If you like pearl earrings, you’re not the only one. Pearls enjoy a long history and have appeared in art, literature and music. They have adorned kings as well as criminals and have continued to enjoy a kind of popularity that has not waned to this day.
Pearls are highly valued and there are few cultures in the world that do not know what it is. Its oldest record dates back to 2300 B.C., when it was used as gifts to emperors and members of the royal court in China. It was highly valued by the ancient Greeks and was believed to bring love to married couples. The Koran describes it as one of Paradise’s greatest treasures.
Pearls were traded by Native Americans and upon this discovery, they were then harvested and sent to Europe from the colonies. With this volume of pearl trade increasing, it was only a matter of time before pearl-producing mollusks began to be threatened with extinction, but this did not happen.
Throughout the late 1800s and into the early 1900s, Japanese researches found that oysters can be stimulated artificially by deliberately introducing foreign particles into them. This process was perfected by Kokichi Mikimoto, whose name is now synonymous with high-quality cultured pearls.
Natural vs. Cultured
Gem-quality natural pearls are quite rare because those produced by mollusks are not always good enough for jewelry. Other than that, some of the shapes are not acceptable. There are also a very small number of harvestable natural pearls available which is why jewelers turn to cultured pearls, which are easily produced in the desired shape and size and conveniently harvested.
Natural pearls are generally not superior in quality and value to cultured pearls, although the perfectly round natural pearl is the most prized because of its rarity. The only difference between the two types is their method of production. Both are actual pearls.
Choosing a good quality pearl
Pearls are prized depending on several factors, a combination of which can greatly affect their price:
Color – is determined based on two things: the body color and the overtone. The body color is the main color of the pearl, which can range from the more common white, cream and silver to green, gold, blue and black. The body color depends on the kind of oyster the pearl was produced with as well as on the water conditions prevailing at the time of its production.
The overtone is the translucent color/s that you can see on top of the body color, although there are pearls with no overtones. Imagine the pearl as a colored ball and imagine an overtone as a colored plastic wrap over it. The overtone can add to the luster and depth of the pearl and can change its main color a little. For example, a pearl may have a cream color with pink overtones.
Size – generally speaking, the larger the pearl, the more valuable it is. Size is measured in millimeters and determined by the pearl’s diameter.
Shape – pearls come in a wide array of shapes: the spherical (round and near-round), symmetrical (oval, button and drop or pear-shaped) and baroque (irregular and non-symmetrical).
Luster – pearls are reflective gemstones. The higher its luster quality, the more it can reflect light and surrounding images and the more brilliant it is. Luster is dependent upon the quality and amount of nacre that the pearl contains.
Surface quality – pearls of high value are those with little imperfections like spots, bumps or discolorations. The more nearly perfect it is, the more valuable.
Caring for your pearl earrings
Pearls are quite delicate, being organic and softer than other gemstones which is why caring for them may require a different approach. They can crack, are easily damaged and can be scratched by harder gems. To keep them in good shape, it would be a good idea to keep them in a separate container, away from your other gemstones. This way, pearls are in no danger of rubbing against the harder stones.
Special care is also needed when wearing pearls with cosmetics. They are quite absorbent and chemicals like perfume and sprays can affect them, so will natural body oils and sweat. To avoid as much contact with these substances as possible, put on makeup and perfume first before wearing your pearl earrings.
Cleaning pearl earrings is quite easy – just wipe the dirt off with a soft, damp cloth and wash them occasionally with water and a mild soap. Be sure to wipe dry with a soft cloth. If you care for your pearls, they will remain a beautiful and valuable part of your jewelry collection.