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What Makes A Pearl a Pearl?

pearl braceletWhy are pearls so special? Many girls will always remember their first precious pearls and the sense of occasion that comes with receiving and wearing pearl bracelets, necklaces or earrings, but what is the difference between a real pearl and an imitation pearl?

Prior to last century, only royalty or the rich wore pearls, but thanks to Mr Mikimoto and the ability to culture pearls dreams of owning real pearls can come true, even for little girls!

The pearl is sometimes called 'The Queen Of Gems' because each one is uniquely beautiful, and a pearl is also the only gem to be created by a living creature.  It is thought that pearls were the first gems used for adornment by human beings so they have been a statement of personal style for a very long time.

Imitation or Real Pearlspearl necklace

The word 'Pearl' is commonly used when people are talking about both imitation and real pearls. The big difference is that real pearls are grown in an oyster or mussel, while imitation pearls are usually painted or coated beads.

Real pearls are further classified as either Natural or Cultured. Until the early 1900s only natural pearls were available, which meant they were very precious, rare and valuable. A pearl is formed when an irritant (sand, shell, clay, worms, seabed debris etc) enters an oyster or mussel. When this happens the mollusk protects itself by secreting layer after layer of nacre to coat the irritant.

Today over 95% of pearls are cultured, i.e. they are started with a little help from humans who introduce the irritant, but the oyster or mussel still does the hard work and the pearl you see is real pearl.

Freshwater or Saltwater Pearlspearl earrings

In addition to the Natural and Cultured categories, Pearls are also classified according to where they were formed; either in Freshwater or Salt/Sea water.

Cultured Freshwater pearls are grown in mussels. Because each mussel can grow between 10-30 pearls, cultured freshwater pearls are usually more affordable than saltwater pearls, just depending on the quality.

The pearl's shape and the size is usually determined by the shape and size of the irritant and the length of time the pearl is able to coat the irritant with nacre before it is harvested - anywhere from 6 months to seven years.

A beautiful pearl cared for appropriately, will be a treasured gem worn and loved for many years to come.



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