Pearl Pleasure – Pick Your Perfect Piece
Pearls have dived in and out of fashion over the years, just like all different materials used in the creation of jewellery. So, knowing the ins and outs of what to buy, what to avoid, and what to look out for can be tricky. This blog is here to help unravel the underwater maze which surrounds these natural beauties.
What is a pearl?
Let’s start with the basics. A pearl is an extra product of the soft tissue within a shelled Mollusc, most commonly oysters. They are a small piece of debris which ends up positioned in the softer inside of the oyster. This creates a reaction ending in the secretion of nacre which engulfs the debris. The layers form the now pearl.
This can be a natural occurrence, or it can be induced. These pearls which are induced and deliberately feed the irritant are called cultured pearls.
History of pearls within jewellery
Pearls have a rich history within the jewellery trade and are considered to be the oldest gem across the world. Their exact origin is unknown, however their presence within the market has been noted since 2300 BC and worn by Chinese royalty. The popularity within royalty was worldwide, with Persian princesses, Roman Emperors and ladies of the higher class in the 15th century having favoured them. Many myths and superstitions sit with these gems as well, dating back to the dark ages where they were worn out on the battlefield by courageous soldiers, who believed they would bring luck and protection. The demand grew and grew throughout the 15th and 16th centuries which were labelled the Pearl-Ages. The stunning gem was frequently being used in a variety of pieces, and by the 19th of century, the oyster trade was dwindling due to the high demand and lack of numbers.
Saltwater pearls, as I’m sure you can imagine, are found by divers within the depths of the ocean. Freshwater on the other hand, are found in streams and rivers. These types of pearls were often saved for the high flyers in society, whilst the saltwater pearls were perilous to dive for, and given the scarcity, were high risk items.
Hence the creation of pearl farming, which came to fruition in Japan in 1893. Kokichi Milimoto is the mastermind behind the idea and fought hard to prove his pearls were natural as well. Creating a cultured pearl uses the same process as natural formation, however the piece of debris which allows the pearl to form is introduced by man, rather than by natural causes. These grew in popularity by the boat load, and over 300 pearl farms were registered in Japan alone by the 1940s. Approximately 12 million cultured pearls were being produced a year, and they swamped the market.
The current reputation of the pearl
There was a down turn within the market for pearls, due to their mass reproduction. However, there has been a resurgence within the fine quality pearls which always have, and always will, remain rare. Tahitian pearls, natural and early Victorian cultured pearls are rising rapidly within the market.
The quality is taken from this factor, as well as several others which include size, colour and lustre. The thickness of the nacre (skin) is also a deciding factor.
How to look after your pearls
Here are our top three tips for taking care of your pearls at home, and how to make them last a lifetime!
- Keep away from perfume – Acid is a pearls worst nightmare! Perfume can cause a dulling of the pearl’s lustre, which in turn can ruin them over time. Never spray anything directly onto the pearls and ensure they are clean and wiped down before wearing.
- Store them properly and safely – Pearls can be scratched more easily than other gems, so we always recommend storing them away from other pieces of jewellery, especially diamonds. The best way forward, is to wrap them in a cloth and keep them separate from the rest of your wonderful jewellery collection!
- Check them out with a professional – Every three to five years we suggest taking your pearls into a professional jeweller to have them appraised, cleaned and potentially restrung is necessary. Keep them up to date for insurance purposes as well.
Have a look at our pearl jewellery selection, if you have any questions then please do not hesitate to ask.