Pearls in any style - perfect shining spheres, lustrous baroque forms, or seductive strands of perfection, warm to the touch, are begging to be worn.
Perhaps the best-loved gems of all time, pearls—both natural and modern cultured pearls—occur in a wide variety of colors. The most familiar colors are white and cream (a light yellowish brown). Black, gray, and silver are also fairly common, but the palette of pearl colors extends to every hue. The main color, or body-color, is often modified by additional colors called overtones, which are typically pink (sometimes called rosé), green, purple, or blue. Some pearls also show the iridescent phenomenon known as orient. Natural pearls form in the bodies, or mantle tissue, of certain mollusks, usually around a microscopic irritant, and always without a human help of any kind. The growth of cultured pearls requires human intervention and care. Today, most of the mollusks used in the culturing process are raised specifically for that purpose, although some wild mollusks are still collected and used.
Akoya - This type is most familiar to many jewelry customers. Japan and China both produce saltwater Akoya cultured pearls. The Akoya Pearl was the pearl with which Kokichi Mikimoto first started his pearl cultivation enterprise. Kokichi Mikimoto was determined to find a way to produce pearls that were of the highest quality. In 1893, the first cultured Akoya pearl was made – an amazing achievement that created the cultured pearl industry we know today. In 1905, the world’s first spherical cultured Akoya pearl was born, down to the tireless research of Kokichi Mikimoto, and these amazing Japanese Akoya pearl oysters. Akoya oysters, from the waters of Japan, live in shoals and in water depths of 1 – 5 meters. These calm seas have few large waves and mild temperatures of 15 to 23 degrees Celsius. These perfect oceanic climates attribute to the production of pearls with brilliant lustre and rich colors – the qualities the Akoya pearl has become renowned for. Akoya colors range from white, cream and pink to silver pink. Akoya pearls, unless color-treated, have neutral colors and overtones. Most pearls are white to dark grey, with pink, green, or silver overtones. Occasionally, akoya pearls are blue with silver and pink overtones, but these colors are extremely rare. Akoya pearls are never naturally black – black akoya pearls have undergone either Cobalt-60 radiation treatment or treatment with an organic dye. The term ‘black’ is actually a bit of an interpratation in that usually they take on a more midnight-blue-black or greenish-black cast that is instantly recognizable once you’ve handled them a few times. Interesting fact about Akoyas is that the Akoya oyster is the smallest pearl-producing oyster in the world. Akoya pearls are often available in the market in sizes of 3 – 10mm. Their amazing ability and consistency in producing near-perfect round cultured pearls make them ideal for adorning some of the world’s finest Pearl Jewelry. The Akoya pearl remains a pure symbol of elegance and beauty.
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South Sea - Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines are leading sources of these saltwater cultured pearls.The South Seas that lie between the northern coast of Australia and Indonesia are the native habitat of the large silver-lipped South Sea oyster, also known as the Pinctada maxima, from which the White South Sea Pearl originates.The impressive mollusks grow up to 12 inches in diameter and produce pearls that are harvested from 9mm upwards – some of the largest, rarest and most valuable pearls in the world.They have a magnificent, satiny white luster as a result of their thick nacre layers, acquired through 18-24 months of cultivation. Their opalescent appearance subtly alters under the slightest of light changes, making them a true marvel to behold. Shapes range from round, oval or teardrop to free-form baroque.
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Tahitian - Cultivated primarily around the islands of French Polynesia (the most familiar of these is Tahiti), these saltwater cultured pearls usually range from white to black. Frequently referred to as black pearls, Tahitian pearls are highly valued because of their rarity; the culturing process for them dictates a smaller volume output and they can never be mass-produced because, in common with most sea pearls, the oyster can only be nucleated with one pearl at a time, while freshwater mussels are capable of multiple pearl implants. Before the days of cultured pearls, black pearls were rare and highly valued for the simple reason that white pearl oysters rarely produced naturally black pearls, and black pearl oysters rarely produced any natural pearls at all. Sometimes also known as Black South Sea pearls, Tahitian pearls are produced by the black-lipped oyster, or the Pinctada Margaritifera, in the waters off Tahiti. Here the warm waters, climate complexity, and sea currents combine to produce one of nature’s most unforgettable natural beauties. Black South Sea pearls are coveted treasures the world over. They have a glamorous size that combines perfectly with a spectrum of shimmering rich, dark colors, ranging from slate gray, silver, and pistachio to midnight black with overtones of green, rosé or blue. Some high-quality Black South Sea pearls feature what is called a peacock color, which has a remarkable red and green tint combined.
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Fiji Cultured Pearls - Fiji is a group of 332 islands in the South Pacific Ocean. The majority of Fiji's islands were formed through volcanic activity. The solidification of the molten lava and rocks erupting from the volcanoes gave the islands their very distinctive mountainous relief. Located about 2000 miles west of Tahiti, Fiji is another sanctuary for Pinctada Margaritifera oysters. However, variations in water conditions, surroundings and plankton species helps the same oyster, known for creating the Black Tahitian Pearl, to produce some of the most delicious colors of pearls. About sixty percent of the pearls harvested in Fiji are still somewhat black as the traditional Tahitian pearls and only about forty percent are produced in breathtaking natural colors. The Fiji Pearls as the Fiji Sunsets come in rich warm hues of gold, copper, champagne, pistachio, cranberry, and chocolate. Their cool hue palette is made up of deep blues and vibrant greens. The nutrient rich bays, the pristine waters and the unique fauna of the Fiji islands are all factors contributing to the creation of beautiful pearls that may also shine with overtones of turquoise, coppery-gold, dusty rose or deep sapphire.
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Freshwater - These are usually cultured in freshwater lakes and ponds. Freshwater pearls are cultivated in mussels rather than oysters, and most of the world’s supply are farmed in the lakes, rivers and ponds of China, often along the Chang Jiang (Yangtze) river. The history of the Chinese Freshwater pearl is vast. It has been reported that in 2206 BC, pearls from fresh sources were already being paid as tributes, and descriptions about them can be seen in records such as the Chinese dictionary ‘Kangxizidian’, which dates back to the 18th century. They are easier to grow than saltwater pearls; one freshwater mussel can grow a multitude of pearls at a time, compared to saltwater oysters that usually produce only one pearl. That said, the cultivation of Freshwater pearls is still a labor of love; mussels are often cultivated in farms in southern regions where pearl formation is faster, and then moved to northern farms (that have slower cultivation) to produce a compact nacre for better color and luster. They come in a range of colors including white, peach, pink and purple.
People have coveted natural pearls as symbols of wealth and status for thousands of years. A Chinese historian recorded the oldest written mention of natural pearls in 2206 BC. As the centuries progressed toward modern times, desire for natural pearls remained strong. Members of royal families as well as wealthy citizens in Asia, Europe, and elsewhere treasured natural pearls and passed them from generation to generation. From those ancient times until the discovery of the New World in 1492, some of the outstanding sources of natural pearls were the Persian Gulf, the waters of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Chinese rivers and lakes, and the rivers of Europe.
Photos Courtesy of GIA