For thousands of years pearls have been worn by the rich and glamorous, and given as extravagant gifts. Traditionally worn by brides on their wedding day, for thousands of years they have been a symbol of love, purity and perfection. Nowadays pearl jewellery is available to more people than ever before, and you no longer need to be royalty to afford it. Pearls of all shapes, sizes and colours are ‘cultured’ on farms and with so many varieties to choose from any bride-to-be can find the perfect pearls to suit her wedding gown. In fact, there are so many different types of pearl that it can be difficult to know which to choose, so here are a few things to look out for:
Type of pearl – The two types of pearl are saltwater and freshwater. Saltwater pearls are farmed in the sea, and are usually larger and more regular in shape than the freshwater variety. Because of this they also cost more. Freshwater pearls are farmed in lakes and rivers, usually smaller and often less regular in shape, though they come in a large range of different colours.
Size – When it comes to pearls, size makes a huge difference. The larger the pearl, the more expensive it will be. Saltwater pearls are generally the bigger variety, and are more highly sought after.
Nacre – Pearls take years to form inside an oyster shell. When a foreign object gets into the shell the oyster produces layers of nacre, which gradually build up around the nucleus forming the pearl. The thicker the nacre coating over the nucleus, the longer a pearl will last. Some cultured saltwater pearls are made with a ‘beaded’ large nucleus which speeds up the process and keep the pearls as round as possible. Natural pearls are formed entirely of nacre, which accounts for their more irregular shape.
Luster – No pearl is as smooth and shiny as a mirror but they do have a certain reflective sheen to them, called the lustre. Pearls with this shimmery surface are the most desired.
Colour – The natural colours of pearls are various shades of white, pink and lilac although nowadays you can now get cultured pearls dyed in almost any colour. A pearl necklace made of matching naturally-coloured pearls will cost more than dyed ones, as it can take a long time to collect enough matching pearls for a whole string.
Shape – When we think of pearls, we usually picture them to be perfectly round and smooth. In reality this is rare, and perfectly round pearls are highly in demand and so can be very expensive. Small cultured pearls are more likely to be round and some of the larger ones have been formed around a bead to create an artificial round shape. Irregular pearls are also used to produce unique pendants and earrings.
Matching – It can be difficult to find enough pearls of the same size, shape and colour to make a whole necklace, so a string of regular pearls is more desirable and will be more expensive.