Pearls have long been considered a symbol of purity, virtue, and even religious faith. Pearl jewellery has been worn for thousands of years throughout the world, and continues to be a classic, timeless look. Their symbolism and elegant style have also made pearls a popular choice for brides and bridal parties.
Natural Pearls and Cultured Pearls
Pearls are harvested from the shells of mollusks–ideally round and smooth, with an iridescent surface and unique lustre. However, natural pearls come in a variety of shapes and colours, and are extremely rare, with a gemstone-quality pearl found in only one of hundreds or thousands of shellfish.
Cultured pearls were introduced early in the 20th century, making pearl jewellery more affordable and accessible. It was discovered that upon ‘seeding’ a mollusk with a sphere of material, the clam would then coat the irritant with nacre, ultimately creating a natural-looking pearl.
Today, most pearl jewellery is made from cultured pearls, which are farmed widely in China, Japan, Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Pearls come in many natural colours, can also be dyed to attain practically any colour.
Shopping for Pearls
Cultured pearls are valued based on:
- Lustre—the greater the sheen and shimmer of colours, the more prized the pearl.
- Shape—typically, spherical pearls are the most sought after–and therefore most valuable–but variations are acceptable, as long as the pearls are symmetrical.
- Size—the larger a pearl, the higher the worth.
- Colour—as there are many types of mollusks, they each produce different colours and lustres. Akoya, Cortez, Mabe, South Sea and Tahitian pearls are among the most popular varieties. Look for pearls in white, pink, gold, grey, silver, and black with green or peacock undertones.
Caring for Pearls
Pearls are soft, delicate, vulnerable to vinegar and acid damage, and easily chipped or scratched by rough handling. Be sure to put pearls on after applying makeup and perfume, and avoid overly physical activities while you have them on. Store your pearls separately in a soft pouch or box, and keep them clean by wiping them off gently with a soft cloth–do not use commercial cleaners or ultrasonic cleaners. Have a trusted jeweller check your pearls occasionally, as they may eventually require re-stringing.