This week on the Hatton Jewels blog we’re deep diving (excuse the pun!), into the magical world of our favourite gems; pearls! You’ll learn how they’re formed and sourced, why they remain so popular, cherished and sought-after even after being coveted for centuries, and the important difference between Natural Pearls and Cultured Pearls.
The History of Pearls
Pearls were discovered before written history began, so it is hard to attribute their discovery to one particular time or place. We know that they have been worn as a form of jewellery for millennia thanks to a fragment of pearl jewellery found in the sarcophagus of a Persian princess that dates back to 420 BC, which is now on display at the Louvre museum in Paris.
Pearls were presented as gifts to Chinese royalty as early as 2300 BC, while in ancient Rome, pearl jewellery was considered the ultimate status symbol. So precious were the spherical gems that in the 1st century BC, Julius Caesar passed a law limiting the wearing of pearls only to the ruling classes.
With such an illustrious history, it is easy to see why pearls are still so revered.
A spectacular Boucheron Sapphire, Diamond and Pearl necklace.
How Pearls are formed...
Such are the beauty of pearls so adorned, their creation is as particularly unusual. A pearl is formed when an irritant, such as a parasite or piece of shell, becomes accidentally lodged in an oyster's soft inner body, causing it to secrete a crystalline substance called nacre as a defense mechanism, which builds up around the irritant in layers until a pearl is formed. This natural phenomenon is what creates what we now we refer to as Natural Pearls.
The difference between Natural Pearls and Cultured Pearls
A Cultured Pearl is formed in the same process as a natural pearl. The only difference is that it begins by human intervention. We insert a shell bead nucleus inside the oyster and irritate the oyster to produce the layers of nacre. The outer layers of a cultured pearl is composed of concentric layers of an organic substance and of calcium carbonate. So human intervention starts the secretion of a cultured pearl, whereas natural pearl secretion starts without any human intervention.
Some stunning Diamond and Pearl earrings.
Natural Pearls today...
It may take over 100,000 oysters to get enough pearls to make a pearl necklace, and matching natural pearls to make a pearl strand is extremely difficult since they are never found round or uniform in size and colour. A well- matched natural pearl strand can be extremely pricey.
Where are Pearls found?
In geographic range, the source of pearls is widely distributed, and different types of pearls are found in different locations.
South Sea white pearls are the top grade pearl on the market. They are harvested from a silver or golden-lipped oyster, on the shorelines of Indonesia, Philippines, and Australia. Whereas Akoya Pearls come exclusively from Japan’s saltwater, harvested from Pinctada Fucata oyster, also known as the Akoya pearl oyster. To the untrained eye, they appear similar to freshwater pearls, but tend to be rounder and smoother.
Freshwater pearls are found in the lakes and rivers of China, and to a lesser degree Japan and the USA. They are harvested from freshwater mussels, and tend to be white and pink in appearance.
Stunning black pearls are found exclusively in Tahiti and other French Polynesian islands, and despite the name, are found in hues of peacock green, silver green, charcoal, blue and eggplant, among others. They are harvested from the Pinctada Margaritifera oyster.