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A Pearl Lexicon

Pearls are among the most the most exquisite of the gemstones. Pearl jewelry is considered classically beautiful, and a demonstration of the wearer’s fine taste. Pearls have been used for many purposes, including jewelry, for thousands of years and have become an entire industry, complete with a unique vocabulary.

A pearl is a small, round object created by certain species of mollusks. The pearls are created overtime by the mollusk depositing layers of calcium carbonate over an irritating intrusion in its shell. Pearls have a tremendous variety of sizes, shapes, and luster as well as their origination location. These factors all play a role in determining the value of the gemstone.

Freshwater Pearl
A freshwater pearl is created naturally, or most often cultivated, in freshwater mussels in lakes, streams, or ponds. The majority of freshwater pearls are produced in China, and those pearls have a distinctive rainbow luster.

Saltwater Pearl
Saltwater pearls are found in the ocean, generally in small protected coves or bays. Saltwater pearls tend to be the most expensive of the collection as they are more often naturally forming. Saltwater pearls appear in a variety of colors, including white, ivory, pink, yellow, purple, blue, and black. Perfectly round, black saltwater pearls are considered the most valuable.

Cultivated Pearl
When farmers deliberately create pearls by inserting grit into a mollusk, they have cultivated those gemstones. Cultivating pearls began in Japan in the very late 1800s, and the process is now responsible for almost all pearls used in jewelry today. Cultivation includes implanting a small piece of polished abalone into a mussel along with an irritant to stimulate production. The pearl takes roughly three years to cultivate, and when it is removed, the mussel is often used again to create another pearl.

Cultivated pearls are considered less valuable than natural pearls, but to determine the difference, an x-ray machine must be used by a jeweler. Cultivated pearls will have a perfect sphere at the center, while naturally occurring pearls will have an irregular center.

Imitation Pearl
Imitation pearls are often used in jewelry, but are not naturally created or cultivated. They are manufactured. Imitation pearls are easy to identify as they are made of difference substances such as glass, abalone, mother-of-pearl, or conch shells. The weight and smoothness of imitation pearls is very dissimilar from real pearls, and the imitation is the least expensive pearl available.

Pearl Jewelry
Overtime, jewelers have used pearls in a variety of ways. Rings, bracelets, brooches, earrings and necklaces use different styles of pearls, and the resulting creations are considered elegant. Necklaces enjoy the greatest range of styles, and this assortment has resulted in very specific names.
Collar – A collar of pearls sits directly at the throat and is generally comprised of multiple strands.
Choker- A choker sits slightly lower than the collar, at the base of a woman’s throat.
Princess – A princess drapes to or slightly below the collar bones.
Matinee of Pearls – The matinee comes slightly lower than the princess, ending on a woman’s chest.
Opera – An opera reaches past the bosom to the sternum.
Pearl Rope – The pearl rope is a length of pearls exceeding the opera.

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