Pearl: Organic Beauty

Known since Antiquity, even today the pearl continues to conquer the hearts of women...

The word Pearl comes from the Latin "perna" which means shell and the word mother-of-pearl comes from the Persian "nakkar" which means "beautiful and shimmering".

There are 2 types of pearls: extremely rare fine pearls and cultured pearls, whose formation is caused by man.

What is fine pearl?

The “fine” pearl forms naturally in oysters or mussels without human intervention unlike the cultured pearl. Its formation begins with a parasite which enters the oyster/mussel and provokes a defense reaction of the mollusc. The mollusc will send what is called a pearl sac on the parasite which will be surrounded by it. This bag will then begin to produce layers of mother-of-pearl and after several years, even several decades, a pearl will form. The mollusk will constantly want to eject the impurity, for this it will make the pearl perform a pendulum movement until ejection.

Fine pearl in its oyster

Honthrost, Young Woman with Pearls, 1644/ credit: The Camouflaged Tower

We tend to think that there are only pearls with a pearly appearance, but that's not the reality!

There are also pearls with a porcelain look known for their sparkles, giving them a quite exceptional appearance. These pearls are all the more extraordinary, as they do not exist in cultured pearl: These are the pearls of Goms which are pink and the orange pearls of Melo Melo.

Historically, the most beautiful fine pearls in the world come from the Persian Gulf, and more particularly from the island of Bahrain. These pearls are known for their incredible luster due to the meeting of freshwater and saltwater currents.

The oldest pearl known to date is the "Pearl of Umm Al Quwain". 7,500 years old, it was discovered in what is now the United Arab Emirates.

Before the invention of pearl farming, pearls were harvested in the Persian Gulf, Sri Lanka, China and some rivers in Europe.

Conche pearl from the Strombus Gigas shell

What is the cultured pearl?

Cultured pearls know the same principle of formation as fine pearls, however it is not an impurity that will naturally introduce itself into the shell but a nucleus introduced by man: this is the grafting process. The core is made of Mississippi mussel shell cut into logs. These beads are covered with epithelial cells (mollusk cells) so that the graft takes. The whole is deposited in the gonad then the shell is deposited in the water for several years.

There are 4 types of cultured pearls:

  • Akoya pearls found mainly in Japan. In their natural state they are pinkish white, yellow, cream and green. Thus they are treated so that they are whiter, silver or champagne. It was in 1893 that Kokichi Mikimoto perfected the method of culturing pearls in Japan which gave birth to Akoya pearls. He is the first to find a pearl farming method that produces such beautiful pearls. Today it is widely used.

Mikimoto Akoya pearl and diamond necklace
  • Tahitian pearls are known for their black, aubergine, gray or even emerald green hues. Their cultivation is recent since it began in the 1920s. However, it was only with the help of Japanese specialists that this activity really developed.
  • South Sea pearls or Australian pearls are obtained by the same process as Japanese pearls. These pearls usually have golden hues and rather chunky. They are also treated to obtain another shade.

  • South Sea Pearls / Australian Pearls
  • Freshwater pearls or Chinese pearls have been cultivated since the 13th century in Chinese rivers. These look like Akoya pearls and natural pearls which can lead to confusion. For a very long time, freshwater pearls were small pearls, but in recent years there have been whiter and bigger freshwater pearls.

Classification of pearls

  • Color

The color varies depending on the shell and graft, the oyster's food, the temperature and the amount of salt in the water.

  • Size

Size is measured in millimeters. Only the fine pearl is weighed in grain: one grain = 0.25 carats = 0.05 grams.

  • Form

There are many shapes of pearl, in reality fine pearls are very rarely round because the impurity can be of different shapes. We then obtain shapes of pears, ovals, drops or even baroque.

  • Aspect

The aspect is defined by:

  • Pearl thickness
  • Surface quality
  • Luster (reflection of light from the surface)
  • Orient (ability of light to penetrate the nacre layer)

Pearl Substitutes:

  • Beads by M. Jacquin, produced from the 17th century. These are glass beads coated with a mixture of Oriental essence (bleak scales with ammonia water)
  • Majorca pearls, made of plastic dipped in a pearly essence and varnished on the surface.

Finally, here are some well-known fine pearls:

The Hope Pearl: A fine pearl weighing 1800 grains, it is one of the largest natural baroque pearls in the world.

Perle Hope

The "centaur" pearl is a fine baroque pearl surrounded by a decoration of gold, rubies, diamonds, enamels. This work of Art was presented at the Natural History Museum during the "Pearls" exhibition.

The 68 pearls of Baroda: These pearls belonged to the same necklace formed of 7 rows of fine pearls. They are part of the wealth of the Maharajahs of Baroda.

If you are interested in pearls, do not hesitate to discover what Julie's stones offer you in store...

We are also available for any free expertise of your vintage jewelry, for this you can send an email with your photos to contact@lespierresdejulie.com.

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