It’s Pearl Week at Susan Jane Jewels. Just like Discovery Channel has Shark Week, I host Pearl Week.

The focus today is what I call Pearl Jewelry 101 and pearl jewelry check list. Let’s start with the basics.

What are pearls and where do they come from?

Pearls are produced by mollusks or oysters in the ocean. They are the result of an irritant getting into a mollusk or oyster shell. In order to cope with this irritant, the mollusk coats said irritant, usually a parasite or a speck of sand, with nacre. The nacre makes the parasite or sand speck smooth, and much less irritating to the mollusk. The oyster spins and coats the spec for years with nacre. The end result is a Pearl. It can take years for a Pearl to develop in size. Do to over fishing, oil drilling and pollution, most natural or wild Pearl beds have disappeared.

What are Wild Pearls? Also known as Natural Pearls:

That’s easy, a Pearl that likes to party! No, seriously, a wild Pearl is extremely rare and extremely valuable. Again, as I said above, most wild pearl beds have disappeared and almost all pearls today are farmed. Natural pearls have had no man made assistance in creating a pearl.
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Why are pearls so desirable?

Historically, Pearls have one of the most prized gems in the world. Think about ancient times, and what divers had to go through to get enough pearls to make say, a necklace. There was no scientific way to find pearls, no diving gear, and no oxygen tanks. Imagine how many pearls had to be found, and then matched in color, shape, size and luster to create a piece of jewelry. At one point in history pearls were the most expensive gem in the world and were reserved for royalty and noblemen.

Cultured Pearls – In modern times, cultured pearls are considered most beautiful and most desirable. Combining science and art we can thank Kokicho Mikimoto for inventing the cultured pearl. As the founder of Mikimoto pearls he is considered the King of Pearls and is quoted as saying, “My dream is to adorn the necks of all women around the world with pearls.”

Here’s an interesting fact: in order to get 50 pearls that are compatible to make a 16 inch necklace, a Pearl sorter or processor would have to sort through 1000 pearls. This is one big reason why real pearls are so expensive.

How do pearls get their color?

Pearls come in a variety of colors. The biggest color determining factor is type of mollusk with other contributing factors that include diet, water temperature and pollution. With all these factors, it is not possible to predict or forecast colors of pearls even though these are farmed pearls. It really is up to Mother Nature.

South Sea Pearls are rarest and most highly prized of all Pearl varieties. The come in shades from silvery white to deep golden yellow. Their large size is and luster is exquisite making South Sea pearls a desirable. The layers of nacre are thicker than any other type of Pearl and they command thaw highest price of all pearls. Necklaces with South Sea pearls can run from $30,000 to $300,000. South Sea pearls are farmed on the north shore of Australia. Attempts have been made to farm them else where with no fruitful results.

Tahitian pearls are also known as black pearls. Black pearls are very rarely black. Instead they are iridescent with shades of green, blue, purple, peacock, and copper. Naturally colored pearls that are technically called black pearls, are better known as Tahitian pearls and farmed in Tahiti, the Philippines and Indonesia.

Baroque pearls are irregular non-spherical  shaped pearls. The my can be tear drop shaped, egg shaped (ovoid), curved, pinched or lumpy . The most valuable Baroque pearls are South Sea and Tahitian and most of these come from Western Australia.

Soufflé pearls – The term Souffle’ pearls was coined by Jack Lynch of Sea Hunt Pearls. Souffle’ pearls were a bit of an accident in the cultured pearl process. The result was a lightweight pearl with tremendous color and luster which was first introduced in 2010.

Salt water pearls vs. fresh water pearls – salt water pearls are cultivated in oceans or salted bodies or water while fresh water pearls are grown in lakes, rivers or ponds. Almost all fresh water pearls come from China.

Knotted Pearls means that the pearl necklace has been assembled with a fine cord that is knotted between each Pearl. This is a sign of a well made pieces of jewelry. This helps protect each Pearl so that they are not bumping up against each other, which could caused damage to the skin of the Pearl over time. The other benefit of knotting is that if the cord were to break, it will prevent your entire necklace from falling apart, and thus minimize any pearls that could be lost. Without the knotting construction, if the pearls are simply strung on jewelry cord, you could potentially lose all the pearls if your clasp or string breaks.

How to care for your pearls and pearl dos and don’ts – Pearls should be the last thing you put on before you leave for the day or party and the first thing you take off. If you reapply hairspray or perfume, you must remove your pearls so that you don’t damage them. Hairspray and perfumes contain ingredients that can be damaging to pearls. Do not store your pearls in plastic bags. Best to store them in soft fabric pouches. The best thing you can do is wear your pearls.

How to tell the difference between real vs. faux pearls Real pearls will not be perfectly round. If each pearl appears to perfectly round, the exact same shape and luster, chances are they are faux. Many faux pearls are glass, so they will have some weight to them.
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Pearl jewelry wardrobe check list:

Necklace  I recommend to my clients that every one needs at least 1 pearl necklace. Now, it does not need to be a traditional, knotted style pearl necklace. There are lots of choices out there. I also think that if you have several pearl necklaces of varying looks and lengths you will get a lot more mileage out of your necklaces because you can wear and style them several different ways. Depending on your budget, you can invest in real peals or faux pearls. What matters is buying pieces you love and that you will wear. And go ahead and mix real with costume.

Stud earrings – another key piece that I recommend to my clients. This is a great staple and go to piece because the pearl stud can be casual or dressed up. It is a very good choice for a weekend away because if you want to pack light, this will fit the bill for almost any occasion. There are many choices on stud styles and pearl colors and sizes. Select what you like and what is flattering to you. They don’t need to be real pearls, they can be costume or faux pearls.

Dramatic drop earrings – Since pearls are so classic and timeless a great way to make bring them into your wardrobe is to invest in a dramatic or chandelier style earring. Now if you can afford the real thing with exquisite gem stones, go for it. If on the other hand you want to buy something more budget friendly, there are all kinds of possibilities for large, statement, costume pearl earrings.

Bracelet – is a wonderful compliment and texture to pearl necklaces. If you have several pearl necklaces a bracelet is a very good addition. Now, they don’t have to be an exact match, from the same collection. In fact I like to mix high/low and real/costume. Just make sure they look good together and are compatible. A simple single row of pearls in a bracelet is a good foundation for your next arm party.

Ring – a pearl ring is fantastic to wear with your other pearl pieces. I love a good statement, pearl cocktail ring. Again there are many amazing possibilities available in both real and faux pearls.

Would you like to read more about costume jewelry pearls and how Coco Chanel made them popular? Read my blog post here.

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