Thursday, January 22, 2009

All About Pearls

What is a cultured pearl?
A cultured pearl is a real pearl, made from the same substance as a natural pearl. The difference: Cultured pearls get their start with a little nudge. Rather than waiting for nature to take its course, man deliberately places an irritant—a mother-of-pearl bead is often used—in the mollusk to stimulate the secretion of aragonite (calcium carbonate) and conchiolin. These substances, when layered around the irritant, form a pearl. Today, cultured pearls can rival the beauty of natural pearls; indeed it can be very difficult to tell them apart.

What is a freshwater pearl?
A freshwater pearl is a pearl that has been formed in a freshwater mollusk, rather than an oyster that lives in the sea. Typically, people think freshwater pearls are rice-shaped, but in fact they come in all shapes, including round. Like marine pearls, round freshwater pearls are the rarest, most desirable and most valuable shape. It is difficult to find perfectly round pearls of similar size and color to match for a strand, which is why matched strands are more expensive than other types of pearl jewelry. Unlike oysters, freshwater mollusks can produce more than one pearl at a time, but the process is still at Mother Nature's mercy. Out of the thousands of animals that are implanted with irritants, it is still rare to get a commercially acceptable pearl.

How do I care for my pearls?
Given some simple care, pearls can last for generations. Although they have a low hardness compared to other gems, the density of pearls makes them surprisingly durable. But pearls are perishable. Substances like perfume, vinegar, hairspray, inks, and perspiration can damage the nacre, as can chlorine. It is best to remove pearl jewelry before swimming and showering, and to put pearls on only after makeup, perfume and hairspray have been applied. Unlike a gemstone, a pearl cannot be polished; once the surface is damaged, it cannot be restored to its natural beauty. Store pearls in a separate pouch or box away from other gems that could rub against them and scratch their surface. To clean pearls, rub them with a soft cloth. If soap is needed, use a non-abrasive cleaner such as hand soap. Let your pearls air dry fully before you wear them again. Never use bleach, abrasive cleaners, or an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner. It may be necessary to have pearls restrung if they are worn frequently.

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