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All about Pearls


Buying or selling pearls can be a daunting and difficult task for the uninitiated but with a little bit of research the job can become a very interesting and enjoyable experience. The goal of this article is to educate anyone buying or selling pearl jewelry, but in no way can the topic of "Pearls" be covered in a single page.


What is a pearl?
A pearl is a hard object produced within the soft tissue of a living shelled mollusk. Just like the shell of a clam, a pearl is made up of calcium carbonate in minute crystalline form, which has been deposited in concentric layers. The ideal pearl is perfectly round and smooth, but many other shapes of pearls (baroque pearls) occur. The finest quality natural pearls have been highly valued as gemstones and objects of beauty for many centuries, and because of this, the word pearl has become a metaphor for something very rare, fine, admirable, and valuable.
The most valuable pearls occur spontaneously in the wild, but they are extremely rare. These wild pearls are referred to as natural pearls. Cultured or farmed pearls from pearl oysters and freshwater mussels make up the majority of those that are currently sold. Imitation pearls are also widely sold in inexpensive jewelry, but the quality of their iridescence is usually very poor, and often, artificial pearls are easily distinguished from genuine pearls. Pearls have been harvested and cultivated primarily for use in jewelry, but in the past they were also stitched onto lavish clothing. Pearls have also been crushed and used in cosmetics, medicines, and in paint formulations.
Whether wild or cultured, gem quality pearls are almost always nacreous and iridescent, as is the interior of the shell that produces them. However, almost all species of shelled mollusks are capable of producing pearls of lesser shine or less spherical shape. Although these may also be legitimately referred to as "pearls" by gemological labs and also under U.S. Federal Trade Commission rules, and are formed in the same way, most of them have no value, except as curiosities.
Natural pear or Cultured pearl?
A "natural pearl" or "wild pearl" is one that forms without any human intervention at all, in the wild, and is very rare. Many hundreds of pearl oysters or pearl mussels have to be gathered and opened, and thus killed, to find even one wild pearl, and for many centuries that was the only way pearls were obtained. This was the main reason why pearls fetched such extraordinary prices in the past. A cultured pearl is formed in a pearl farm, using human intervention as well as natural processes.

Natural pearls
Natural pearls are nearly 100% calcium carbonate and conchiolin. It is thought that natural pearls form under a set of accidental conditions when a microscopic intruder or parasite enters a bivalve mollusk, and settles inside the shell. The mollusk, being irritated by the intruder, forms a pearl sac of external mantle tissue cells and secretes the calcium carbonate and conchiolin to cover the irritant. This secretion process is repeated many times, thus producing a pearl. Natural pearls come in many shapes, with perfectly round ones being comparatively rare.


Cultured pearls
Cultured pearls are the response of the shell to a tissue implant. A tiny piece of mantle tissue from a donor shell is transplanted into a recipient shell. This graft will form a pearl sac and the tissue will precipitate calcium carbonate into this pocket. There are a number of options for producing cultured pearls: use freshwater or seawater shells, transplant the graft into the mantle or into the gonad, add a spherical bead or do it non-beaded. The majority of saltwater cultured pearls are grown with beads. The trade name of the cultured pearls are Akoya, white or golden South sea, and black Tahitian. The majority of beadless cultured pearls are mantle-grown in freshwater shells in China, known as freshwater cultured pearls.

Imitation pearls
Some imitation pearls are simply made of mother-of-pearl, coral or conch shell, while others are made from glass and are coated with a solution containing fish scales called essence d'Orient. Although imitation pearls look the part, they do not have the same weight or smoothness as real pearls, and their luster will also dim greatly.

Value of a natural pearl
Quality natural pearls are very rare jewels. The actual value of a natural pearl is determined in the same way as it would be for other "precious" gems. The valuation factors include size, shape, color, quality of surface, orient and luster.
Single, natural pearls are often sold as a collector's item, or set as centerpieces in unique jewelry. Very few matched strands of natural pearls exist, and those that do often sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. In 1917, jeweler Pierre Cartier purchased the Fifth Avenue mansion that is now the New York Cartier store in exchange for a matched, double strand of natural pearls that he had been collecting for years; valued at the time at $1 million USD

Factors that affect the price of the pearls.

Pearl Type (South Sea, Tahitian, Saltwater, Freshwater, Akoya, Natural, Cultured, Whole, Blister etc.) Size, Color, Shape, Luster, Surface, Nacre thickness, and the quality of the matching.


Valuation and Pricing.

Value of Pearls can be a difficult task, all these factors have to be considered and the value often at the discretion of the appraiser. Quality has always been worth more and beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

If you are looking to sell you Pearls please give me a call. I am always happy to give my opinion and never charge for a consultation. We offer a free appraising service, if you are looking to sell any estate Jewelry.

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