Pretty in Pearls, the June birthstone

Jewelry Box filled with FWP
Anyone who has been reading my blog for a while knows I like pearls, even though they are not my birthstone.  I’ve written about them and offered videos how to determine if they are real or not.  Since pearl is the primary birthstone for June, I thought I would provide a little more detail on pearls that was not covered in previous pearl posts.  My prior posts cover how to buy and wear pearls, their shapes and sizes, as well as how to clean and store them.  Other people have compiled history of the pearls popularity.  So here, let us start with the basics - there are two types of pearls.  Most commonly seen in department stores is the slightly inexpensive and very fashionable freshwater pearl.  The other is the more expensive salt water pearl, which can only be purchased at finer jewelry stores or via TV and internet shopping sites.  Both come in various sizes, shapes, and colors.

Freshwater pearls (FWP) are grown in mussels.  They may be dyed in the color currently in vogue or bleached whiter so they are almost always in fashion.  Those dyed in the shell have a more consistent coloring that goes deep into the nacre.  Those dyed after harvesting from the shell may be blotchy and the color may fade over time if pearls are not properly stored. So be watchful when shopping for these.  There has been a great surge in the popularity of pearls as a natural adornment because of the color options and the varying shapes.  In China they are experimenting with forcing shapes and symbols by seeding the pearl with a small shape (such as a cross, heart, or Chinese character) so that nacre is formed over it.  The results are an incredible pearl but not all are regular in shape (part of the coolness factor) and some tests of complicated replicas are unsuccessful.  However, freshwater pearls are more abundant as a single mollusk can often accommodate growing multiple pearls in a relatively short timeframe.
The oysters that grow saltwater pearls often only grow one pearl, which is why they are so rare.  I have heard that their growth is also slower than that of the cultured freshwater.  Typically one year per millimeter size.  Saltwater pearls may be best known as Tahitian, South Sea, or Akoya and come in various grades. You can find a more-affordable freshwater cultured-version  of these larger, high-luster pearls by searching for some of the trademark names: Edison (harvesting video), JTV's Genusis (not the same as Pearls of Genesis stye), or Honora's Ming

Another interesting thing about pearls is where mother of pearl comes from.  Mother of Pearl (MOP) is the iridescent inside (nacre) of the shell in which pearls are grown.  Nacre is also what pearls are made of as the mollusk will cover any item that gets in it with nacre to reduce the irritation caused by that item.  Thus the origin of the name “mother of pearl” which is used in jewelry as pendants or pearl enhancers, often carved into a flower, animal, symbol, or scene.  Once the shell has passed the age of producing pearls, it is can be cut and used as MOP.   Man-made MOP pearls are also available, these are pearls made by crushing the MOP shell and reconstituting it into perfectly round pearl shapes.  If shopping for pearls, check the description carefully to see if those low-priced pearls are saltwater, freshwater, or MOP.

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