What makes pearls so special?
May is a wonderful time for gift giving. With Mother’s Day, the spring season in full swing, and wedding season kicking off all in one month, you’re probably searching for a present for somebody. There are so many wonderful things to give to those you care about, but nothing quite matches the unique beauty of pearls. Their iridescent surfaces seem to capture every color at once in a pastel glow, reflecting the beauty of the natural world.
In this article, we will explore the fascinating world of pearls, from their origin in mollusks to the different types of pearls available today. We will also delve into the symbolism and meaning behind pearls, and why they are a popular choice for gifts on special occasions such as weddings, graduations, and birthdays. Whether you are a lover of pearls or simply curious about these unique gemstones, this article will provide an in-depth look at their history, significance, and allure.
Where Do Pearls Come From?
In the world of gems pearls are rather unique. Most gems are stones, precious minerals mined from deep in the earth. But pearls are something different. They’re made by a natural process that’s unique to a few species of aquatic animals known as mollusks–clams and mussels, but mainly oysters.
So, how do oysters make pearls? If an irritant, like a piece of sand, gets inside the shell of a mollusk, the sensitive creatures will coat it with the same chemical they use to make their shell. The irritant becomes coated in mother-of-pearl (the technical term for this substance is ‘nacre’), and over time the layers grow into a mature pearl.
Interestingly, mother-of-pearl was often used for decoration on antiques, though it doesn’t quite qualify as a gem yet. You might even see it on the inside of some shells at the beach! These shells look just like pearls because they’re actually made of the same material. What makes pearls different from these shells, and much more rare and valuable, is their shape and how they’re formed.
Natural Pearls vs. Cultured Pearls
The pearl formation process can happen in the wild, or through commercial pearl harvesting. Natural pearls and cultured pearls are the exact same gems, only differing in how they are formed.
Wild mollusks like clams, oysters, mussels and scallops can and do make their own pearls, but these are rare in the wild. The process can take anywhere from six months to four years, and only about one in 10,000 mollusks contains a pearl. Even fewer of these are jewelry quality gems. These factors make wild pearls exceptionally expensive and difficult to source.
Pearls are more commonly farmed than wild sourced. The farming process closely mirrors how pearls are formed in the wild. Farmers start with tanks of a common pearl producing species, then deliberately expose them to an irritant in a way that almost guarantees a good pearl. They then return to collect the pearl after it’s formed.
It’s an amazing feat of modern engineering that takes a rather rare and complex process and simplifies it to scale. Pearl farms often produce a result that’s better for jewelry than a wild formed pearl, and much cheaper. Pearl farming has also made the wide variety of pearl colors much more accessible, even creating some that have never been found in the wild.
Types of Pearls
Tahitian pearls are sometimes called ‘black pearls’ (yes, just like the ones the Pirates of the Caribbean hunted for), but they come in an exceptional range of colors. In fact, it can be difficult for harvesters and jewelers to find enough similarly-colored Tahitian pearls to create strands for pearl jewelry.
Tahitian pearls come by their coloring naturally, since they are produced by black-lipped oysters that secrete an inky pigment. This dark pigment creates pearls along a color spectrum from eggplant green to silver to deep black, often with mesmerizing iridescent overtones.
The most commonly produced variety of pearls, freshwater pearls are made by the ‘triangle shell’ oyster and farmed in China, Japan, and the United States (Tennessee in particular). Freshwater pearls come in diverse colors (including lavender, pink and cream), tones, shapes and sizes. Freshwater pearls can take years to form, but they’re well worth the wait.
South Sea Pearls
South Sea pearls are the rarest variety of cultured pearl, as they are only produced by a very specific type of oyster native to Southeast Asia and Australia. These oysters are called Pinctada Maxima, and are farmed in Australia, the Philippines, Myanmar and Indonesia. They live up to their name, growing up to a foot in diameter. Thanks to their large size, they produce bigger pearls than other species of oyster.
South Sea pearls are coveted for their white and gold coloring. Perfectly round South Sea pearls are exceedingly rare. It’s common to see strands of South Sea pearls in which each pearl has an entirely different shape, giving the jewelry a stunning and dynamic appearance. They also have a thicker nacre than other pearls, giving them an impressive luster.
The Akoya is the classic, round gem you’re likely picturing when you hear the word ‘pearl.’ They are cultured in the Akoya oyster, which is mainly farmed in China and Japan. White or cream colored with a high luster, they often have overtones of silver or rose. They tend to form naturally round and smooth, making them beloved by jewelers. If you buy a uniform strand of pearls, there is a good chance that they are Akoya pearls.
The Perfect Pearl Jewelry Gifts
Pearl jewelry is the best way to gift these treasures. It can make great anniversary presents, wedding gifts, or something special for mom on Mother’s Day. One of the most versatile gems around, pearls work great in rings, on earrings, and strung into a necklace or bracelet.
Pearl drop earrings are a classic piece of jewelry that can be dressed up or down, depending on their style, and really make for a striking yet subdued addition to your wardrobe. For a fancy affair, you can hardly beat pearl drop earrings for a breathtaking ensemble.
However, if you are looking for something you could wear to the office or out on the town, pearl stud earrings are real confidence boosters. Beyond that, we recommend black pearl earrings in any style. It’s hard to match their vintage feel or beat that unique smokey look.
Our next recommendation is the classic pearl ring. Next to diamonds, pearls are one of the best statement gems for rings. A pearl always maintains an air of sophistication. They’re never over the top or too flashy, even when big and eye-catching. A longtime symbol of innocence and joy, pearl rings also make a great first piece of fine jewelry for a young fashion enthusiast.
When it comes to pearl jewelry gifts, the classic and most commonly gifted item is the pearl necklace. With many sizes and styles available, pearl necklaces range from the short collar, which snugly fits the mid-neck, to the longer rope strand, which can exceed 45 inches in length.
When choosing a pearl gift, it's important to consider the type of pearl that would complement their taste and current wardrobe. You can select from unique and multi-toned South Sea pearls or the classic round and lustrous Akoya pearls to create a meaningful and thoughtful gift.
Pearls: Perfect for Custom Jewelry Design
Pearls are special, rare gemstones which take time to form, and each one is unique. That’s why they make such a great choice for custom designed jewelry. With custom pearl jewelry, you have the opportunity to create something specifically for you or a loved one. Whether it's a pearl pendant necklace or a pair of pearl earrings, you can incorporate any favorite colors, materials, and design elements.
By investing in custom pearl jewelry, you are not only acquiring a beautiful piece of jewelry, but also a meaningful and personal keepsake that you can cherish for years to come. Create a piece as one -of-a-kind as the pearls it contains.
Find the Perfect Pearls at Cline: Your Jewelry Store in the Seattle Area
Cline Jewelers is proud to offer you a wide range of pearl jewelry. If you don’t see the perfect piece in our cases, we’re here to design it for you! Our jewelry experts have the skills and experience to guide you through the shopping experience, until you find the right gift that says exactly what you want it to. You don’t need to go deep-sea diving to get great pearl jewelry–just stop by Cline Jewelers to explore the wonderful world of pearls for yourself!