All About Pearls Tutorial
This is a tutorial about pearls. It gives detailed information all about pearls and is excellent for those wishing to buy pearls or even sell them. For any activity regarding pearls, it is essential to have some understanding about pearls, where they come from, what types there are and how they should be treated.
What is a Pearl
A pearl is a calcium carbonate deposit which a mollusk or shellfish such as an oyster, creates as a reaction to an irritant contained within its shell. The mollusk cannot remove the irritant, which might be a grain of sand or some other hard substance, so it will coat it with something it feels more comfortable with. The deposit is combined with a substance called conchiolin and this then becomes nacre. This is what is known to us as Mother of Pearl.
Pearls are highly prized for their beauty and iridescence and some can be extremely valuable. It is quite common for pearls to pass down from one generation to the next and these pearls should be carefully looked after and cared for.
Pearls are usually white but sometimes have a tint of pink, yellow, green or blue. One can also find black pearls, referred to as the Tahitian Pearl and these are quite rare so more highly prized.
Types of Pearls
There are two categories of pearls, Freshwater and Saltwater. Within these categories are four types of pearls, and various categories of these. Each is unique with the own color, shape and size.
The four types are:
Akoya, South Sea and Tahitian. The saltwater variety .
The freshwater tend to be the cultivated pearls. They are also known as Biwa Pearls, as they originally came from lake Biwa in Japan but are now mostly available produced in China.
A well equipped gem testing laboratory is able to separate natural pearls from their cultured pearls, non-nucleated cultured pearls and imitation 'pearls' counterparts. The separation between a natural pearl or cultured pearl is almost impossible without a bona-fide gemological X-ray certificate. Also pearls in cultivated areas have a different structure to natural pearls.
The Akoya pearls tend to be the most popular as they are very uniform and are usually the same round shape and size so are ideal for necklaces. They are cultured from saltwater mollusks from Japan and China. Akoya pearls are popular for their luster and beauty. They do tend to be the most expensive however. Most cultured pearls do not have a certificate especially when set in jewelry so one needs to have some understanding and familiarity with pearls to ensure that the quality is acceptable.
An Akoya pearl is a pearl from the saltwater oyster, Akoya-gai or Pinctada martensii Also known as the Japanese Pearl. They are a speciality of the Japanese Pearl Farms so of course are a cultivated pearl. Akoya pearls were first produced by Kokichi Mikimoto who set out to perfect a technique of growing round pearls. He received a patent for this in 1916 but since then the technique has been improved upon so that it is used for fresh water as well as black Tahitian pearls. They are a high quality pearl and contain few blemishes and have a deep beautiful luster. They are also very much in demand as can be set with 18 karat gold jewelery and in strings due to the little difference between each pearl. They look similar to the fresh water pearl but on comparison it is easy to see that the Akoya are larger, more rounder and smoother and lustrous than the freshwater pearls. They are also more expensive.
South Sea Pearls
Southsea pearls are a larger pearl that come in a range of light colors. Southsea pearls are somewhat harder to cultivate and therefore tend to be more expensive.
Golden South Sea pearls are well known for their exceptional quality and beauty with their golden color. They are notably larger than the "average" pearls, and are stunningly smooth and round. They are likely the rarest and most extraordinary pearls to be found in jewelry.
Golden South Sea pearls come from the oyster pinctada maxima, which is a white-lipped type of mollusk. The oyster is larger than the oysters that produce Freshwater and Akoya pearls, and accounts for the larger size of South Sea pearls.
Actually, two varieties of the Pinctada maxima produce the South Sea pearls: the silver-lipped and the gold-lipped. The colour of the outer edge of their interior distinguishes the one from the other. Their shell, also called mother-of-pearl is responsible for the tint of the cultured pearls produced.
Due to the rarity and sensitivity of the pinctada maxima, the farming of South Sea pearls requires a lot of exact work and the pearls tend to be more expensive than other types of pearls.
When it comes to South Sea pearls, the larger they are, the more valuable they are. Golden South Sea Pearl cultivators hope for frequent harvests of very large pearls in perfectly round shapes. However, the formation of South Sea pearls, just like other kinds of pearls, is unpredictable, and the slightest environmental change can produce changes in shape, or blemishes, or even no pearl at all
Hence the perfectly round or spherical golden South Sea pearl is considered the most valuable.
The three most common South Sea pearl shapes are round, semi-round, and button.
Round. These pearls are perfectly round, and when they're measured with a caliper, the variation in the circumference is less than 2 percent.
Semi-Round. A pearl that appears to be round to the eye, but when measured with a caliper, the variation in the circumference is 2 percent or more.
Button. This type of pearl has a variation in circumference of about 20%. Within this style, there are also "tall buttons" which are button pearls that appear round.
South Sea pearls are only grown in tropical and semi-tropical regions called the South Seas, usually in the areas around the coast of Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. They are cultured, saltwater pearls available in shades of white, silver and gold.
The Tahitian pearl is a black pearl and is created in a special black-lipped oyster found in the French Polynesian waters. It is known as the "Pinctada Margaritifera", or black-lip mother-of-pearl. This mollusk secretes a black pigment and it is this pigment which gives the pearl it's characteristic black look. Sometimes the pigment is not so black and so you get lighter tinted pearls as well.
Tahitian black pearls, also called South Sea Pearls get their unique luster from the grayish black nacre of the oyster shell.
Tahitian pearls are cultured in pearl farms in the lagoons of the Tuamotu-Gambier Archipelago, a group of islands in French Polynesia.
It is a very long process to grow pearls so it must be carefully and skillfully done. An oyster which has been poorly seeded can result in a poor quality or even no pearl after 2 or 3 years work so it is vitally important that the seeding is done correctly first time. Top quality pearl seeders therefore are among some of the highest paid people in the world. Many commanding over a million dollars a year.
Each pearl is created by the seeder placing within the oyster a very tiny amount of crushed freshwater clam with a mantle of oyster flesh from another oyster. The oyster objects to that and then proceeds to coat the irritation with multiple layers of nacre and this is what creates the pearl. The black is obtained from a substance secreted by the oyster during the coating.
The Tahitian pearl is naturally cultured and not a total product of nature. Strictly speaking, natural pearls are those created without any human intervention, as officially defined by the International Confederation of Jewelry, Silverware, Diamonds, Pearls and Stones (CIBJO).
Tahitian pearls are not tinted. They are always all 100 percent natural. The pearl can be jet black, various shades of grey as well as bronze, greenish and even purplish.
How much should you pay for a Tahitian Pearl? You can pay as little as $100 for a small pearl of average quality or up to $10,000 for a round pearl of perfect quality with a diameter of 18mm or so.
In the right setting a Tahitian pearl will look wonderful and have a deep shine hard to duplicate artificially.
Once pearls, being natural only, were the prerogative of the very wealthy. Now, with the advent of the cultured variety, most people can enjoy having pearls.
Cultured pearls are made by artificially inserting a small bead or other foreign substance into an oyster who promptly start to cover it with nacre. It is this continuous covering for 3 to 5 years which produces the pearl.
It is based upon the oysters natural resistance to any foreign substance entering its living space which is to cover the foreign matter with a protective substance to the pearl.
The cultivation of pearls in this matter was introduced and patented by Kokichi Mikimoto in 1916. (see section on Mikimoto Pearls below)
It is ironic now that the quality of cultivated pearls rivals, if not surpasses that of the natural oyster and the Chinese are now the past maters of the art of pearl cultivation.
The Japanese were the leaders in pearl cultivation for many years but the Chinese were the first to introduce it to fresh water mussels as distinct from the salt water oyster.
Natural freshwater pearls occur in mussels for the same reason that saltwater pearls occur in oysters. A foreign material, usually a sharp object or parasite, enters a mussel and cannot be expelled. To reduce the irritation caused by the sharp object, the mollusk coats the intruder with the same secretion it uses for shell-building, nacre.
To culture freshwater mussels, workers slightly open their shells, cut small slits into the mantle tissue inside both shells, and insert small pieces of live mantle tissue from another mussel into those slits. In freshwater mussels that insertion alone is sufficient to start nacre production. Most cultured freshwater pearls are composed entirely of nacre, just like their natural freshwater and natural saltwater counterparts.
As well as the Chinese and Japanese cultured pearls there are also the South Pacific black pearls and other colors now available to suit the many tastes and preferences.
Many qualities are also available from simple small pearls to very expensive black or rose pearls of high quality and luster.
Cultivating cultured pearls have placed pearls within reach of most people now.
Mikimoto pearls are often referred to as 'Hanadama' or Flower pearls. This indicates the finest quality of pearls which Mikimoto is considered to be. The important factors that denote beauty in a pearl are color, shape, smoothness and also luster. As is nacre thickness or the thickness of the layers of nacre which the oyster puts around the irritant that then makes the pearl.
Kokichi Mikimoto, considered the father of the cultured pearl once said, "I would like to adorn the necks of all the women of the world with pearls". And with the perfectly round cultured pearl this dream has come a little closer to reality with the name Mikimoto becoming famous around the world. Mikimoto pearls are, rightly, among the most expensive and are now available in Mikimoto and other outlets around the world.
It takes about 4 years to create a cultured pearl and many of the oysters die after the irritant is inserted, so do not produce an adequate pearl. Of the rest most of the pearls are of poor quality but the five percent that are the Hanadama pearls make up for all the labor, loss and time with their beautiful exquisite quality and luster.
Pearl farms, such as at Mikimoto island, in Japan, is where the breeding and raising of oysters occurs. The preparation and culturing process is maintained.
The temperature has to be just right and the oysters are moved around each year to ensure that the temperature is right for the harvesting.
Mikimoto pearls are considered the best in the world and if you manage to get some or even just one, enjoy it for the beauty it will give you.
Here are some physical characteristics of pearls:
The hardness: 2.5 - 4.5
S.G.: 2.70 (fresh-water up to 2.74)
Size: from microscopic to many centimeter diameter (rare)
Luster - typical pearly luster is termed "orient"
A variety of colors, depending upon the type of mollusk and the water composition (polluted water produces unusual colors!)
bodycolor: underlying color: white-yellow (cream), black
overtone: "float" (resembles a filmy lacquer): pink / green / blue
o ~ 86 % calcium carbonate (CaCO3)
o 2 - 4 % water
o ~ 10 % conchiolin (an organic binding agent)
Together, the conchiolin and CaCO3 are referred to as nacre.
Nacre consists of a series of alternating layers of conchiolin and crystals of CaCO3. The CaCO3 is in the crystal form known as aragonite. The typical iridescence of the pearl is due to the series of nacre layers. This is referred to as 'orient'(iridescent effect due to overlapping nacreous plates)
When buying pearls there are a number of important things to keep in mind. These are:
Luster is that glow of the pearl which emanates and which gives it's brilliance to the eye. The longer the pearl is in the oyster the bigger it may grow of course but also the deeper and the higher the luster. Placing an inferior and a superior pearl side by side it is very easy to tell the difference by the luster. Luster is the glow of the pearl and its brilliance to the human eye. The longer the pearl is left in the oyster to grow its nacre casing, the higher the luster. This is the sheen, the shine, the brilliance and the reflection of light on the surface of the pearl. The deeper and more nacre the pearl contains the deeper the surface luster and the more reflective qualities the pearl has. There is no mistaking a quality pearl with a high luster.
The surface condition is also important. the more markings and spots on the surface of the pearl the lower the quality and value. A good quality pearl should have little or no imperfections at all on the surface.
Round Shape Pearls
The best pearls are those that are perfectly round and perfectly round cultured pearls are the most rare. Although most cultured pearls are nearly round, only about 1% are perfectly spherical. You can tell if a pearl is perfectly round. By the way it rolls. If it veers to one side it is not perfectly round. The shape will be found by how much it veers to one side. If you get a row of pearls in a necklace say, roll the necklace on a flat smooth surface and see how it rolls. Any pearls not round will be immediately obvious.
Other shapes include, semi round, off round and drop pearls. There are also ringed, button, Stick, elongated (from fresh water oysters), angel-winged and some others.
Pearls are available in different natural colors, Color consistency also effects value and price of the pearls, as do current fashion trends and color demand conditions. It is important when assembling pearls for a necklace or piece of jewellery to pay special attention to assure that the color consistency of all the pearls on any given piece is the same.
Pearl diameter is measured in millimeters. Generally, the larger the pearl, the rarer and the more valuable it is. Pearls can range from 6mm to over 20 mm and more.
For pearl necklaces the overall look is very important, regardless of the quality of the individual pearls. The more uniform and aesthetically pleasing two or more pearls look together the more time was spent matching the pearls. This time to match pearls is reflected in the cost.
Because pearls are not cut or polished when removed from the oyster or mussel, certain sizes, qualities and colors may from time to time be in scarce supply. Overall health of pearl growing oysters and mussels effect pearl size, quality and availability.
Where to sell pearl necklaces is a question commonly asked and there are various places one can do so.
However, knowing the value of your pearls and what one should get for them is important. Perhaps even having a valuation or appraisal done would be a good move before you start advertising it is for sale. There are five main places to sell pearl jewelry.
Privately - to friends and relations
Through a newspaper - the classifieds
To a dealer or jeweler
By auction - both online or not
Privately is usually the best way. Probably the first place to sell is to friends and relations. They often are aware of your pearl necklace and may even have had an eye on it. If any are interested you would likely get a better price than if you sold to a dealer or through an auction. The buyer is usually someone you know and can trust and also who is interested in having the jewelry. Perhaps they have admired it from afar and would be delighted to have it. They will tend to pay the best price.
A dealer is safer but you are unlikely to get the best price. The dealer has to on sell the piece and he has to make his slice of the cake as does the wholesaler or other dealer he on sells it too. Rarely do they resell themselves. If you get more than a third of the value for the piece you would be very lucky.
An online auction is somewhat hit an miss. You might get a great price for it but, unless you put a reserve price on it and possibly not sell it at all, you may sell it for much less than it is worth.As with any auction of this type ensure you know or can establish who the buyer is. The brilliant feedback system employed by eBay is excellent and gives you some way of establishing the authenticity of the buyer.
For a good piece however a physical auction, such as Sotheby's for example, is a good start as they will advise you of the value and possible price it may fetch. You can also put it in with other jewelry and be assured of prospects being there that are looking for such items. Less of a hit and miss affair.
Although you would expect to get the best price, with the classifieds the main difficulty there is that you do not know with whom you are dealing so, in fact, a poor place to try and sell any jewelery is through the newspaper. It costs money to advertise and you would need to establish the authenticity of the buying. Something not always easy to do. The only way to sell through the classifieds is with cash on the nail. No checks or other instruments. If you are aware of the value of a piece then an exchange is possible.
The worse place of all is the pawn shop. If your lucky you will get perhaps ten percent of the value of the piece so this is only a place to go if one is in dire desperation.
Selling privately is the best option usually. The either a dealer or a physical auction as a second alternative.
Before one sells any pearl jewelry however, it is a good idea to find out the value and even get a certificate of appraisal from an independent gemological laboratory if the piece is very valuable.
The value of any pearl is determined by a number of factors. These are color, luster, size, the lack of surface flaws and of course symmetry. Luster is considered the most important of these and a good luster can add to the value of the pearl.
Of course the larger the pearl the better and these obviously cost more as they have taken longer to make by the oyster and are much rarer than the standard pearl.
The shape of the pearl can determine how it is used. Pear shaped pearls tend to be used for pendants and earrings and the round smooth for necklaces where possible although these are the most rare of pearls.
When buying a pearl or pearl jewelery find out if the pearl is a cultivated one. In general, cultivated pearls are less valuable than natural pearls, and imitation pearls are the least expensive. One way that jewelers can determine whether a pearl is cultivated or natural is by x-raying the pearl.
If the grit in the centre of the pearl is a perfect sphere, then the jeweller knows it is cultivated. This is because when the cultivators insert the grit, (usually a polished piece of mussel shell), it is always perfectly round, so as to produce a more expensive, perfectly round pearl. If the centre is not perfectly round, the jeweller recognizes that it is genuine, and gives it a higher value. Imitation pearls are much easier to identify by jewelers. Some imitation pearls are simply made of mother-of-pearl, coral or conch, while others are made from glass and are coated with a solution containing fish scales called essence d'Orient. Although imitation pearls look the part, they do not have the same weight or smoothness as real pearls, and their luster will also dim greatly.
Always get a certificate with the pearl to state its value. This is important not just for insurance purposes or if you decide to sell at sometime in the future but also for any possibility that the description is found to be incorrect and you can then demand a refund.
There is also a unique way of naming pearl necklaces. While most other necklaces are simply referred to by their physical measurement, strings of pearls have their own set of names that characterize the pearls based on where they hang when worn around the neck. A collar will sit directly against the throat and not hang down the neck at all, they are often made up of multiple strands of pearls. Pearl chokers nestle just at the base of the neck. The size called a princess comes down to or just below the collarbone. A matinee of pearls falls just above the breasts. An opera will be long enough to reach the breastbone or sternum of the wearer, and longer still, a pearl rope is any length that falls down farther than an opera.
Necklaces can also be classified as uniform, where all the pearls are the same size, graduated, where the pearls are arranged in size from large in the centre to smaller at the ends, or tin cup, where pearls are generally the same size, but separated by lengths of chain.
Looking After Pearls
Taking care of your pearls is very important. Pearls are produced by living organisms and are sensitive to chemicals and body fluids. Pearls contain proteins and water and should not be allowed to dry out.
Some pearls are sensitive to a ladies skin and the moisture from the skin. The skin produces an acid which, over time can wear away the nacre and cause the pearl to go barrel shaped. This means they should be cleared each time they are removed and you have finished wearing them.
Here are some things not to do when cleaning your pearls.
Never use acids or chemicals when cleaning your pearls. Not even detergents which can contain abrasives. Do not use any commercial jewelery cleaners, They may be fine for gemstones but they are not for pearls which are much softer. Some of these cleaners contain ammonia and this will cause deterioration of your pearl. Do not use an ultrasonic cleaner. It may cause damage to the pearl. Also keep away from steam cleaning. It generates too much heat and that can damage pearls too.
You can clean your pearls with a wipe from a damp soft cloth to clean them and keep them moist is all that is required. You can immerse them in salt water for a short period also as that helps to keep the pearls natural looking and moist. They should be wiped each time you remove them as that will prevent dirt from accumulating on them. To dry them simply lay them on a soft dry cloth until they dry naturally.
You should take your pearls to a professional jeweler check the pearl settings or strings to ensure they are secure and have not deteriorated.
Pearls should not be stored in with other jewelery, particularly gemstones and sharp jewelery items. Pearls are easily scratched and that not only destroys the value but mars the aesthetic appearance also.
Provided you take care of your pearls and look after them there is no reason why you should not have pearls that last you a life time.
Here are some do's and don'ts for taking care of black pearls.
Tahitian black pearls are among the most expensive and so should be well looked after.
Washing in warm soapy water and not using any strong detergent or bleach is important. Rinsing well to get any residue out of the crevasses of the setting and then gently drying with a hair drier is the best option.
Always store pearls separate from other jewelry such as gems and diamonds. These can scratch the pearls and ruin the surface luster.
Provided on's Tahitian black pearls are well looked after they will last for many years and give a great deal of pleasure.
Pearls are made by a living thing. So they should be worn. The more you wear them the more it enhances their beauty. However you cannot wear them all the time of course so preserving them during the times you are not wearing them becomes important.
Pearls contain calcareous crystals which have a sensitivity to skin and various acids and chemicals. They also contain water and proteins and can dry out and crack of not preserved sensibly.
It is recommended that pearls are moistened from time to time in lightly salted water. To be avoided is such liquids as dishwashing liquid and acidic products such as lemon or other fruit substances. They should not be wrapped in cotton wool or other substance than generates heat as these will add to the risk of drying out and eventual cracking.
Some ladies skin is more acid than other. Pearls tend, when worn, to be on close contact with the skin for long periods of time. Usually at the neckline or shoulder line. The pearls can absorb acid from the skin and this acid can eat away into the pearl over time and it can lose it's luster and even become barrel shaped.
Cleaning Your Pearls
So when you put away your pearls for the night, make a habit of rinsing the pearls in water and dabbing them dry afterwards. One can even polish them with a very soft cloth containing a drop of olive oil.
It is very important to keep in mind that the softness of pearls and their susceptibility to acids and chemicals means that extra care needs to be taken.
Do not use commercial jewelry cleaners on pearls unless the product label states they are safe for pearls. Many such products contain ammonia, which will cause deterioration.
Never clean pearls in an ultrasonic cleaner. That can damage the pearls.
Never steam-clean pearls. Heat can harm them.
Never use detergents, bleaches, powdered cleansers, baking soda or ammonia-based cleaners on pearls.
Do not wear pearls when their string is wet. Wet strings stretch and attract dirt, which is hard to remove. Likewise, do not hang pearls to dry.
Do not use toothbrushes, scouring pads or abrasive materials to clean pearls. They can scratch the pearl's surface. If there is a lump of dirt that can't be rubbed off with a soft cloth, trying using a fingernail, which has a hardness of only 2.5 or less.
Cleaning pearls is actually quite easy. As soon as you take the pearls off just give them a wipe with a soft cloth or chamois, preferably just damp. This prevents perspiration and dirt from clinging to the pearls and acid from eating away at them.
When taking off a pearl ring, grasp the shank, or metal part, rather than the pearl. This will prevent the pearl from being loosened, also coming into contact with skin oil on your hand.
If pearls have not been kept clean and are very dirty, then they may be cleaned by your jeweler or alternatively, they can be washed in water and with a very a mild soap, such as Ivory or Lux Liquid. In this case make sure you thoroughly rinse the pearls afterwards and cleaned with a soft cloth. Do not use detergents or washing up liquids such as Dawn. These can damage pearls irreparably.
Always pay attention to the areas around the drill holes as this where dirt will tend to collect.
After washing your pearls, lay them flat in a moist kitchen towel to dry. When the towel is dry, your pearls should be dry.
About every six months have a jewelry professional verify that the pearls on your jewelry are securely mounted or that the string is still good. Many jewelers will do this free of charge, and they'll be happy to answer your questions about the care of your jewelry.
All About Pearls
I hope this short tutorial has helped you to understand pearls a bit more.
Quality natural pearls are very rare jewels. The actual value of a natural pearl is the same as other "precious" gems, and depends on size, shape and quality.
The value of the pearls in jewelry is determined by a combination of the luster, color, size, lack of surface flaw and symmetry that are appropriate for the type of pearl under consideration. Among those attributes, luster is the most important differentiator of pearl quality according to jewelers. All factors being equal, however, the larger the pearl the more valuable it is. Large, perfectly round pearls are rare and highly valued. Teardrop-shaped pearls are often used in pendants. Irregular shaped pearls are often used in necklaces.
So now you have some information all about pearls. How to buy pearls, how to sell them and, importantly, how to look after your pearls.