What Is A Pearl?
What's the difference between natural pearls and cultured pearls?
Natural pearls form entirely without human intervention, making them incredibly rare—and considerably more valuable than cultured pearls. Over the last century, natural pearls have become even more scarce, leading to the fascinating science of pearl cultivation.
Cultured pearls form inside the body of a mollusk. However, technicians help the process along by inserting a man-made irritant to stimulate the creation of nacre. The resulting gemstone is far more affordable and is as authentic and beautiful as a natural pearl. The majority of pearls on the market today are of the cultivated variety.
How to Choose a Pearl
SizePearls are measured in millimeters, typically ranging from 5 to 16mm. Freshwater pearls are usually the smallest followed by Akoya pearls which are slightly larger. Tahitian pearls are, on average, the second largest size. South Sea pearls are generally the largest. All pearl sizes look wonderful when paired with other jewels or even worn on their own.
ShapePerfectly round pearls are the rarest shape, but pearl-lovers also favor semi-round and baroque pearls for pendants, earrings and accent stones.
ColorPearls come in a variety of colors, but their comparative value is simply a matter of taste. Try holding different pearl colors against your skin to bring out subtle secondary tones.
LusterWhen light enters a pearl, it reflects back through the layers of nacre to produce the rich glow we call luster. The easiest way to assess the luster of a pearl is to look for your reflection in it—a quality luster with many layers of nacre will reflect your face back at you.
SurfaceWhile smooth pearl surfaces are prized by many, even the most valuable pearls may have a few blemishes—these small marks reflect the natural beauty of the growth process.
A Pearl for Every Personality
Prized for centuries, the silvery glow of pearls was associated with the purity and protection of the moon. Today, pearls are cultivated in beautiful hues of white, rose, green and even black.
Although they’re the birthstone for June, we believe pearls are for everyone. Classic white pearls make a traditional finish to a dressy outfit, but if you prefer a bolder statement, slip on a strand of black pearls or a pair of green-pearl pendant earrings.
No matter your personality, there’s a pearl for you—our large selection of freshwater, South Sea, Akoya and Tahitian saltwater pearls ensure it.
South Sea Pearls
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- Vintage-Inspired Freshwater Cultured Pearl and White Topaz Drop Earrings
Brief History of Pearls
Pearls have been revered for centuries, and their first use as jewelry isn’t documented. Many jewelry historians believe that pearls were found by ancient fish-eating tribes along India’s coasts when they were opening oysters for food. Ancient cultures in India, Egypt and China all valued pearls for their beauty. Pearl’s popularity moved throughout the region and soon the world, with many historic societies valuing these gems. For centuries, pearls were reserved for royalty.
The more recent invention of cultured pearls has made these beautiful gems more accessible to everyone. Cultured pearls allow for the large-scale creation of glistening gems and increased affordability.
Famous Pearl Jewelry
Pearls have remained a cultural phenomenon, with people from all walks of life wearing these gems. Audrey Hepburn famously wore strings of pearls in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, making the pearl and little black dress combo iconic. Rene Russo wore a pearl station necklace in 1996’s Tin Cup, linking the jewelry style to the namesake film. More recently, pearls have been worn by Kamala Harris and even baseball player Joc Pederson.
Natural vs Cultured Pearls
Natural and cultured pearls are both made in mollusks when an irritant finds it way inside. The mollusk secretes a protective fluid that, over time, forms layers that create a shining pearl. For natural pearls, this happens without human intervention. In cultured pearls, this happens when someone puts the irritant, aka the nucleus, directly into the mollusk. The formation of the pearl is still up to the mollusk and cannot be controlled. This makes even cultured pearls unique and beautiful in their individuality.
How to Wear Pearls Like You Were Born in Them
Take Inspiration From HistoryFashion icon Coco Chanel made a big splash in the 1930s with her extravagant layering of pearl necklaces. Channel her timeless look with layered strings of white pearls—or give the style a modern twist with bold Tahitian pearls or supersized South Sea pearls.
Keep It CasualIncorporate pearls into everyday fashion with subtle pieces like pearl studs, classic strands and delicate bracelets that you can wear to work or for a day of shopping.
Make A StatementPut your pearls on a pedestal at a wedding or out on the dance floor with adventurous pendant necklaces, multi-layered pearl bracelets or eye-catching drop earrings.
How to Take Care of Your Pearls
Last on. First Off.Put them on last, and take them off first to protect them from body care products.
Careful CleaningWipe your pearls clean with a soft cloth after you wear them. Deep clean them periodically with mild soap and water.
Gentle StorageStore your pearls inside a soft cloth bag to protect against scratches.
Service RegularlyWe offer free cleaning and repair services for all of our pearl and gemstone jewelry.
There are several ways to tell if a pearl is real. Touch is the best way to tell a real pearl versus a fake one. Real pearls will be gritty to the touch, while fake pearls are often uniformly smooth. Fake pearls are entirely uniform in shape, size and color while real pearls, as organically created gems, have variations in their appearance.
Real pearls will also conduct heat differently than fake pearls. A real pearl strand will initially feel cool to the touch, and then warm as you hold them in your hands.
The price of pearls varies depending on the type of pearl and any additional elements of the jewelry. Pearls set with precious metals will cost more than those set in other materials. Natural pearls boast a higher price tag than cultured pearls.
Strings of pearls are considered particularly delicate as they are often set with silk. They should not be fully submerged in water.
Proper pearl jewelry care is crucial to protect these gems. Follow the first on, last off rule to prevent pearls from being damaged by cosmetic or body care products. Pearls should be stored in their original packaging when they're not being worn.
Pearls, both natural and cultured, are the only gems formed within living creatures. Their internal luster also makes pearls a unique gemstone that provides an organic, warm glow.
Real vintage pearls that haven’t been worn for years may yellow over time. Wearing real pearls regularly is the best way to help them maintain their lustrous white shine.
Unlike lab-grown diamonds, simulated diamonds are not diamonds. Diamond simulants such as cubic zirconia and moissanite have different chemical composition compared to a diamond.
Simulants are made from seed materials like glass or cubic zirconia. This fact makes diamond simulants like moissanite lack the hardness and optical properties of lab-grown diamonds. As time goes on, simulants become much more susceptible to wear-and-tear and diminished sparkle. Lab-made diamonds, on the other hand, are chemically identical to diamonds and offer lasting beauty.
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