What You Should Know About Cultured Pearls
Pearls have been a source of fascination and desire since ancient times. Viewed as magic charms, symbols of purity and love, or sources of wisdom and power, pearls have been revered by countless civilizations.
The cultured pearl begins its life as an irritant to the oyster. To protect itself the oyster coats an intruding object or grain of sand with nacre, a crystalline substance that builds up over time, resulting in a shimmering, iridescent creation. The culturing process developed by man mimics nature. Farmers implant a fine bead into the oyster where it cannot be expelled. The oyster does the rest and creates a lustrous masterpiece – the cultured pearl.
Types of Cultured Pearls
Akoya – This is the most familiar type of cultured pearl sold in necklaces. Akoyas from Japan and China are grown in pearl oysters and are known for shimmering beauty and warm colors, which range from rose, cream and gold to silvery white and blue/gray.
South Sea – Large (10mm and up_ cultured pearls grown in tropical and semi-tropical oysters in the South Sea and around the coast of Australia. Their colors range from silvery white to gold. They are quite costly due to their size and rarity.
Tahitian Black – Large (10mm and up) cultured pearls grown in black-lipped oysters in French Polynesia. Colors range from silvery gray and green to deep purple and black. Their large sizes and unique colors command premium prices.
Mabé – Large, hemispherical cultured pearls grown against the inside shells of oysters rather than in the oysters’ bodies. Due to their half round shape, they are most popular in earrings, rings, and broaches. Mabé cultured pearls are less expensive than round cultured pearls.
Freshwater – Pearls cultivated in mussels, not oysters, in freshwater lakes and rivers primarily in Chin, Japan, and the United States. Shapes can be freeform, rice shaped, off-round or spherical, and colors range from milky white to peach, pink, and lavender. Freshwaters can be less expensive than other varieties of cultured pearls.
Keshi – Also known as seed pearls, these tiny cultured pearls can be as small as a grain of sand and form accidentally in many cultured pearl oysters.
Baroque – These cultured pearls are irregularly shaped, yet often lustrous and appealing. Due to their shapes, baroque cultured pearls are often less than round cultured pearls.
What to Look for When Buying Cultured Pearls
When buying cultured pearl jewelry, it’s best to buy from a knowledgeable, professional jeweler who can explain how to make the most out of your purchase and ensure you are getting the best quality cultured pearls within your budget. Ron and Clytie have over 25 years of experience selling cultured pearls and are happy to help guide you through this process. One thing to keep in mind is the higher the quality of cultured pearls you select, the more valued they will be over time. You can use the following quality factors to evaluate the cultured pearls you are contemplating purchasing:
Lustre – A combination of surface brilliance and a deep glow that seems to emanate from within the heart of a cultured pearl. The lustre of a good quality cultured pearl should be bright, not dull, enabling you to see your own reflection clearly on the surface. A cultured pearl that appears too white, dull or chalky indicates poor quality.
Surface – Because cultured pearls are grown in oysters, it is rare to find a cultured pearl whose surface is free from any type of blemish. Blemishes can include disfiguring spots, bumps, pits, and cracks of the surface of a cultured pearl. The fewer the blemishes on the surface of a cultured pearl the more valuable it will be.
Shape – It is very Rare to find a perfectly round cultured pearl, but generally, the rounder the cultured pearl, the more valuable it is. Cultured pearls also come in oval, pear, and baroque shapes.
Color – Cultured pearls come in a wide range of colors, from white to pink to black. The color of the cultured pearl is often a matter of personal preference.
Size – Cultured pearls are measured by their diameter in millimeters. They can be smaller than 1mm, in the case of Keshi cultured pearls, or as large as 20mm for a big South Sea cultured pearl. With all other quality factors being equal, the larger the cultured pearl the more valuable it will be, since it is difficult for an oyster to grow a cultured pearl larger than 5mm.
Matching – When buying a strand of cultured pearls, matching is very important. All the pearls in a good quality strand should be evenly matched in terms of luster, surface, shape, color, and size. Well-matched cultured pearl necklaces command top prices, because cultured pearl growers must harvest about 10,000 oysters in order to find enough pearls that match closely enough to make up a simple, 16in strand.
Caring for Cultured Pearls
Remember that cultured pearls are precious jewels and should be always be treated as such. Follow these guidelines to care for your cultured pearls:
- Do treat your pearls gently. Keep them in chamois bag or wrap them in tissue when you put them away.
- Don’t toss them in purse or jewelry box where they can become scratched by metal or stones.
- Do apply perfume, hairspray, and cosmetics before putting on your pearls.
- Don’t clean them with any chemicals or abrasives.
- Do wipe them with a soft, clean cloth after each wearing to remove any traces of hairspray or perfume, and occasionally wash them with mild soap and water.
- Do buy strands that are strung with a knot between each pearl, to avoid abrasion and to prevent loss if the string should break.
Information courtesy of Jewelers of America.