What is a Cultured Pearl?
Natural pearls are so rare to find in nature that most pearls sold today are cultured. To create a cultured pearl, a tiny bead is implanted into the oyster and gradually over time the oyster coats the bead in many layers of natural minerals and proteins. These layers are referred to as nacre (Nay-Ker.) It is the nacre that gives pearls their beautiful luster and color.
Pearls produce an intense, deep shine called luster. This effect is created when light reflects off the many layers of tiny calcium carbonate crystals that compose the pearl. This substance is called nacre. When selecting a pearl, consider that the larger the pearl, the more nacre it has, so it will also exhibit even more luster. Compare a 5mm Freshwater cultured pearl with a 10mm South Sea cultured pearl and the difference in the amount of nacre is obvious. The difference in luster is as clearly visible as the difference in the pearl sizes.
The size of the pearl greatly depends on the type of pearl. Freshwater pearls range in size from about 3.0-7.0mm, Akoya pearls range from about 6.0-8.5mm, and South Sea and Tahitian pearls can reach sizes as large as 13mm.
When cared for properly, pearls can last a lifetime. The best way to care for pearls is to wear them often as the body’s natural oils keep pearls lustrous. However, it’s important to keep them away from household chemicals including perfume, makeup and hairspray. Chemicals found in these common products can dull the luster of your pearls. It is recommended that you put your pearls on last when getting ready and make them the first thing you take off when you come home. Before putting your pearls away, wipe them with a soft cloth and store them separate from other jewelry to avoid scratching their tender surfaces.
The general color of a pearl is also called the body color. Typical pearl colors are white, cream, yellow, pink, silver, or black. A pearl can also have a hint of secondary color, or overtone, which is seen when light reflects off the pearl surface. For example, a pearl strand may appear white, but when examined more closely, a pink overtone may become apparent.
As a mollusk creates a pearl, the layers of nacre do not always adhere smoothly. Sometimes spots and bubbles can appear in the layering process. Pearls with the smoothest surfaces are the highest-quality, most sought-after pearls.
Different types of Pearls
- The Black Tahitian pearl is produced by the Black Lipped oyster of French Polynesia. Natural Black Tahitian pearls are extremely rare since only one out of about 10,000 oysters contains a pearl. Most are not really black. Colors can be light silver, gray, yellow bronze, green with pink overtone, and peacock with nearly all colors showing in play-of-color on the surface of the pearl.
- Akoya pearls are the classic cultured pearls of Japan. They are the most lustrous of all pearls found anywhere in the world. China has recently also been successful in producing Akoya pearls.The Akoya pearl is either white or cream in body color and can have yellow, pink or blue hues. It typically has an excellent, good or fair luster.
- South Sea pearls tend to be both the largest and the rarest of pearls. Their rarity is due to the fact that growing larger pearls requires a great deal of time. Their most common colors are white, silver, and gold.
- Natural freshwater pearls occur in mussels for the same reason that saltwater pearls occur in oysters. Foreign material, usually a sharp object or parasite, enters a mussel and cannot be expelled. Almost instantly appealing, their luster and luminescent depth rival naturals.
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