The Many Pearl Varieties
Some Pearl History
The old Persians thought that pearls were created magically by the moonlight shining into the open oyster. The birthplace of the fascination of humankind for the pearl is the Persian Gulf. Even today, it is still the primary source for natural pearls traded in the Middle East.
More than 2000 years ago, pearls were the most precious item you could buy with money.
Julius Caesar was a lover of pearls and once paid 60,000 gold pieces for one single pearl. In the first century before Christ, Caesar passed a law stating that pearls were not for the lower classes. Even Caesar’s non-successful conquest of the Britons had as one of its goals, access to the valuable river pearls
Queen Elizabeth I was so infatuated with pearls, that she was called the Pearl Queen.
A major turn came when, in 1908, the Japanese noodle producer Kokichi Mikimoto started the first commercial pearl farm. Less successful farmers had been operating in China since the fifteenth century. Mikimoto, aptly known as the pearl-king, had cracked the proverbial oyster by breeding perfectly round pearls and offered them to an enthusiastic world.
Since the 1960s, pearl farmers have been producing pearls to the market standard – and believe me, this is a good thing! What was historically considered an aristocratic luxury for the high society now became an affordable extravagance. One should not forget that greed nearly killed off the oyster fields in Central American and the Scottish Oyster was nearly driven to extinction. In 1998, the United Kingdom declared it was illegal to fish for pearls.
Creating pearls takes time
To have a pearl farm is to have a very risky business. Creating a pearl takes between 8 months to 6 years. There are factors like illness, water temperature fluctuations, storms and pollution which can ruin a farmer overnight. August 2007, two tropical storms in southern China killed millions of pearl oysters. About half of all cultivated pearls are good enough for the market and less than 5% of those are perfect round pearls.
Four different types of pearls
These were the saltwater pearl oysters that Mikimoto started with. The Akoya pearl is now being farmed in China, Tahiti, and Vietnam because of the pollution of their original habitat. Normally the Akoya pearl takes between 8 months to 2 years to develop.
Sometimes up to 5 nuclei can be introduced but normally only two are inserted. Akoya pearls are seldom larger than 9 mm. On average, they are between 2 to 6 mm. Approximately one out of five seeded oysters produce a pearl but only a small part of that is of gem quality.
Sweet Water Pearls
In some of the Venus oysters, up to fifty pearls might be produced, which makes it very valuable. They produce a large variety of colors, have a very shiny surface and most of the time have a baroque form. Chinese Sweetwater oysters can also be seeded with little beads which then produce a pearl up to 14 mm in diameter.
South Sea Pearls
There are being farmed in Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. This oyster is known for its white, silver, and golden pearls. They take between 2 to 6 years to grow. The oyster can only be seeded with one nucleus. Normally they are around 16 mm but can grow to 20 mm.
Named after the French Polynesian Island, these are the most sought-after pearls. They were only discovered by Europeans in 1845. The typical color is blue-green. The most frequently found color is the dark green one called Fly-Wing. Another variation is pink in combination with a black background color so the eggplant color is created. The rarest and most expensive is the peacock color which is a green–pink combination. These pearls are normally between 8 to 16 mm.
A completely natural pearl
On rare occasions, a truly natural pearl is found. But these are very expensive. Most of the pearls available today are “cultured”. A small rounded piece of “Mother of Pearl” called nacre, along with a part of the original oyster’s mantle, is placed inside the oyster. The oyster is then put back into the protective basket. Cultured pearls produced this way provide consistent quality, size, and color. They can come from freshwater oysters or saltwater oysters. Both can produce wonderful colors and sizes.
From my grandmother and my mother, I have different pearl sets. I sometimes wear them as pearls can lose their shine if kept too long inside a box. Most women will love pearls as they give a chic and mysterious touch to any outfit. Giving pearls as a gift you can never go wrong.
Photo Source: Private Photos