25 April 2013

Pearls - The Queen of Gems

For centuries pearls have been appreciated for their lustre, beauty and rarity.   Throughout history pearls have been revered in cultures around the world from India and China to the Middle East and Egypt.  The world's oldest natural pearl was discovered quite recently in a grave in Umm Al Quwain, United Arab Emirates. The pearl dates back to the Neolithic Period around 5500BC, making it 7500 years old!

Indian necklace with diamonds and seed pearls. Offered by Michael G Longmore.
Natural pearls, found in oysters are form naturally when an irritant such as bacteria or grit enters the pearl.  The oyster or mollusk covers the irritant in layers of nacre, the same material used to form its shell.  These naturally forming pearls are extremely rare and before the development of cultured pearls in the early 1900s, natural pearls were considered the most prized gemstone, so valuable they were only available to nobility or the very wealthy.
A piece of clothing used by Kuwaiti divers searching for pearls. On display in the Maritime Museum in Kuwait City, Kuwait.
Belle Epoque Mississippi freshwater pearl & diamond pendant. Offered by Jan Havlik.

Cultured pearls transformed the pearl market in the early 20th century.  Cultured pearls are pearls that have been produced with human intervention. Oysters can be encouraged to produce pearls by inserting a tiny foreign object into the oysters body which speeds up the natural process.  

Natural pearl and diamond ring c1920s. Offered by Saul Greenstein.

Kokichi Mikimoto in Japan was one of the first people to recognise and develop a method for creating cultured pearls. In 1916 he was granted a patent for producing round pearls and over the years he revolutionised pearling to eventually make pearls accessible and affordable to the mass market. Cultured pearls are still made using the natural process and therefore can be just as high quality as fully natural pearls.

Rare pair of South Sea pearl earrings with the same shape but differing in colour. £3500. Offered by The Gilded Lily.

The shape of the pearl is one factor that helps in determining it's value and quality. As pearls are naturally occurring they come in a diverse range of colours and shapes.  The longer the pearl is left within the oyster the more chance there is of it developing an irregular shape. 

1940s South Sea pearl and diamond earrings. Offered by Pushkin Antiques.

Round - Perfectly round pearls are incredibly rare and most desirable due to their regular shape. This combination makes them the most valuable.

Near-round- Almost perfectly round but with a slightly oval or of a flattened shape.

Button - Button pearls are generally round on one side and flatter on the other. Button pearls are often used to make earrings.

Baroque - Baroque pearls are irregular in shape and not symmetrical.

Cultured Tahitian baroque pearl necklace. Offered by The Pearl Gallery.

Pearls can vary in shape and colour depending on where they are produced.  The climate and conditions as well as they type of oyster or mollusk they are made in all play are part in the pearls final aesthetic.   For example Tahitian pearls are famous for their black colour and South Sea pearls are the same colour as their host the Pinctada maxima pearl oyster and can be white, silver, pink, gold or cream in colour.

Diamond and pearl drop earrings, c1910. Offered by John Joseph.

Here at Grays our jewellery dealers stock a wide range of pearls from different periods from Victorian seed pearls, cultured and natural pearls to baroque and vintage faux pearls. With such variety you are sure to find a special piece of pearl jewellery to suit your taste and budget.

Edwardian diamond & natural pearl cluster ring. £1500. Offered by The Antique Jewellery Company.

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