Pearls are often called a 'living gem' and are the only gemstone that forms within our lifetime. Their soft lustrous appearance grants them the unique ability to be worn casually, to a black tie event or into your working day. They are said to ‘light the face’ with their unique glow. Warm to the touch pearls are simple and purely organic.
Pearls form when an irritant enters a mollusk and the creature layers nacre around the irritant, essentially to make it more comfortable. Naturally occuring pearls are very rarely found and are incredibly valuable. In fact, in 1917 Pierre Cartier famously traded a double strand of natural pearls for a mansion on Fifth Avenue in New York City.
Cultured pearls are the result of the deliberate insertion of a bead or piece of tissue that the mollusk coats with nacre and this practice results in the majority of pearls on the market today. Creating a cultured pearl was first recorded in 1893 when Kokichi Mikimoto successfully cultured a pearl in Japan.
South Sea Pearls
Pearls have various geographic origins and many resulting shapes, sizes and colours. The jewel in the pearl crown is the Australian South Sea Pearl being the largest of pearls coming from the Pinctada Maxima oyster. Each pearl takes over two years to grow, laying down layer upon patient layer of lustrous nacre and producing large round to baroque shaped pearls in hues from white to pinkish white and silvery grey. Keshi pearls are lustrous small pearls of all nacre that are a result of the culturing process and are often organic in form. Keshi means poppyseed in Japan. Simon’s background in pearls means he has deep experience and industry connections along with a great love of pearls and the design inspiration that comes from working with these organic gems.
Also within the pinctada family are the black and peacock coloured pearls from Tahiti being from the black lip Pinctada Margaritifera oyster which are native to the French Polynesian area and golden pearls from the Philipines and Indonesia being from the gold lipped Pinctada Maxima oyster.
The Akoya pearl is grown in the Pinctada fucata martensii, a small oyster, no bigger than 6 to 8cm in size, and as such the pearl produced by it is small as well. These pearls range from white to pinkish in colour and were made famous by Mikimoto. Still today over 90% of Akoya pearls are grown in Japan.
Freshwater Pearls are grown in molluscs in freshwater lakes, rivers, and ponds predominantly in China. Often small and irregularly shaped, these pearls are the product of an elaborate process in which tiny tissue grafts are implanted into the thick mantle of a live mussel. Abundant pearls in a range of colours and shapes can be grown with this process over a relatively short period of time.
The Five Virtues
When buying pearls there are Five Virtues to consider. The first is Lustre and the sharper your reflection in the pearl’s surface, the higher the lustre. The second is Complexion or small dents or imperfections in the pearl’s surface. The third is Shape and whilst perfect rounds tend to command a premium due to their rarity, you should pursue the shape that most appeals to you. Colour is the fourth virtue and again can be a personal preference. Matched colours in a strand or set can increase value due to the challenge of colour matching a natural gem. Lastly Size is the final virtue to consider and a pearl with five exceptional virtues including size will ultimately be more precious.
Simon has been working with pearls for over three decades and has deep expertise with these gems.
He is happy to consult and source the pearls that best fit your design.