly in strung pearls, so detection requires careful visual examination under magnification. Dyeing typically changes the color of conchiolin permanently and renders the pearls virtually indistinguishable from natural or cultured colors if processed correctly. High quality pearls that are dyed or color treated will not fade over time. A dyed pearl can usually be detected by examining the drill hole to look for an uneven concentration of color. Size is a good gauge to tell if a black pearl is a natural color because most cultured blacks are 9 mm or larger, whereas blackened Akoya or Freshwater pearls rarely exceed 9 mm.

Matching colors

At Dahlia, each jewelry set, comprised of a combination of a pendant, necklace, bracelet and/or pair of earrings, is hand selected for consistent color within the set. But if, for example, you purchase a necklace and subsequently a bracelet of the same color, the color may be slightly different from item to item, as pearls naturally exhibit color variation.

Online colors

Colors on our website are shown as representations and are only as accurate as your computer monitor can produce. The display of colors will vary depending upon your system settings.
 
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