Pearls are an exquisite natural gem that can be found in an array of colours. Discover all you need to know about pearls in our detailed education section
The Origins of Pearls
Pearls have been sought after as a precious gem for centuries. Although some debate exists over the actual founding, pearls first started being treasured around 650BC, at the time of the Pandyan Dynasty in Eastern India. Before breathing apparatus, divers would free dive for pearls in the Bay of Bengal, often holding their breath for minutes on end. In the 21st century, most of the pearls on the open market are cultivated in what are known as pearl farms. A small amount however is still collected from the sea bed and is usually much more expensive and known as natural pearls. Make sure you know which type of pearl you are viewing before purchasing.
Contrary to popular belief, pearls are formed inside the shells of certain underwater mollusks and not just that of oysters. The Pearl is created as a defence mechanism to an irritant that has found its way into the shell. The early stages of pearl creation are what is known as the recovery stage, when the host envelops the irritant and effectively seals it off from the rest of its mantle layers. If this process is successful, further layers of calcium carbonate will be layered over the original and gradually harden over time.
Natural and Cultured
In the modern market, most pearls are referred to as cultured. This means they have been grown in pearl farms in carefully chosen environment, often off the coast of Australia & Indonesia in the Southern Indian Ocean. Although not wild, these pearls possess all the qualities of lustre and hardness of a natural pearl, you may even find cultured pearls to have a more consistent shape.
South Sea Pearls
South Sea pearls are of extremely high quality and come in colours ranging from silver-white to saturated golden yellow. Due to their formation location and development period, they are usually the largest pearl variety and are the rarest, most expensive and extraordinary pearls in jewellery. They form in a variety of the pinctada maxima oyster, which is much bigger than Akoya and Freshwater pearl producing oysters. They rarely come in perfectly round shapes, therefore strands of matching South Sea pearls are uncommon.
The largest supplier of white South Sea pearls is the city of Broome, located on the coast of northwest Australia. Golden South Sea pearls mainly originate from the Philippines and Indonesia. South Sea variety is the most expensive one, as the pearl producing oyster is much more sensitive and difficult to cultivate and due to the pearls’ naturally larger size.
Due to its exceptional shapes and larger size, the South Sea pearl variety is used in designer jewellery, usually with a single pearl as an individual ornament to showcase the uniqueness and beauty of the gem.
Named after their location, Tahitian Pearls are native to French Polynesia. The warm, calm waters provide a safe ecosystem for the rare, black lip oyster, where Tahitian Pearls are found. Their usual size varies between 8mm to 13mm in diameter. As with many pearls, they exist in many different variations from deep black to light white, with hues of green, blue, silver and yellow. One exclusive and delicate Tahitian Pearl necklace is currently available at Steven Stone.
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