Cultured pearls - pearl buying information - from Lady of the Lake Studio
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Cultured Pearls and Pearl Buying Information

We adore pearls above all other gems. They are beautiful, lustrous, mysterious, spiritual and unfathomably deep, one of nature's great gifts! Treasured throughout the ages, extolled through all of recorded history, mentioned in the Bible and all major spiritual works, pearls inspire meditation and thankfulness for the miracles of nature that surround us. We love to create with pearls, think about pearls and read all about pearls. So, we would like to share with you a little information about our favorite gem, including natural pearls, cultured pearls, pearl buying information, and information on the pearls we use in our designs.

Pearl Quality and Value

The lustrous glow (luster) and soft, iridescent play of color (orient) of fine quality pearls is produced by the buildup of many layers of microscopic crystals of calcium carbonate (nacre) secreted by industrious pearl producing mollusks! Luster and orient are the most important factors in determining a pearl's quality and value, and those factors, as well as the pearl's longevity, are dependent on the thickness of the nacre. The thicker the nacre, the more beautiful, rare, valuable and long-lasting the pearl!

Natural Pearls

Natural Pearls, generally defined as pearls that are formed without man's intervention, are essentially all nacre. Natural pearls are formed when a small irritant enters the shell of a pearl producing mollusk. The mollusk secretes layers of nacre around the irritant, and after many long years, a natural pearl is formed around the tiny irritant.

Natural pearls, which are virtually extinct today, are extremely rare and expensive. Indeed, fine quality, large natural pearls are among the rarest of natural treasures. Although diving for natural pearls continues today, most of the beds known for fine natural pearls have been killed by overfishing and pollution. As such, one can generally only purchase natural pearls through antique and estate sales, and not from a typical jewelry store.

It is often difficult to see the difference between a very fine natural pearl and a very fine cultured pearl with thick nacre. Some clues that your strand of pearls may be natural pearls include: 1) inconsistent matching of size, color and shape on a strand; 2) creamier (less white) color than typical cultured pearls; and, 3) off round or irregular shape as compared to typical round cultured pearls. X-ray testing by a reliable gem testing laboratory is required to confirm the authenticity of natural pearls.

Saltwater Cultured Pearls

Saltwater cultured pearls, created with human assistance, were pioneered in the late 1800's by the Japanese, specifically the famous Kokichi Mikimoto, in response to the increasing scarcity of natural pearls. Japanese round, white cultured "Akoya" pearls, which are probably the best known pearls today, are created by surgically implanting a piece of mantle tissue and a round bead "nucleus" fashioned from mollusk shell, into the saltwater dwelling Akoya oyster (Pinctada Fukata). The oyster then secretes nacre around the bead nucleus, to create the pearl.

With cultured Akoya pearls, the size of the nucleus determines the size of the pearl- large pearls are produced by inserting a large bead nucleus, and smaller pearls by inserting a smaller nucleus. Thus, the time required to produce larger and smaller Akoya saltwater cultured pearls does not vary significantly. Akoya oysters are not large, and therefore Akoya pearls are typically not large pearls. They rarely exceed 10 mm in diameter, and those over 7 mm in size command very high prices.

The high cost of saltwater cultured pearls, as compared with freshwater cultured pearls, is based in part on the much higher production costs and risks, including the costs to obtain and make the shell bead nuclei, the costs of the implant surgery, and high oyster mortality rates. Of major import in pricing is the fact that an individual Akoya oyster can produce only one or two pearls at a time, as opposed to a freshwater mussel, which can produce 40-50 pearls at a time.

Today, in addition to the Japanese, the Chinese are also major producers of Akoya cultured pearls, and other countries produce them as well. Not all of the producers are as stringent with quality requirements as the famed Mikimoto company! Many saltwater cultured pearls on the market today consist mainly of a large shell bead nucleus with a very thin and fragile coating of nacre. Such poor quality pearls can deteriorate and lose their beauty within a matter of months.

In an alarming story by ABC News in February of 2002, entitled "The Perils of Pearl Buying," Antoinette Matlins (a renowned pearl expert) and the Good Morning America Team purchased fairly expensive pearl jewelry with retail prices of up to $2,200.00 from three nationally known chain jewelry stores and one nationally known department store. They took the pearls to a gemologist at the American Gemological Laboratories in New York for testing. The results were shocking- many of the pearls were of very poor quality, with thin to very thin nacre and chipped or missing nacre, exposing the shell beads underneath. The gemologist described some of the pearls in the expensive necklaces as "not fit for use" and "total, complete rejects." Click here to read the full story on the ABC News website. The message here is, when it comes to saltwater pearls, buyer beware! Care must be taken to buy saltwater cultured pearls only from reputable sources.

Freshwater Cultured Pearls

Freshwater Cultured Pearls are grown in mollusks that live in freshwater lakes and rivers, in many countries, including the United States, Japan and China. They are often cultured by using mantle tissue and do not require shell bead implants. Thus, many freshwater pearls are essentially all nacre. Remember, the thicker the nacre, the more beautiful, rare, valuable and long-lasting the pearl!

Traditionally, freshwater pearls were small, elongated, and relatively inexpensive, in the familiar rice shape, often with a wrinkled surface. However, in recent years, some very exciting developments have occurred in the production of exceptionally high quality, smooth skinned, round freshwater cultured pearls, primarily in the orient. The technique used to make these round, all nacre pearls has been a closely guarded secret, but most likely involves the use of a round, all nacre implant fashioned from other freshwater pearls.

Beautiful, round, all nacre freshwater cultured pearls are now being produced, in large sizes of 7 to 15 millimeters, "the finest of which can rival the rarer and more costly South Sea cultured pearl." See, A. L. Matlins, PG, The Pearl Book, The Definitive Buying Guide, at 42, (2d Ed., GemStone Press). These round, all nacre pearls, with high luster, orient and longevity, are much more expensive than traditional freshwater pearls, but are nevertheless much less expensive, and a much better value, than many of their thin skinned saltwater cousins.

About our Pearl Jewelry

At Lady of the Lake Studio, we adore beautiful pearls. We use the exciting new high quality, round, semi-round and baroque all nacre freshwater cultured pearls in our designs. You need not worry about the poor quality and thin nacre found in many bead nucleated saltwater cultured pearls on the market today. Rest assured that your pearl jewelry will exhibit gorgeous high luster, beautiful play of color and orient, and will endure the test of time!


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ORDERING AND PAYMENT INFORMATION

You may use our Online Order Form, or Email Us to place an order using your American Express Card, money order or check. You may also use One Click ordering to make purchases with your Visa or MasterCard through PayPal. We provide a PayPal "Buy Now" button for each item, or, upon request, we will send you a PayPal invoice for multiple purchases after you fill out our Order form. If you make multiple Buy Now PayPal purchases, we will refund the excess shipping charges via PayPal when we ship your order. We unconditionally guarantee our quality and workmanship, and you may return any piece within 15 days of purchase for a full refund minus shipping costs.

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