Whether a strand of pearls, a gorgeous cocktail ring or a conversation-starting brooch, pearls have been and will be treasured for ages – so congrats on making them your signature piece! “Pearl girls” know that these beauties can be worn often and in many unique ways. Once a special occasion item, pearls are now an everyday piece – and super stylish to boot. So let your creativity shine! Layer, wrap and stack pearls to wake up your wardrobe while keeping it classy.
Cherished and collected for over 4000 years, pearls are our oldest prized gems. Pearls are found in mollusk shells – oysters, mussels and clams, although most cultured pearls today come from mussels. A pearl is formed when the rim of a shell is damaged such that nacre, part of the inner shell also known as mother of pearl, is released. Over time a pearl forms around the nacre as a result of the healing process.
Pearls are naturally occurring in both saltwater and freshwater mollusks, but are very rare and hence expensive.
Nearly a century ago, the pearl industry changed forever when modern culturing was perfected. Cultured, or humanly encouraged pearls form the same way as natural pearls, however in cultured pearls the nacre is planted into the mussel and harvested a few years later. 99% of all of pearls sold today are cultured pearls.
So what’s the difference between cultured pearls and freshwater pearls? All freshwater pearls are cultured, but not all cultured pearls are freshwater, some are saltwater pearls referred to as akoya pearls.
Akoya (aka cultured or saltwater) pearls are the most lustrous, round and, next to natural pearls, the most sought-after pearls on the market today. Their shine and luminosity is unrivaled. However, their beauty comes with a small caveat. The surface of saltwater pearls is soft so they require a bit of care. The best way to care for your cultured pearls is to keep them in a separate pouch and simply wipe them with a damp cloth after wearing. These two little steps will keep them looking gorgeous for a lifetime.
Freshwater pearls are often more oblong and have slightly less bright finish than the lustrous akoya pearls. However, because freshwater pearls are more solid, they are far more durable than akoya pearls and require little care. Although they are less valuable than their saltwater relatives, freshwater pearls are very affordable, beautiful and come in a rainbow of colors.
Manmade or shell pearls are made out of the thick shells that are cut, polished and dyed to resemble real pearls. Although technically made out of the same genetic material as genuine pearls, shell pearls are not considered “real pearls”.
Simulated pearls are made out of everything from glass to acrylic to resin. They are very inexpensive and vary in quality and durability. You can tell real pearls from faux pearls by rubbing one against your front tooth – if it feels a little gritty you know you’ve got the real thing!
* For more information, visit SusanB. Pearl Style Guide.