Pearls occur in a wide variety of colours, including white
and cream, black, grey, silver and gold. This main colour is frequently accompanied by a secondary iridescent overtone, such as pink, green, purple or blue.
Where are they grown?
Many countries farm pearls, which are grown through inserting a bead or piece of tissue into a mollusc, which then is covered with nacre and grows into the finished pearl. Natural pearls have historically been gathered in the Persian Gulf, around Sri Lanka, and in the rivers and lakes of China and Europe.
Cultured specimens are mostly grown in saltwater, such as Akoya pearls which come from Japan and China; South Sea pearls which are grown in Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines; and Tahitian pearls which are cultivated throughout French Polynesia. Freshwater pearls, which are grown in lakes and ponds, are predominantly sourced from China.
Qualities to look out for
There are many different quality factors that affect the value and aesthetic properties of a pearl. The lustre of a pearl is how it shines and reflects light, with high lustre pearls expected to have sharp, bright reflections on the surface. Equally as important is the colour of the pearl – traditionally white pearls have been the most sought after, however in recent years appreciation has grown for the more unusual and darker colours. The more vibrant the colour, the more desirable the pearl. The shape and surface quality of a pearl also comes into account when assessing the overall quality - even surface texture with minimal blemishes and a symmetrical shape traditionally are more desired within the industry.
How to wear
Pearls are an extremely high care stone as they are easily
scratched and the nacre, which is the delicate outer surface that produces the lustre and colour of the pearl, can grow dull and frosty if not properly cared for. Pearl pieces are great for earrings and necklaces, and are best suited for occasional wear only, such as in cocktails rings, with a hardness of only 2.5-3/10
What makes them special?
Pearls are the birthstone for June, and the gem that celebrates the 3rd and 30th wedding anniversaries.
Many cultures associated the round shape of some pearls with the moon.
In European cultures pearls symbolised modesty, chastity, and purity.
Ancient Middle Eastern cultures believed pearls were teardrops fallen from heaven.
Depending on the type and size of pearl, they can take between 10 months to 3 years to grow. The molluscs used to grow pearls can only survive in the cleanest, purest water, and will not produce pearls if kept in polluted waters, so pearl farms are usually located in remote locations and must ensure their molluscs are happy and healthy.
Pearls in history
The oldest written record of pearls dates back to 2206 BC by a Chinese historian.
The first pearls were successfully cultured in Japan in 1893.
Pierre Cartier traded a double strand of natural pearls for a mansion on Fifth Avenue in New York City in 1917.
La Peregrina, which is almost 500 years old, is one of the most famous pearls history and originally belonged to King Philip II of Spain during the 16th century. It passed through many royal families and in recent times it belonged to Elizabeth Taylor.