THE HISTORY OF PEARLS
As far back as 2300 BC, Chinese records indicate that pearls were the prized possessions of (and gifts to) royalty. In ancient Rome, pearls were a highly prized accessory and worn as a symbol of wealth and prestige. The ancient Greeks also highly valued pearls, using them especially at weddings where they were said to bring love. Pearls known as the “Queen of Jewels” are listed as a birthstone for June and a memorial gemstone for the thirteenth and thirtieth anniversary of marriage.
Cultured Pearls – How They are Processed Cultured pearls are real pearls, grown in either freshwater or saltwater. To begin the process, a skilled technician takes mantle tissue from a sacrificed mollusk of the same species and inserts a shell bead along with a small piece of mantle tissue into a host mollusk’s gonad, or several pieces of mantle tissue without beads into a host mollusk’s mantle. If a bead is used, the mantle tissue grows and forms a sac around it and secretes nacre inward and onto the bead to eventually form a cultured pearl. If no bead is used, nacre forms around the individual implanted mantle tissue pieces. Workers tend the mollusks until the cultured pearls are harvested.1 The process of culturing pearls is monitored by a pearl farmer—helping to keep the animal alive and allowing for high-quality pearls to form. While culturing pearls is different from the formation of natural pearls, both kinds are real gemstones.
Akoya Cultured Pearls
Cultured Akoya pearls are the most abundant saltwater pearl and come primarily from Japan but also from China, Thailand, Vietnam, and Australia. They range in size from 3mm to 11mm, with most being around 7mm. You can find Akoya pearls in white, gray, green, pink, and blue (although rare). Most Akoya pearls are round. Akoya pearls are known for their bright luster and elegance. If you are looking for pink akoya pearls, you are likely searching for white akoya pearls with a rosé overtone.1
Tahitian pearls are grown slowly. It takes an average of 2 years to grow a 10 mm pearl. Tahitian Pearls Naturally come in 26 different shades of colors from a peacock green to a blue, green or black colors.
South Sea Pearls
Regarded as the prize of pearls, South Sea Pearls are grown in Northern Australia, Southern Indonesia and the Southern Philippines. A product of the Pinctada Maxima. This oyster grows up to 12 inches in diameter, and can be nucleated with a much larger bead than other saltwater oysters such as the Akoya.
The oyster is grown for two full years before it is nucleated. The pearl is then grown for another two years or more before it is harvested. Only 10% of what is harvested is high quality. On average, only half of the pearls produced are marketable and only 10% are considered high quality.
Freshwater Cultured Pearls
Freshwater cultured pearls are the most commonly produced pearls and they are one of the most popular pearl types among shoppers and jewelry designers. This is due to their remarkable range of sizes, shapes and colors, plus their commercial availability at lower price points. They are usually cultured in freshwater lakes and ponds, often with many pearls grown in one oyster. China is the leading source for freshwater cultured pearls.2