Beautiful lustrous pearls from the ocean.
They exude elegance and class.
Who wouldn’t impress if they were wearing these shimmering, gleaming gemstones from the sea?
Although pearls are a sign of wealth and status, with our ability to simulate nature we can all join the elite and flaunt our impeccable taste.
Naturally occurring pearls from wild oysters are rare and often far from perfect, but it is the cultured or farmed pearls that produce the perfectly round sea-gems we associate with affluence and prestige.
Freshwater pearls and many types of manufactured pearls are readily accessible to everyone.
Here’s how to know your pearls:
Saltwater Cultured Pearls
The most valuable pearls are grown in oyster farms and the technique was developed in Australia in the early 20th century.
The oysters are opened just enough to surgically implant a small, shell bead that causes irritation. Over many years, the oyster secretes layers of nacre around the bead to soothe the roughness and a pearl is born.
Farming cultured pearls is an exact science and very labour-intensive. Only a small fraction of the implanted oysters will produce high quality pearls for commercial use.
The delicate pearls also need to be sorted and strung by hand which explains the hefty price tag.
Freshwater Cultured Pearls
By comparison, freshwater pearls are acceptable in many more shapes and colours, the most-prized still being perfectly spherical.
Almost exclusively produced in China, they are farmed using freshwater mussels instead of oysters and come in colours ranging from dark purple through pink and white.
Freshwater pearls are less delicate because of their thicker layer of nacre but this produces pearls with less lustre than the saltwater varieties.
Because the freshwater molluscs are bigger they can produce as many as 50 pearls at once so are a cheaper alternative, but with newer farming techniques emerging the quality is improving.
Faux or simulated pearls are 100% man-made and have no association with oysters or mussels, but don’t be fooled by the name.
A string of simulated vintage pearls can still command top dollar and be just as lustrous and shimmering as genuine pearls.
Simulated pearls are made all over the world now but it’s thought the Chinese were making them back in the first century!
Early faux pearls were glass beads with the inside coated in a mixture of varnish and a pearlescent substance from fish scales.
Today many of the high-end faux pearls are glass beads coated in powdered pearl but there are artificial pearls made from plastic, glass and shell to suit every budget.
There are ways to tell the difference between real and fake pearls but modern production techniques are so good you can’t tell by just looking.
Remember, if in doubt, try the tooth test
Lightly rub the pearl against the front of your tooth, real pearls should feel gritty or slightly rough but this is in no way a reliable indicator of a pearl’s pedigree.
More reliable methods include x-ray, drill-hole features, jewellery settings and brand name stamps but some of these can be quite costly and some can cause the destruction of the pearl, not the result you want if it turns out to be genuine. It’s best to let a professional jeweller handle the job.
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