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What you should know about Cultured Pearls

Types of pearls
When choosing cultured pearls
Selecting necklaces
Your cultured pearl wardrobe
Cultured pearl care
Your expert jeweler

A cultured pearl is a pearl formed by an oyster, composed of concentric layers of a crystalline substance called nacre deposited around an irritant placed in the oyster's body by man.

Natural pearls are formed by deposits of nacre around an irritant which accidently lodges within the body of an oyster.

Anything else which resembles a pearl but has a surface created by a manufacturing process is an imitation or simulated pearl - and must be labeled as such!

The value of a pearl comes from the unique ability of the crystalline nacre to absorb, refract and reflect light, imparting a distinctive quality, termed orient, to natural and cultured pearls.

Orient is the deep inner glow and shimmering irridescent characteristic of sea-grown pearls. The deeper the lustre and irridescence, the more precious the pearl.

Size contributes to the price of a pearl. As it is more difficult for oysters to grow large pearls, they are scarcer. But two pearls of different sizes may be valued the same if the smaller pearl is superior in orient to the larger.

Shape determines value, too. The more symmetrical the shape, the more valuable. Examples of symmetrical pearls are: round, pear shape, tear shape, oval. Pearls of irregular and asymmetrical shape are termed baroque. Oysters grow pearls in many different shapes, from perfect spheres to long flat angel wing pearls.

Surface perfection contributes to value. The surface of a perfect pearl appears satiny smooth. But when viewed closely, natural or cultured pearls may appear to have irregular surfaces which do not detract from value, as do disfiguring blemishes. You need no magnifier to detect blemishes; when present, they are readily apparent to the naked eye.

Rarity increases the value of any jewel. Cultured pearls themselves are relatively rare, as they can only be grown in limited areas of the world's oceans and take years to grow. A perfect pair of pearls are very rare, because nature makes few pearls exactly alike in orient, size, shape and color.

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Types of pearls

Akoya - The most familiar type of cultured pearl, grown in true pearl oysters off the coasts of Japan. Akoya pearls are known for their lovely orient and warm color. They rarely grow more than 9 mm in size.

South Sea - Large cultured pearls (10 mm and larger) grown in large oysters off the coasts of Australia. Usually silvery in appearance, and sometimes not as lustrous as fine Akoya pearls, South Sea pearls are rare and costly.

Burmese - Large cultured pearls (10 mm and larger) grown in large oysters off the coasts of Burma. Warmer in color tone than South Sea cultured pearls, rare and costly.

Mabe - Large hemispherical cultured pearls grown against the inside shells of oysters instead of within the body. Less expensive than regular round cultured pearls and, because of their hemispherical shape, used mounted in such jewelry as earrings, rings and brooches.

Biwa - A fresh water pearl cultivated in a mollusk only in Japan's Lake Biwa. Smoother and more lustrous than fresh water pearls from China.

Fresh Water - Pearls cultivated in mollusks, not oysters, found in fresh water lakes and rivers. Fresh water pearls generally are elongated in shape and have a milky translucent appearance. Their wide range of interesting shapes and colors make up in fashion appeal for their relatively low value. Today, freshwater pearls rival saltwater Akoya pearls in shape and luster for a much lower price. Many experts find it difficult to tell the difference.

Keshi - Tiny pearls, some a little bigger than a grain of sand, which form naturally in many cultured pearl oysters.


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When choosing cultured pearls

Look for lustre and orient in the shadow area of the pearl, not in the area upon which the light is shining. Clear color tones, not dull or muddy. Cracks, chips or disfiguring blemishes.

In addition, all pearls in a strand should blend well together, particularly in regard to lustre, orient and color. Roll a strand of pearls along a flat surface to determine if all pearls are strung through their exact centers. All pearls should roll evenly, without an eccentric wobble.

Buy the best pearls you can afford, then choose the clasp. A decorative jeweled clasp can always be purchased later.


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Selecting necklaces

Choose a cultured pearl necklace, too, for its effect on your appearance and personality. Long necklaces are slinky and sexy. Short necklaces can be demure or sophisticated. Dog collars enhance a long neck. Longer strands slenderize and appear to elongate the neck. For fair skinned women, roseate hued pearls are most flattering. Cream and gold color pearls set off darker skin tones best. Here is a guide to necklace lengths and terminology:

Choker - 14" to 15" in length. Should nestle around the base of the neck.

Princess - 18" in length. Halfway between choker and matinee length.

Matinee - 22" to 23" in length. Should fall to the top of the cleavage.

Opera - 30" to 36" in length. Should fall to the breastbone.

Sautoir or Rope - Any pearl necklace longer than opera length

Dog Collar - Multiple strands of pearls fitting closely around the neck.

Bib - Multiple strands of pearls, each shorter than the one below, nested together in one necklace.

Graduated - A necklace composed of pearls which taper downward in size from large pearls in the center.

Uniform - A necklace which appears to be composed entirely of pearls of the same size, though there generally is a slight difference in size between the center and the end pearls for a more proportionate look.

Let your expert jeweler customize your necklace so that its proportions and color tones are exactly matched to yours.


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Your cultured pearl wardrobe

Should consist of matching pearl necklace, earrings and bracelet. Add to it with a ring. A long strand of cultured pearls is very versatile. It can be shaped into many different styles, such as a dog collar, a choker, or a bib.

Freshwater pearls are inexpensive and come in a variety of colors, from warms browns to pinks to blue and purple, to accesorize your wardrobe and one can't have too many. So for a most versatile gem, from the elegant classic to a fashion accessory with sterling silver, an array of cultured pearls should be in your collection.


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Cultured pearl care

Cultured Pearls are precious jewels and should be treated as such.

Don't toss them carelessly into a purse or jewel box where they can become scratched by hard metal edges or harder stones.

Don't expose them to acid-based hair sprays, cosmetics, or perfumes.

Don't clean them with chemicals or abrasives.

Do treat pearls gently. Place them in a chamois bag or wrap them in tissue when putting them away.

Do put on pearls after applying cosmetics, hair sprays and perfume.

Do wash your pearls with mild soap and water after taking them off. This will remove all traces of perfume, cosmetics or hair spray from the pearls.

Do bring your pearls back to your jeweler for restringing once a year. Cosmetics and ordinary wear weaken and stretch the nylon threads on which the pearls are strung. It's better to be safe than sorry.

Do have pearls strung with a knot between each pearl. This will prevent loss of pearls if the string should break.


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Your expert jeweler has been specially trained to select, match and individualize cultured pearl jewelry for you. He has ready access to the world's finest pearl resources, and chooses those with beauty and variety. She can help you replace, add, or assemble pearls to enhance your pearl jewelry collection for greater investment and fashion value.


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This information is copyrighted by Jewelers of America.

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