Throughout history, we've seen perfection in the pearl. In Persian mythology, they are called "the tears of the gods." In some Muslim legends, the pearl is God's first act of creation.
Pearls are an organic gem, created when a mollusk like an oyster covers a foreign object with beautiful layers of nacre, the mother of pearl.
According to ancient Chinese legend, the moon holds the power to create pearls, instilling them with its celestial glow and mystery. The ancient Greeks thought pearls were dew from the moon collected by oysters that opened their shells as they floated on the sea at night.
Most pearls today are cultured by man. A shell bead or mantle tissue is placed inside an oyster and the oyster is returned to the water. The mollusk does the rest: it covers the implanted shell or with layer after layer of lustrous nacre.
Today cultured pearls are the preferred accessory of powerful women from politics to Hollywood. Nancy Pelosi, Oprah Winfrey, Hilary Clinton, and Angelina Jolie are known for wearing pearls.
Although the culturing of pearls began in Japan with the saltwater white Akoya pearl, today the majority of the cultured pearls on the market, even traditional-looking white strands, are freshwater pearls cultured in the lakes of China. China has added beautiful natural pastel shades to the pearl palette: lovely warm pinks, oranges, and purples.
In the warmer waters of the South Pacific, bigger mollusks produce South Sea cultured pearls and black Tahitian cultured pearls, which come in larger sizes. South Sea golden cultured pearls are the world's most valued pearls for their buttery color and natural satiny luster.
The popularity of Tahitian cultured pearls has exploded over the past decade. These natural colored pearls are not just black: they are grown in an amazing range of colors, including pistachio, silver, eggplant, green, and charcoal, with shimmering iridescent overtones.
Natural cultured pearl colors are much more valuable than dyed pearl colors, which often look too vivid or harsh to come from nature. Gemvara does not sell any dyed pearls. The quality of a cultured pearl is also judged by the orient, which is the soft iridescence caused by the refraction of light by the layers of nacre, and luster, the reflectivity and shine of the surface. Also look for any flaws or spots in the nacre: the best pearls have an even smooth texture. Other factors that affect value are the regularity of the shape, size, and color.
Cultured pearls can be distinguished from imitation pearls by a very simple test. Take a pearl and rub it gently against the edge of a tooth. Cultured (and natural pearls) will feel slightly rough, like fine sandpaper, because of the texture of natural nacre. Imitations will feel as smooth as glass because the surface is molded or painted on a smooth bead.
Because pearls are organic, they have a relatively low hardness of 2.5 to 3.5 and should be stored away from other jewelry to prevent scratching. Always put on perfume, lotion, and sprays before you put on pearls, since chemicals may be absorbed into the surface of pearls, staining them. Wipe your pearls clean with a moist soft cloth after wearing them.