They say that pearls are a girls' best friend, and I tend to agree They make great accents to your beadwork and a single strand is a wardrobe must. But what's the difference between cultured, freshwater and glass pearls? Read here for more information on what goes in to making a pearl.
A pearl is created when an irritant enters an oyster that the oyster cannot expel. When this happens, the oyster begins to secrete a substance known as "nacre", which coats the offending material until a smooth, even pearl is formed. When a pearl is cultured, that means that the oyster has been harvested alive, implanted with an irritant in a lab, then re-planted into the sea to continue living while creating a pearl. For many years Japan was the main supplier of the world's cultured pearls.
Freshwater mussels are used to grow this type of pearl and the bulk of them are from China. Freshwater pearls were once called "rice krispy" pearls as the early one were shaped like the cereal and were not very large. they did however, have good color, depth and luster. You can still find these small irregular pearls on the market, but they are now the exception rather than the rule.
Glass pearls are as much a part of adornment culture as a genuine pearl, be it cultured or natural. Glass pearls come in a wide variety of shapes, colors, weights and quality. Glass pearls are used by jewelry designers and the fashion industry as a way to allow the buying public to enjoy the look of pearls from an out of reach financial range. Of course, nothing equals a real pearls, but there are many glass pearls that come close!
Pearls respond well to being worn. Natural body oils make them "mellow" and brings out an inner luminescence. Pearls do not, however, take well to chemicals such as perfume, hair spray, cosmetics and perspiration. Clean pearls with a soft cloth and keep them in a dark place between wearings. Very dry, very hot conditions will dehydrate a pearl over time, causing it to turn dark and even crack or shatter. Keep pearls away from household cleansers, too, as these chemicals will destroy pearls.
Placing a knot between each pearl on a strand serves two purposes. First, it keeps the pearls from rubbing scratches on to each other. Second, it makes the strand more secure by keeping the loss down to one or two pearls should a strand break. The traditional silk cord is still used for pearls although it will deteriorate over time. Many contemporary designs that include pearls do not use knotting, as the pearls are more casual and less expensive, creating less concern over possible loss.
Pearl Shapes & Colors
Not long ago, the pearl market was dominated by round pearls, mostly white or a few subtle shades such as champagne, peach, pink and cream. Dark, dramatic colors were rare and most buyers wanted big, round white pearls. Odd, baroque shaped pearls were occasionally used in jewelry design. Today, the shape of pearls is all over the map! Stick, coin, flat back, Buddha, oval, teardrop, rice krispy, potato and rice are just some of the shapes available. Prices for these shapes remain reasonable.
Where to Buy Pearls
Pearls are available at just about any bead shop, bead show, bead bazaar and via the Internet. If you plan to buy your pearls sight-unseen, make sure you are dealing with a reputable seller. Stick to known retail bead and jewelry supply sellers rather than buying at on-line auction or from a private party, especially if you are buying in large quantity or very expensive pearls. If you are making a major purchase involving pearl jewelry, be sure to have them appraised by a reputable jeweler.
Cleopatra dissolved a single pearl in a glass of wine to win a bet with Marc Antony that she could consume the wealth of a nation at one meal!
Cultured pearls were invented in Japan, but pearl innovator Kokichi Mikimoto discovered that the oysters made better and larger pearls if they were nucleated (implanted) with the shell of an American freshwater mussel!
Wholesale pearls are sold by weight, not volume, which is why there are such tiny holes in most strands. Smaller holes mean heavier pearls!