The world over, precious jewelry usually has two main components – the metal from which it is made, and gemstones.
These gemstones can be any of the many precious stones that have been mined and are known to man – diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, amethysts, or pearls. Technically, pearl is a made out of a mineral and other organic compounds, but it’s often categorized as a gemstone.
However, there is a major point of difference between other gemstones and pearls, which lies in their origins. While most gemstones are actually stones mined from deep within the earth, pearls are organic, created by living creatures, and mined from either seawater or freshwater. In other words, there is rarely any digging of earth involved in getting pearls.
The obvious next question to ask is, “How exactly do pearls form?” The answer though is not that simple. Pearls are created or manufactured by living sea creatures known as mollusks. They are also simply known as pearls. Mollusks have a hard outer shell with a very soft and spongy inside. Sea and freshwater mollusks are found deep underwater, usually on the sea or river bed.
The movement of water often causes some kind of external parasite or contaminant to get embedded within the oyster – in the soft jelly like insides. The mollusk reacts to this external influence by creating a coating of its soft jelly like substance and keeps on coating till the time there is no evidence of the parasite left. The result… the parasite is converted into a pearl.
This is how nature makes beautiful pearls. Man got to know of this method and in the early twentieth century and managed to artificially recreate the process. This led to the creation of what is known as “cultured pearls”.
Then there are of course artificially created pearls made of a number of different materials including plastic. The simplest way of checking if a pearl is real is to gently rub it against your teeth. If it feels gritty, you have the genuine thing.
For the layman, there is nothing to indicate which pearl is a natural, wild bred one, and which is a cultured one. However, in terms of pricing, natural wild pearls demand and fetch much higher prices than cultured ones. The obvious reason for this is that natural wild pearls are extremely rare – only three to four oysters in a crop of couple of tons would yield pearls. Cultured pearls on the other hand are created under controlled conditions, so almost every oyster yields a pearl.
In terms of pricing, there are seven industry defined factors that decide how valuable a natural pearl is. These factors are size, shape, luster, color, surface, nacre quality and matching. Let’s take a brief look at each of these factors:
- Size – If all other factors remain the same, the bigger the size of the pearl, the pricier it will be.
- Shape – Pearls are usually found in seven different shapes, which have been divided into three main categories. The price for these shapes and categories of pearls varies in the same order as their listing below, from highest to lowest:
- Spherical – Round and semi-round
- Symmetrical – Button shapes, oval, drop shaped
- Baroque – semi-baroque and baroque
Once in a while, a pearl will have concentric rings circling its outer surface. Such a pearl is known as a circled pearl, and is highly desired by some connoisseurs.
- Color – The color of a pearl is defined by the color of nacre carried by the mollusk that created it. Pearls can come in a number of different colors, though the more normal ones are white, slightly creamy, and grey. Many pearls also have a subtle, translucent second color that adds an overtone to its look.
- Luster – This is the shine on the pearl and is a major defining factor in a pearl’s price – the shinier, the better.
- Surface – Pearls that have little or no surface blemishes are usually more desirable and are more expensive.
- Nacre Quality – This is the coating that the mother mollusk put around the base nucleus or parasite. If the mollusk did a great job, the pearl will be one single bead without anything visible inside. This demands a good price.
- Matching – This factor comes into the picture only when the pearls are to be strung – ifthe pearls match in uniformity, the string will fetch a much higher price than the individual pearls.
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