Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Pearls for June

  Like other months of the year, June has several birthstones, but the Pearl is perhaps the most well-known. Other gemstones of June include moonstone and alexandrite.
Photo courtesy of  Abhinaba Basu . No endorsement of blog or website is implied.
 The Pearl has been valued by mankind for thousands of years. In a similar way such as Coral, pearls are a product of a living process. To paraphrase something I read in a book a couple of years ago, '...pearls are the only gemstone produced as a result of pain....'. 

  This alludes to the way that pearls are formed. When some kind of irritant becomes lodged in the shell of a clam, oyster or mussel - a bit of broken shell, a grain of sand - the animal produces a coating called "nacre" (the "mother of pearl" coating the inside of some mollusks' shells), which slowly builds up layer upon layer, smoothing over the irritant to produce a pearl.

  It is now the case that the majority of pearls in the world are produced on a mass scale by this process, with farmers providing the "irritant" by systematically introducing a bit of foreign matter into the shell, producing what is known as "cultured pearls".

Types of Pearls 
  Although all pearls are composed primarily of nacre, they are available in a wide range of styles and colors. Other than round pearls, the most common shapes are rice, potato, baroque, stick and mabe.
        Rice: As one would expect from the name, these are pearls that are shaped as small, long ovals. They are generally in the range of about 2-4 mm thick and about 6-10 mm long.
         Potato: They are usually about 5 - 7 mm, roundish with a flat side. 
        Baroque: These are broadly defined as any pearl of an irregular shape. They may be quite large; and due to their unusual shapes, they are often used in artistic and fanciful designs, depending on the imagination of the artisan.
       Stick: Also known as "biwa" pearls; as their name implies, they tend to be long and flat, having either a squarish or rectangular shape. These are produced by mussels, and are created by the farmer cutting slits in the mussel's tissue, which causes it to produce nacre. 
        Mabe: This is a half-domed shape pearl that is grown against the side of the oyster's shell. Often seen in rings and elaborate pendants. 

"But, Are They Real?"
   So, what are some of the ways to distinguish real from fake pearls? In a nutshell, the more perfect a 'pearl' is, the more likely that it is either glass, or a cultured pearl. If you have an X-ray machine handy, you can just take a picture of the pearl, and the truth will quickly be revealed. 
   In many cases, it may take an expert to not only determine a real pearl, but also to appraise its value.
    For the rest of us, here are some basic guidelines: 
        "Matching: Because of their scarcity and limited supply, matching of natural pearls was often ignored, especially as the size increased, so necklaces often contain pearls with marked differences in size, color and shape.
           "Color: In terms of color, natural pearls are usually creamier than today's finest cultured pearls, and in necklaces and bracelets, there may be subtle variations in color throughout the strand.
          "Shape: In terms of shape, natural pearls are rarely truly 'round', and necklaces often seem to contain pearls that seem out-of-round to today's pearl buyer..." (1)
   You may also be able to examine the drill hole - if you have a loupe, you may be able to examine the pearl drillhole and see a dark line marking where the actual nacre begins to form around the shell or mantle that was inserted into the shell of the mollusk. A small hole may also indicate a natural pearl, since the pearl is valued by its weight, care is taken to keep the hole as small as possible. 

The Mystique of Pearls
   The Arabs called pearls the "Tears of the Gods"; the ancient Greeks thought pearls to promote marital bliss; the ancient Chinese believed pearls to be a gift from dragons, falling from the sky whenever dragons fought in flight. Cleopatra favored pearls in her jewelry.
   Pearls have come to represent purity and innocence; in folklore, they are thought to be a cure for poison. They are also thought to possess mystical powers that heighten the spirituality of the wearer. They are believed by some to promote wisdom, protection and good fortune for the owner. 
   This kind of belief is reflected in our language, for we all respect the idea of "pearls of wisdom". 
    May you wear it in good health!

"The Pearl is the queen of gems,
 and the gems of Queens."
 ~ Author Unknown

(1). Jewelry & Gems at Auction: The Definitive Guide to Buying & Selling at the Auction House & on Internet Auction Sites, by Antoinette Matlins, P.G. Gemstone Press, 2002

Such are.....

         "The Elements of LIFE!"

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