Pearls are unique among gemstones in that they are natural, organic products of living creatures. Each type of pearl is produced by a different species of oyster and each oyster lives in a different region of the world under very specific climatic conditions.
Seven factors determine the quality, value and beauty of pearls: size, shape, color, lustre, surface quality, nacre quality and matching. A pearl's ultimate size and quality can depend on several variables - the size and health of the mollusk that produced the pearl, the size of the nucleus and the amount of time the mollusk spent underwater adding layers of nacre to build the pearl. Other factors also include the climate and the nutrient conditions of the mollusk's growth environment.
Pearls are measured by their diameter in millimeters. Tiny seed pearls can be smaller than 1mm, while South Sea pearls, as large as 20mm, have been found. The average pearl sold today is between 6.5mm and 11mm.
The round pearls are not the only shape in which pearls are found. But a perfectly round pearl is very rare. The rounder the pearl, the more valuable it is.
A pearl's color contains three basic components - hue, the color's first impression; tone, its lightness or darkness; and saturation, its strength or intensity. A pearl's color can have three main characteristics: body-color, overtone and orient-iridescent. Pearls come in a variety of colors from white to black and every shade in between. All pearls display body-color but not all pearls will display overtones or orient.
Lustre is the most important of all the value factors when considering the beauty of a pearl. Lustre is more than a combination of surface brilliance and a deep glow. It is caused by light traveling down through the translucent layers of nacre and reflecting back to the eye from deep within the pearl.
What is the difference between natural pearls and cultured pearls?
Natural pearls occur in the wild without any human assistance. Pearl farmers grow cultured pearls under tightly controlled conditions. They design cultured pearls from start to finish, ensuring they are perfectly shaped and luminous. Once harvested, the pearls are cleaned, and some are treated and bleached before being made into jewelry.
Natural pearls vary in size and luminosity, though most have a stunning iridescent quality. They can grow in a variety of shapes and sizes simply because they are wild. Cultured pearls have some of the same qualities, but they will most often have a uniform shape and size. They can also be dyed or bleached to achieve a different color and luster.
Cultured pearls are often thought of as imitation pearls, but the two should not be confused. Cultured pearls are made of the same material as natural pearls and can take up to seven years to create, depending on the type of pearl. Imitation pearls are often made of plastic or glass and can be manufactured quite easily and quickly.
Pearl prices can vary greatly. Because natural pearls are rare and difficult to find, they are typically quite expensive. Perfect strands of natural pearls are even more uncommon and can be among the most expensive pieces of jewelry. Cultured pearls can also be expensive, depending on their luster, shape, and size, but are available in a range of prices. Both natural and cultured pearls of all varieties can be a valuable jewelry investment.
Pearls symbolize wisdom acquired through experience. They are believed to attract wealth and luck as well as offer protection. Known for their calming effect, pearls can balance one's karma, strengthen relationships, and keep children safe. The pearl is also said to symbolize the purity, generosity, integrity, and loyalty of its wearer.