Throughout most of recorded history, “Natural Pearls” were cherished and their possession was restricted to royalty. Pearls, the only gemstones that grow inside of a living organism, were very rare and expensive. Pearl divers searched the world’s pristine waters for these exquisite, naturally formed gems. In the late 1800′s, Japanese researchers discovered that they could “farm” pearls by inserting a foreign substance (not a grain of sand) into an oyster, thus creating “Cultured Pearls”. Pearl farmers could now cultivate sufficient quantities of high quality cultured pearls to allow pearl lovers availability and affordability. Today if you purchase “pearls” in a store, you are generally purchasing cultured pearls. Natural pearls, those made in a shellfish without man inserting an irritant, are now found primarily in older estate jewelry.
Note: Beware of imitation pearls made from glass, ceramic, plastic or shell. These are called “Faux Pearls”, “Mallorca Pearls”, etc… they are not pearls…
Pearls are grown in both fresh and saltwater and both have fine qualities that are unique, beautiful, and deserving of respect. The Chinese are the largest producers of pearls – fresh and saltwater. Freshwater pearls are generally far less expensive than saltwater varieties and offer new vibrant natural colors and better durability. Saltwater pearls offer different colors (e.g. blacks) and larger pearl sizes.
Pearls can be extremely valuable. In 1917 Cartier Jewelers traded a strand of pearls for their building on Fifth Avenue in New York City. In 2007 a double strand of natural pearls was auctioned off at Cristies for 7 million dollars. If you possess a strand of pearls that might be natural and extremely valuable, consult an expert to see if they warrant x-ray certification by a lab.
Proper care of your pearls will protect their beauty and value. Put on your perfume and hairspray before putting on your pearls. Pearls are a very soft gemstone and should not touch diamonds and other hard gemstones or they will become scratched.
Today is an exciting time in pearl history when new discoveries allow all consumers to own one of nature’s most beautiful creations.