Love Pearls? How to Choose Pearls

It's important to choose and care for the best pearls that suit you and enhance your wardrobe.
It's important to choose and care for the best pearls that suit you and enhance your wardrobe. | Source

Choose the Pearl with Care, that Powerful, Timeless Symbol

Pearls, the June birthstone, should be carefully chosen and cared for just as carefully. Pearls can be a timeless statement of understated elegance or a bombastic display of incredible drama. In today's world, pearls can give a pair of jeans and tee shirt the wow factor or take the office uniform from mundane to power suit. The right pearls finish the bridal gown or add to First Lady stature and memorable fashion statement. But how do you choose the right pearls for you - for your outfits? And once chosen, how do you take care of them to maintain their beauty?

Included in this article is information on choosing the right pearls and caring for those precious gems once you have them in your possession.

Pearls have certainly been powerful symbols beginning early in the known history of man. Most cultures had strong symbolisms associated with pearls including assigning mystical powers of protection as the knights of the Middle Ages embarked on their quest for the Holy Grail. Queen Cleopatra dissolved them in wine and proceeded to drink them as a demonstration of her immense wealth and power when she was courted by Roman Mark Anthony.

Pearls come in many sizes, shapes and colors. It's that size, shape, nacre thickness, luster of colors and surface clarity, along with the pearls origin, that determines its value. It is that very variety that also inspires jewelers to construct necklaces, bracelets, earrings or any other type of jewelry that springs from the imagination. In fact, there are contests which reward those designers who shine such as the one that is sponsored by the Cultured Pearl Association of America (CPAA).

Pearls are harvested from a natural body of marine or freshwater or they are harvested from man-made, tended fisheries. The pearls are found in the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, the Australian coast even the Mississippi River and various rivers in Europe including Scotland and France.

Pearls that are seeded and tended by man are cultured pearls. 90% of pearls on the market today are cultured pearls. Until the 50's cultured pearls were considered inferior to those from natural waters. In actuality, the development of a cultured pearl differs from the development of a pearl in the natural in only the fact that there has been "interference" from man. In both instances, the pearl formation is prompted in response to the introduction of an irritant through the shell of a bivalve or two shelled mollusk such as a pearl oyster, an abalone, a conch or a mussel.

When such an irritant - a grain of sand, a particle of food, a parasite - is introduced, the mollusk will begin to form a hardened substace around the offensive object. This substance, called laminae, will grow as layer on layer of calcium carbonite is formed around the irritant to eventually form the pearl.


Pearls are the birthstone for June
Pearls are the birthstone for June
Source
Iconic Coco Chanel pose in silhouette.
Iconic Coco Chanel pose in silhouette. | Source
The First Lady in Pearls.
The First Lady in Pearls. | Source

Cultured, Natural and Other Considerations

Natural pearls were rare (and rarer today because of demand and pollution) and obtained at great peril to the highly skilled diver diving without any breathing apparatus. Before the advent of pearl culturing, pearls were obtained by divers who performed dramatic, risky dives in waters of great depths in the Indian Ocean, South Seas and waters off Australia. It was not unusual for these waters to be filled with dangerous sharks and other perils. Diving for pearls continues today, although more often divers are now collecting the mollusks to be used in the man-made pearl beds.

Man has been culturing pearls for the last seven centuries. However, it was the Japanese, K. Mikimoto being one of them, who perfected the process during the late 1800's, successfully creating a round pearl from the Akoya oyster. The cultured pearl became popular during the 1950s when designers began to use them in their lines and as a part of their own dress.

The natural color of the pearl is determined by the waters the mollusk is found in and range from brilliant white to browns to grays, corals and even black. Cultured pearls can be in a wider range of colors because the colors can be artificially introduced to the pearl. Tahitian pearls are sought after because they are the largest and rarest of pearls and are brilliant white but can also be a beautiful, spherical black. The Gulf of Mexico also sometimes yields the black pearl. Not only is the black pearl beautiful, it is the hardest of the pearls. Pearls from the Indian Ocean tend to be white with either rose or yellow undertones while Bahamian pearls often found in the conch tend to be pale rose to deep coral.

Pearls from freshwater mollusks are usually irregularly shaped and are called baroque pearls. Saltwater pearls are, on the other hand, more spherical in shape and are the most valuable. They have the most value when they are spherical and have silvery or milk white color.

When deciding on pearls, start with your budget. If you can afford them, buy natural pearls. They have a thicker nacre and their luster is going to be higher. There price will go into the thousands.

However, there is nothing wrong with the cultured pearl. In fact, cultured pearls make up 90% of the pearl market. In today's world, pearls aren't just for royalty or the very wealthy as they were in the past and the demand for them continues to be high.


Choosing Your Pearls

Choosing the Length of Pearl for You

There are varying lengths of pearls. Often the length and style is dictated by the fashions of the day and on your tastes. The choker length is usually 16" or less. The princess length is 18" long and the matinee and opera lengths are 23" and 36" respectively.

Queen Elizabeth I (1533 - 1603) had a "passion for pearls" wearing them in her hair, adorning her crown, woven into her clothes and worn as ropes down to her knees. Princess Grace of Monaco often wore a single choker strand. Jacqueline Kennedy's favorite pearls were three strands that were not pearls at all, but rather faux pearls so famous they sold at auction at Sotheby's for over $200,000.00. Actress Sarah Jessica Parker was photographed swathed in layers of varying lengths.

In short, there is simply no hard and fast rule of when or how to wear pearls today. They can look fabulous with jeans and a t-shirt or elegant with a little black dress. Just as different colors look different on each individual and with each outfit, so does each length of pearls What you want is a look that is stylish and not comedic, so don't be afraid to let the mirror and a friend be your guide.

Caring for your precious gems

No Special Care for Your Pearls

Pearls are organic gems which will breakdown over time. They should be worn often, but there are a few simple rules to follow to extend the life of the pearls and you will be able to hand them down over generations. First and foremost is to remember they are a soft gem; store them separately, in a soft jewelry pouch or flat in a jewelry box to avoid chipping the nacre.

If your pearls must be cleaned have it professionally done occasionally and restrung yearly if you wear them often.

Pearls are certainly to be enjoyed. Don't store them away or they will lose their beauty. The heat and the oil from your skin is just what pearls need. Enjoy them!

All rights reserved. Cynthia Turner 2011

Sources: People and Pearls: The Magic Endures by Ki Hackney and Diana Edkins, The American Museum of Natural History, Gemstones of the World by Walter Schumann, Precious Stones by Dr. Max Bauer


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Comments 17 comments

PETER LUMETTA profile image

PETER LUMETTA 5 years ago from KENAI, ALAKSA

Wonderful article and very right on all counts. The only thing I would add is the Chinese freshwater round cultured pearls are fantastic and much less than the Saltwater Japanese pearls. Thanks Peter


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 5 years ago from Georgia Author

Thank you for your comments. When I began the research on pearls, I wasn't aware of just how rich the history of the gem is. In fact, I didn't add that the Chinese would use little Buddhas as the irritant. Thanks again, Peter.


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 5 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

Beautiful hub about pearls Cyndi10. Pearls are really gorgeous gemstones and you have written so eloquently about them.


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 5 years ago from Georgia Author

Thank you so much for that comment CMHypno. I've been wearing faux pearls daily since I decided to write my hub about pearls. So many people comment on them. They really do seem to add that "something" to whatever you wear.


lhchan profile image

lhchan 5 years ago

Thanks for sharing this beautiful hub, let me learn a lesson, how to take care of pearls.


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 5 years ago from Georgia Author

Hi Ichan, I'm so glad you found this hub useful. I appreciate you reading it.


KDee411 profile image

KDee411 4 years ago from Bay Area, California

I love your Hub, very interesting. I've had my pears about thirty years and they look as new as the day I bought them at the San Francisco gift show. Now I'm curious as to where they came from. I think they might be Japan because the Japanise pearl shop is still at the jewrey center.

Thanks for the information.

Kay


Danette Watt profile image

Danette Watt 4 years ago from Illinois

Well, I never thought of wearing my pearls with jeans. I guess that's one way to get more use out of them instead of having them stuck away in their pouch.

Years ago when an older brother was in the Navy and stationed on a ship that was going to make a port o'call in Japan, my mother sent him a letter with some money and told him to buy a necklace and earrings for her, my sister and me. I think they are the opera length - I know I can wrap it around twice. They are very fine quality, with knots between each pearl. I was always very very grateful that my mother had the foresight to have him make that purchase. They were the first of several pieces of fine jewelry I've received over the years, mainly from my husband who was also in the Navy and had the opportunity to pick up gems overseas where the quality is very fine and the prices are much cheaper.

Voted up and beautiful for the pictures and useful and interesting.


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 4 years ago from Georgia Author

Hello Danette, Try your pearls with your jeans. I do it a lot. Adds a little chic to the jeans, I like to think. The opera length would look great with those jeans. Your mother was so smart to have the forethought to have your brother purchase your pearls for you in Japan. Thank you so much for voting!


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 4 years ago from London

Interesting and well-written article - but a fair few errors, too. You say Tahitian pearls are the biggest (they aren't) and that natural and cultured pearls differ only in having man's interferance - they don't. Some species which produce natural pearls, such as abalone, can't be cultured. Abalone pearls are quite simply different from freshwater, akoya, Tahitian or South Sea pearls.


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 4 years ago from Georgia Author

Hello LondonGirl, Thanks for the feedback. Regarding the Tahitian pearls and the natural versus cultured pearls differences, the research I found gave those stats. Interesting to know about abalone pearls. I've seen research that says they are having some success with culturing the abalone pearl, especially the abalone mabe pearl. However, you are right, large scale culturing has been difficult because the abalone apparently injures very easily. The industry and the gem is so fascinating and as the world demands the jewelry, the process for culturing pearls is increased/improved I'm so glad you took the time to comment.


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 4 years ago from London

Tahitian pearls are dark, and significantly smaller than South Sea pearls - which are usually thought of as the biggest cultured pearls.

Abalone mabe pearls have been cultured with some success, but not "proper" pearls. I understand abalones are haemophiliac, with obvious consequences if people try to implant things in them.


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 4 years ago from Georgia Author

Hello LondonGirl, You know your pearls. I find that there are many women who absolutely love them. As I was watching the Queen's activities during the Jubilee and wondered if the pearls she was wearing were heirloom. I imagine much of her jewelry is. Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to leave comments.


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 4 years ago from London

I do love pearls. I don't know about the Jubilee in particular, but the Queen often wears a double strand of pearls called the Queen Anne and the Queen Caroline pearls, given to her on the eve of her wedding in 1947 by her father, George VI. They are natural pearls, not cultivated, and worth millions.


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 4 years ago from Georgia Author

Ah. I could tell they were very old and had no doubt that they were natural. Nice to know their history from someone other than just looking it up on the internet. Thanks for the information.


ishwaryaa22 profile image

ishwaryaa22 4 years ago from Chennai, India

A well-written and engaging hub! Pearls are popular for several years, even today. Taking care of pearls are important for their everlasting beauty. I am into jewelry-designing course and this informative hub of yours served as a good lesson for me! Well-done!

Thanks for SHARING. Useful & Awesome. Voted up & shared


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 4 years ago from Georgia Author

Hello Ishwaryaa, I'm so glad you found my hub to be useful, especially since you are taking a jewelry designing course. Thank you so much for reading and sharing.

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