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Pearls: Everything you need to know

Updated: Jan 5

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A simple yet elegant strand of pearls is an essential component of a lady's wardrobe. With numerous more economical and costume jewelry options available, it can make it difficult to know where to start when you decide to invest in a strand that will last for years to come and possibly even become an heirloom. Whether you are a Belle looking to acquire a strand of pearls for yourself or a Beau hoping to purchase them as a gift, this is for you.

It can be helpful first to understand what pearls are and how they are made. Pearls are a natural and precious gem. There are several types and shapes. They come in 5 main varieties: Akoya, Tahitian, Freshwater, White and Golden South Seas, and Sea of Cortez pearls.

  • The classic white pearl is Cultured saltwater Akoya pearls.

  • Cultured Tahitian pearls are the most famous and familiar naturally Black cultured saltwater pearls in the world.

  • Cultured Freshwater pearls from China come in a rainbow of beautiful natural colors, an incredible variety of sizes, and unique pearl shapes.

  • The largest and most luxurious of all cultured pearl types on the market are White and Golden South Sea pearls. They are often called the "Queen of Pearls." This variety features a gorgeous palette of natural Golden and White colors.

  • Cultured pearls from the Sea of Cortez (aka the Gulf of California) in Guaymas, Mexico, are the most rare cultured pearls worldwide. These pearls are the only other naturally-colored "black" cultured pearl type besides Tahitians available on the jewelry market today.

How are Pearls Made?

A pearl is formed inside a living shelled mollusk. Yet, not all pearls formed by mollusks are classified as valuable gemstones. This is because a pearl's beauty and value rely on many other factors, such as size, shape, color, luster, and nacre quality.

A pearl begins when foreign matter, such as a tiny parasite or other organic material, enters the mollusk during respiration or feeding. If the matter becomes trapped within the folds of the protective membrane called the mantle, this will irritate the mollusk. If the mollusk's efforts to expel the irritant are unsuccessful, it then forms a sack around it to isolate it. The man­tle subsequently covers the irritant with layers of the same nacre substance it uses to create the shell. This process, over time, forms a pearl. So a pearl is ultimately a foreign substance covered with layers of nacre.

Natural pearls are, just as the name suggests, naturally occurring. Harvesting natural pearls is not a sustainable practice, as hundreds of pearl oysters are killed by men searching for them.

The need for a more sustainable process is where cultured pearls come in. A cultured pearl is formed when an irritant, usually a piece of the mantle epithelium, is intentionally introduced into the mantle and grown in pearl farms.

Qualities to look for when purchasing pearls?

When preparing to invest in a strand of pearls, there are a few important factors to consider. This will ensure that you add a quality piece to your fine jewelry collection. Firstly, pearls should always be hand strung on silk thread and knotted between each pearl. Pearls are a soft gem and can be easily abraded or damaged. Silk thread and knotting prevent the pearls from rubbing together and causing damage to the nacre. Knotting achieves lovely flexibility for your pearl strand. In addition, if your string happens to break, only one of the pearls will fall.

Cleaning and caring for your pearls:

Due to the delicate and precious nature of pearls, knowing how to care for and handle your investment is imperative. In order to preserve the beauty of your pearls and keep them in excellent condition, here are some tips to follow:

  • Wearing your pearls is important as pearls are created in the water and benefit from absorbing the oils and moisture that your skin naturally produces throughout the day.

  • Wearing pearls with rough materials should be avoided as this can cause damage.

  • Remove pearls when participating in physical activities.

  • Put pearls on after spraying perfume or hairspray and putting on makeup. Be very careful with chemical substances as they will damage the pearl nacre.

  • Never use ultrasonic cleaners or steam processes to clean them.

  • Keep away from anything acidic as the acid can cause cracks in the nacre.

  • Do not submerge your pearls in water, as soaking the silk they are strung on will cause it to stretch out and break. The chlorine in the water will eat away at the epoxy securing the pearls to their mountings.

  • Keep pearls away from chlorine bleach, hydrogen peroxide, vinegar, ammonia, hairspray, perfume, and cosmetics, as these substances will damage the pearl's surface(nacre).

  • Use only cleaners specifically made for pearls. Be certain the cleaner does not contain ammonia, which will ruin the pearl.

  • Restring pearls once every two to three years if you wear them often. However, if you wear them weekly, you should restring them once a year.

Storing your pearls:

Like any other fine jewelry, how you store your piece is equally important as how you care for them. Here are some tips to follow to ensure that you properly store your pearls:

  • Remove after wearing and wipe with a soft cloth before storing to maintain their luster, and gently remove sweat, perfume, excess oils, or dirt before putting them away.

  • If possible, store your pearls in a pearl case to avoid rubbing and damage. Another option would be to wrap the pearls in linen or place them in a soft pouch.

  • Do NOT store pearls in an airtight container: remember, pearls need moisture. The pearls may crack from a lack of moisture in the environment. If placing the pearls in a safety deposit box or a hot environment, leave a damp cloth nearby, and try to get them out of there as quickly as possible.

  • Avoid hanging pearl necklaces or bracelets on a hook for storage; this strains the silk and stretches out the necklace or bracelet.

A simple strand of pearls is an invaluable part of a refined woman's wardrobe. They are classy, timeless, and can add just the right touch to almost any ensemble. I want to help you keep them pristine so that you have your pearl jewelry for generations to come. If you are looking for beautiful pearl jewelry, check out

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