Wedding Accessories - Pearls

pearls 4One of the oldest known gems is the pearl and was once considered to be the most valuable one for centuries. Taken from the Latin meaning ‘unique’ attests the fact that no two pearls are identical.

Displayed in the Louvre in Paris is a fragment of the oldest known pearl which was found in the coffin of a Persian princess who died in 520 BC.

The word ‘pearl’ (margarita) has been in use in the romance languages of Spanish, French and Italian since the 14th century and the Aztec and Inca tribes prized the pearls not only for their beauty but also believed they had magical powers.

Pearls have for many years been considered ideal wedding presents because of the symbolic meanings of purity and innocence. During Hindu weddings the presentation of an un-drilled pearl and its piercing is still very much part of the ceremony.

During the 13th and 14th centuries the wearing of pearls in European countries came under strict laws as to who could and could not wear them and even how. One example is lawyers and teachers were forbidden to wear fringes or chains with pearls.

Cultivation of Pearls

pearls 4Almost all pearls sold today are cultured pearls that have been created by slightly opening a live mollusc and inserting a tiny foreign object (or even a small pearl) into the mantle of the animal. This introduction of a foreign body in the mollusc causes it to protect itself by covering the mantle tissue (or small pearl) with a substance material called nacre. Once ‘nucleation’ has taken place the animal is then attached to a wire frame and suspended from a float into the water the mollusc was originally found or bred in.

Ten or more freshwater pearls can be cultured from a single mussel with colours that range from white, lavender, peach or pink.

Saltwater cultured pearls are produced by oysters and tend to be more round than the freshwater cultured pearls.

Natural pearls are really a case of a simple accident of nature and are formed randomly. The ‘accident’ that produces a natural pearl is in the case of a parasite becoming lodged in the tissue of a mollusc where the animal responds in the same way as cultured pearls by coating the intruder with nace. The build up of nacre is what forms the natural pearl and this can take up to several years.

Cultured pearls are still real pearls but grown organically in less time and giving the pearl farmer the discovery of a pearl every time instead of being left to chance!

Quality and Values of Pearls

The quantity and quality of light reflected from the surface of a pearl is the ‘Lustre’ and this does simple mean a shiny surface!  The implication of the structural beauty of the deep-seated glow shows within the lustre.  Your own reflection should be seen clearly on the surface and any pearl that is too white, dull or chalky relates to a low lustre.

Blemishes on the surface can greatly affect the quality of the pearl.  Although natural blemishes and imperfections can form during the cultivation of the pearl, it should in no way be visible to the naked eye.

Colours or overtones of the pearls can also affect the quality and value.  Overtone colours include pink, silver and green and white pearls with rose or silver overtones are considered to have the highest value.

Pearl Shapes and Sizes

pearsl 2Pearls can form shapes in a wide variety due the natural organic substances and although the most common seen is the round shape variety, it is by no means the only shape.  The shape of the pearl is one of several factors that determine its value and quality.

The shape of a cultured pearl can be determined by various reasons, one is that the pearl often assumes the same shape as the irritant that was placed inside the mussel or oyster, so if the foreign body is not perfectly round to begin with, it stands no chance of gaining that perfect roundness.  Pearls that develop against the shell become more flattened on that side.

Experts divide pearl shapes into three broad categories.

Baroque.  Pear shaped or irregular shaped and non-symmetrical in nature. 

Symmetrical.  These are balanced and regular.  Slice this pearl in half and you would have a mirror image.

Spherical.   The perfect round pearl is the classic shape, most familiar and the highest in value.

Within these three categories there are seven basic shapes:

Round – Perfectly spherical, very rare and highly desirable.

Near-Round – Perfect sphere, slightly flattened or elongated.

Oval – Narrower at the ends than they are in the centre.

Button – Flattened slightly looking more like a disk or button.

Drop – Pear or teardrop shaped.  Long or short depending on proportions.

Semi-Baroque – Slightly irregular shapes, not symmetrical in nature.

Baroque – Abstract shapes, can look like a stick, a cross or other shape.

Even within these basic shapes the pearls can have many variations.  Grooves or rings can develop on the surface of the pearl.

Caring for your Pearls

pearls 1To make sure your pearls last your lifetime follow our simple care steps below.

  • Do not wear your pearls when you are applying cosmetics, hair spray or perfume.  The chemicals and acids within these products will harm your pearl.
  • Never wear your pearls when swimming or showering as chlorine or soap can damage the pearls.  It is also not recommended that you allow the string to get wet. 
  • Pearl rings should be taken off when washing hands or bathing.
  • Tooth enamel is harder than pearls and any ‘tooth test’ for identifying imitations should be done lightly, if at all!
  • Do not exercise while wearing your pearls as the heavy secretion of the human body will have an effect on the lustre of the pearl.
  • Do NOT use commercial jewellery cleaner on pearls unless recommended on the label it states it is safe to use on pearls.  Many of them contain ammonia and this in turn will lead to the deterioration of your pearls.
  • Do not use such abrasive material as toothbrushes or scouring pads to clean pearls as these will scratch the surface. 
  • Never steam clean your pearls as heat can harm and damage them.
  • Detergents, bleaches, baking soda or powdered cleansers should not be used to clean pearls.

If you get into the habit of wiping your pearls down with a soft cloth or chamois each time you wear them this will prevent any dirt from accumulating and wipe away any perspiration that may have occurred while wearing the pearls. 

Warm water with a mild soap or washing up liquid can be used to wash your pearls and pay special attention to the drill holes of each pearl where residue may collect over time. 

Once you have washed your pearls place them flat on a moist kitchen towel to dry, letting them sit there until the towel itself is completely dry.

Do not hang your pearls to dry as this will stretch the string.

Storing Your Pearls

  • When storing your pearls it is best to place them away from heat as this can dry out the pearls and turn them brown.  This includes natural sunlight.
  • Plastic bags can stop moisture from getting to the pearls and allowing them to ‘breath’ so avoid these.
  • Use a jewellery cloth bag or pouch to store your pearls as these will protect them from scratches.  Wrapping the pearls in a soft material is just as good.
  • Safe deposit boxes are usually dry and should be avoided as a safe place to store your pearls
  • Do not store or place your pearls in a jewellery box.
  • Once stored, take them out occasionally giving them exposure to humidity or moisture.

Symbolic Historic Meaning of Pearl Colours

  • White – Purity
  • Rose, Pink – Love
  • Golden – Wealth
  • Peacock – Eternity
  • Black – Dignity

Pearl Tit Bits

  • The largest natural pearl ever found was in the Philippines in 1934 and weighted a whopping 14 lbs.
  • At the height of the British Empire only royalty were allowed to wear pearls.
  • Greeks and Romans believed that to dream of pearls would bring heartache and tears.
  • Pearls are strongly associated with love and linked to Aphrodite the Greek goddess of love and mother of Eros (Cupid) and Venus.
  • Legend states that Cleopatra crushed a pearl into her drink to impress Marc Anthony.
  • In ancient Greece it was believed that pearls worn by a bride would promote happiness and prevent crying.
  • Pearls were once called the ‘wedding gem’ and are still a popular choice for brides today.
  • During the 14, 15th and 16th century everybody, including the males that were guests at the Burgundy Royal wedding wore pearl jewellery.
  • All English Queens wear pearls on their wedding day.
  • Luxury on your skin, dewdrops of the gods and the gem that dims the moon are alternative names used to describe pearls.

The way to find out if a pearl is a true natural one and not a cultured pearl is to place it in a glass of gin.  The gin will dissolve it if it is a natural pearl, but then again, would you like to take that chance!!!!