A Brief History of Pearls


Eassy on the History of Cultured pearls
In this essay you'll learn about the history of pearls, how they form in oysters, and how cultured pearls are generally cultivated, harvested and processed for market.

Cultured pearls ... their very name conjures images of lustrous jewels nestled deep in oysters far below the surface of the sea. Yet cultured pearls are more than just jewels. Since the beginning of time, pearls have been revered as one of the world's most beautiful and magical gems. Today, cultured pearls are the foundation of every woman's jewelry wardrobe. Fashionable, feminine and fresh, cultured pearls truly enhance a woman's palette of styles. Rich and adaptable, a lustrous star in the world of fine jewelry, a simple cultured pearl necklace can take a woman through every moment in her life, every outfit in her wardrobe. The possibilities are endless.

Brief History pearls
Many thousands of years ago, long before written history, human beings probably discovered the first pearl while searching the seashore for food. Throughout history, the pearl, with its warm inner glow and shimmering iridescence, has been one of the most highly prized and sought-after gems. Countless references to the pearl can be found in the religions and mythology of cultures from the earliest times. The ancient Egyptians prized pearls so much they were buried with them. Cleopatra reportedly dissolved a single pearl in a glass of wine and drank it, simply to win a wager with Mark Antony that she could consume the wealth of an entire nation in just one meal.

In ancient Rome, pearls were considered the ultimate symbol of wealth and social standing. The Greeks held the pearl in high esteem for both its unrivaled beauty and its association with love and marriage. During the Dark Ages, while fair maidens of nobility cherished delicate pearl necklaces, gallant knights often wore pearls into battle. They believed the magic of these lustrous gems would protect them from harm. The Renaissance saw the royal courts of Europe awash in pearls. Because pearls were so highly regarded, a number of European countries actually passed laws forbidding anyone but the nobility to wear them.

During the European expansion into the New World, the discovery of pearls in Central American waters added to the wealth of Europe. Unfortunately, greed and lust for the sea-grown gems resulted in the depletion of virtually all the American pearl oyster populations by the 17th century. Until the early 1900's, natural pearls were accessible only to the rich and famous. In 1916, famed French jeweler Jacques Cartier bought his landmark store on New York's famous Fifth Avenue -- by trading two pearl necklaces for the valuable property.

But today, with the advent of pearl cultivation, pearls are available and affordable to all.

How pearls Form In Oysters
The birth of a pearl is truly a miraculous event. Unlike gemstones or precious metals that must be mined from the earth, pearls are grown by live oysters far below the surface of the sea. Gemstones must be cut and polished to bring out their beauty. But pearls need no such treatment to reveal their loveliness. They are born from oysters complete -- with a shimmering iridescence, lustre and soft inner glow unlike any other gem on earth.

A natural pearl begins its life as a foreign object, such as a parasite or piece of shell that accidentally lodges itself in an oyster's soft inner body where it cannot be expelled. To ease this irritant, the oyster's body takes defensive action. The oyster begins to secrete a smooth, hard crystalline substance around the irritant in order to protect itself. This substance is called "nacre." As long as the irritant remains within its body, the oyster will continue to secrete nacre around it, layer upon layer. Over time, the irritant will be completely encased by the silky crystalline coatings. And the result, ultimately, is the lovely and lustrous gem called a pearl.

How something so wondrous emerges from an oyster's way of protecting itself is one of nature's loveliest surprises. For the nacre is not just a soothing substance. It is composed of microscopic crystals of calcium carbonate, aligned perfectly with one another, so that light passing along the axis of one crystal is reflected and refracted by another to produce a rainbow of light and color.

Cultured pearls share the same properties as natural pearls. Oysters form cultured pearls in an almost identical fashion. The only difference is a person carefully implants the irritant in the oyster, rather than leaving it to chance. We then step aside and let nature create its miracle. How pearls are cultivated and harvested Early on, pearl cultivation depended entirely on wild oysters. Later you'll learn that, in some cases, the same applies today. But modern pearl cultivation has become more selective.

In Japanese pearl cultivation, scientists have isolated strains of oysters that possess superior pearl-producing qualities. These selectively-bred oysters produce pearls of exceptional lustre and color clarity. In a process referred to as "nucleation," also called "grafting" or "seeding," highly skilled technicians carefully open live pearl oysters, and with surgical precision make an incision in the oyster's body. Then, they place a tiny piece of "mantle tissue" from another oyster into a relatively safe location. Then, they place a small round piece of shell, or "nucleus," beside the inserted mantle tissue. The nucleus is a mother-of-pearl bead made from an American freshwater mussel. The cells from the mantle tissue develop around the nucleus forming a sac, which closes and starts to secrete nacre, the crystalline substance that forms the pearl. The nucleated oysters are then returned to the sea where, in sheltered bays rich in nutrients, they feed and grow, depositing layer after layer of lustrous nacre around the nuclei implanted within them. The oysters are given the utmost care during this time, while suspended in the water, from the rafts above. Technicians check water temperatures and feeding conditions daily at various depths, moving the oysters up or down as appropriate.

Periodically, the oysters are lifted from the sea for cleaning and health treatments. Seaweed, barnacles and other seaborne organisms that might interfere with their feeding are removed from the oysters' shells. The shells are also treated with medicinal compounds to discourage parasites. Over time, after many months of growth and care, the oysters are ready for harvest. Those that have survived the many perils of the sea are brought ashore and opened. And then, when everything has gone well, a beauty is revealed -- the result is a lovely, lustrous and very valuable cultured pearl.

How pearls are processed for market

Saltwater cultured pearls can never be a mass-produced, factory-like product. The whims of unpredictable Mother Nature do not allow it. Millions of oysters are nucleated every year, but only a small proportion live to produce fine-quality cultured pearls. Many oysters don't survive the nucleating process, others are weak and fall prey to disease. Heavy rains may flood the bays with fresh water, reducing their salinity, and killing the oysters. Sometimes, certain species of phytoplankton undergo explosive growth, creating the dreaded "red tide," which exhausts the oxygen in the water, and suffocates the oysters. Then there are typhoons, the attacks of predators and parasites, lack of sufficient nutrients in the water.

On average, only 50 percent of nucleated oysters survive to bear pearls, and of them, only 20 percent bear pearls that are marketable. The rest are simply too imperfect, too flawed to be called jewels. And so, a perfect pearl is truly a rare event, blessed by Nature. Less than 5 percent of nucleated oysters yield pearls of such perfect shape, lustre and color as to be considered fine gem quality.

These are the precious treasures of pearl cultivation, the rare prizes of any jewelry collection. After harvesting, gem quality pearls must be sorted. Because no two pearls are ever exactly alike, sorting pearls is an extremely difficult and time-consuming effort performed by experts. Each pearl must be sorted by size, shape, color and lustre, so it is handled hundreds of times. After sorting, the pearls are drilled with great care and precision. An inexperienced operator can split or ruin pearls with careless handling. A hole drilled even slightly off-center can ruin a necklace or other piece of jewelry that depends upon the symmetry of its assembly of pearls. Finally, it's time for matching and stringing. This can be even more difficult than sorting, because now experts must compare pearls that are similar in size, shape, lustre and color -- looking for nearly exact matches. The art of assembling pearls into a necklace, a pair of earrings or other jewelry calls for refined skills in matching. Only highly-trained experts with years of experience can perform this task. To find 47 pearls for a perfectly matched 16-inch necklace, a pearl processor must cull through more than 10,000 pearls.

CULTURED PEARL PRODUCTS

In this essay you'll learn about Akoya.html">Akoya, South Sea, and Tahitian cultured pearls -- three kinds of pearls that together satisfy the entire range of customer desires. You'll learn about the history of each type of pearl, some details on the ways each is cultivated, harvested and processed, and the special qualities each possesses.

Know your Akoya pearls

The story of Akoya pearl cultivation is a fascinating one, the result of the hard work and creativity of several important individuals. But the story of Akoya pearls is especially associated with the life of one man: Kokichi Mikimoto. In the late 1800's, Kokichi Mikimoto, a son of humble beginnings, began to experiment with pearl cultivation. Convinced he could farm pearls, Mikimoto worked for years -- usually unsuccessfully -- trying to coax pearls from oysters.

Then, in 1905, after 12 years of painstaking work and trial-and-error, he successfully produced his first totally round pearl. What had once been a gem reserved for the upper class and nobility, would now be available for all to own and cherish. In the 1920's, when Japanese cultured pearls were first introduced into the jewelry market, they confused pearl buyers, and raised much debate as to whether or not they were "real" pearls. But soon the world realized that cultured pearls were as real as natural ones, and that nature had simply been encouraged by human ingenuity. What Kokichi Mikimoto had helped create was an industry, one so closely associated with Japan today. The sea around the southern half of Japan is the largest habitat in the world for Akoya oysters.

Here, over the past hundred years, Japanese pearl growers have refined the techniques of pearl cultivation to a high art -- to a point where some of the world's loveliest pearls are grown, in a country where attention to detail combines so well with the love of beauty. Today, some two thousand independent growers harvest pearls in the waters of Japan -- large and small cultivators alike, employing the same basic techniques to grow these lustrous gems to perfection.

You learned how cultured pearls are generally cultivated, harvested and processed for market. Now let's see what points of interest apply in these areas to the Akoya pearl specifically. We'll do the same with South Sea and Tahitian pearls as well. Akoya Pearl Cultivation Akoya pearls take their name from the comparatively small Akoya oyster in which they form, also known by its scientific name Pinctada fucata. Most Akoya oysters used in pearl farming are bred in hatcheries, to ensure the safety of the species. Much research has gone into breeding hearty, healthy Akoya oysters -- to produce pearls so well-known for their superior lustre and color. As with all cultured pearls, Akoya oysters are nucleated with a hard-shell bead and mantle tissue from an oyster that has produced a high-quality pearl in the past. But compared with the other species of saltwater cultured pearl oysters, many more Akoya oysters are nucleated.

Generally, Akoya cultured pearls take 10 to 18 months from the time they are nucleated to the point they're ready for harvest. Akoya Pearl Harvesting Akoya cultured pearls are the most difficult and costly to grow because of the low survival rates of their host oysters. Less than 50 percent of Akoya oysters survive the nucleation process, and those that do go on to produce pearls can do so only once. Of all Akoya pearls produced, less than 5 percent are considered high quality. Nevertheless, the total number of Akoya pearls harvested every year generally exceeds other types of saltwater cultured pearls. This is why most cultured Pearl Necklaces are made of Akoya pearls.

Akoya Pearl Processing

The exacting procedure of sorting cultured pearls is especially time-consuming with Akoya pearls. One reason is: there are so many pearls to sort through. Another is that Japanese matching requirements are generally stricter than those for other pearl types. In fact, Akoya cultured pearl producers seek nearly perfect matches among their pearls. Such high matching standards result in 90 percent of all Akoya pearls harvested to be lightly bleached and tinted after drilling. These color enhancements are intended to be permanent, and should not change over time.

Akoya Pearl Quality Evaluation

It's generally accepted that Akoya pearls, the classic cultured pearls of Japan, are the most lustrous of all pearls. But "lustre" is only one of the 5 quality factors used in judging cultured pearls, the others being "surface," "shape," "color" and "size." Let's review these quality factors, and see how each applies to Akoya pearls. A bit later, we'll do the same with South Sea pearls and Tahitian pearls.

Quality Factor One: Lustre

Lustre is considered the most important quality factor in pearls. Lustre refers both to a pearl's brilliance -- the way its surface reflects light -- and its inner glow: the way it refracts light. A pearl's lustre is generally evaluated in terms of "high" to "low," with grades of "medium" in between.

High-lustre pearls are bright, and have a deep-seated glow. They reflect objects near them clearly. Though high-lustre pearls usually have a thick nacre coating, thick nacre doesn't always guarantee a pearl will have high lustre. This is true because genetic imperfections in some oysters don't allow them to secrete nacre in perfect patterns that result in high lustre. Low-lustre pearls, on the other hand, have low reflective and refractive qualities. They may appear too white, or dull or chalky, and they usually have only marginal nacre thickness.

Lustre of Akoya pearls

Many experts believe that Akoya pearls have the highest lustre of all cultured pearls, and it has to do with their nacre coating. The Japanese waters in which Akoya pearls grow are considerably cooler -- 10 to 15 degrees cooler -- than those in warmer climates, where other types of saltwater cultured pearls are grown. The cooler conditions cause Akoya pearls to develop their nacre coating more slowly, and with a more compact crystal structure. This is what increases Akoya pearls' reflective and refractive qualities. Even though Akoya pearls' nacre coating is generally thinner than that of most other saltwater varieties -- about a half millimeter thick -- their lustre shines the brightest.

Quality Factor Two: Surface

Surface is the second most important quality factor in pearl evaluation. Surface quality refers to the amount and kinds of flaws that appear on the outside of a pearl. Surface is generally evaluated in terms of "clean" to "heavily blemished," with grades of blemishing in between. "Clean" pearls have virtually no spots, bumps, pits, cracks, circles or wrinkles on them. "Heavily blemished" pearls, on the other hand, are dominated by such flaws. It's important to note the difference between "damaging" and "non-damaging" blemishes. Damaging blemishes are those that tend to become larger over time. "Cracks" and "chips," often near a pearl's drill holes, are damaging blemishes. Non-damaging blemishes do not worsen over time. Spots, bumps, pits, circles, and wrinkles are considered non-damaging blemishes.

Generally, the cleaner the surface of a pearl, the more valuable it is. But it's very important to remember that, as products of nature, pearls are almost never flawless -- and imperfections, because they're natural, don't necessarily detract from the beauty or value of a pearl.

Surface of Akoya pearls

Akoya pearls are typically clean, generally free of heavy blemishes. This is a result of their comparatively short cultivation time, and the strict quality standards Japanese pearls are subject to.

Quality Factor Three: Shape

pearls are placed into eight basic shape categories: "round," "drop," "button" "oval," "semi-round," "circle -- or "ringed", "baroque," and "semi-baroque." Generally, the rounder the pearl, the more valuable it is. Perfectly round pearls are very rare. But though baroque pearls are often less costly, they can be just as lustrous and appealing as the round.

Shape of Akoya pearls

Akoya pearls are generally sold in the "round," "semi-round," "drop" and "baroque" shapes. They don't often appear as "buttons," "circles," or "ovals."

Quality Factor Four: Color

Saltwater cultured pearls display a fascinating array of colors, the entire spectrum, in fact: from white to black, and virtually ever color in between. It's important to note that no color is considered superior to another, and, as always, preferences are entirely up to a customer's taste. Yet, as a general note when making suggestions: rosé and silver/white pearls tend to look best on fair skins, while cream and gold-toned pearls are more flattering to darker complexions.

Color of Akoya pearls

Akoya cultured pearls come in rose, silver/white, cream, gold, and blue/gray.

Quality Factor Five: Size

The size of a pearl is measured in millimeters, through its diameter. pearls can be smaller than 1 millimeter in size to as large as 20 millimeters and more. The average and most popular size sold today is 7 to 7-and-a-half millimeters. Though a pearl's size is not an indicator of its quality, it will determine its price. With all other quality factors being equal, the larger the pearl, the more valuable it is. The reason is simple: it's just more difficult to grow a large high-quality pearl. Therefore, pearls that are 7 millimeters and larger will always command higher prices.

Size of Akoya pearls

Akoya pearls range from 2 to 10 millimeters, with 7 millimeters being the average size.

Know your South Sea Pearls

South Sea cultured pearls ... Many consider them the "Rolls Royce" of cultured pearls. They're certainly among the rarest and most costly cultured pearls available today. Cultivated in the waters off Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Myanmar, Japan and Thailand, the South Sea pearl's legacy reaches back thousands of years, when early Australian people believed the natural gem had supernatural powers, even using them in dream interpretation.

These ancient people used oyster shells, and the pearls found within them, not only as decorative elements in their tribal costumes, but traded them for food and tools. In fact, native peoples did the same throughout the South Pacific, wherever the oyster that produces South Sea pearls was found. But it wasn’t until the 16th and 17th centuries, after European explorers arrived in the South Pacific, that these unique pearls developed a global demand. So much so, that the Western World’s voracious appetite caused South Sea pearl-producing oysters to be harvested nearly to the point of extinction in the 18th and 19th centuries. At the turn of the 20th century, over 400 sailboats dedicated to pearl diving and shell-collection were operating in Australia alone, and over 3,500 hard-hat divers were employed, to gather shells for mother-of-pearl buttons and inlay, and of course, South Sea natural pearls.

It was in the early part of the 20th century, when pearl-culturing technology arrived from Japan, that pearl cultivation operations began appearing in the South Pacific, in the countries known for it today. Yet, it wasn’t until the 1950’s when South Sea pearl farms began producing harvests of commercial value.In the decades to follow, however, the number of pearl farms grew to where South Sea pearls were ready to make their splash in the cultured pearl market. Recently, in the mid-1990’s, South Sea pearls became available in quantities large enough to meet the needs of prestige retailers around the world. Today, in terms of dollar value, South Sea pearls compose about 10 percent of the saltwater cultured pearl market.

South Sea Pearl Cultivation

South Sea Pearls form in the "White Lipped" oyster Pinctada maxima. Because most South Sea pearls are cultivated from these wild, hand-picked oysters, strict quotas have been established to prevent their depletion.

Pearl-farm divers go 10 to 80 meters deep in search of healthy and only mature oysters for growing South Sea pearls. Though most South Sea pearl-oyster divers today use modern scuba equipment, in the Philippines, oysters are still routinely collected by "free-divers" who use no equipment at all. Some South Sea pearling operations employ pearling ships, unique to South Sea pearl cultivation. Nucleated South Sea pearl oysters are nurtured in isolated bays of the purest water, far distant from industrial areas. After 3 or 4 months, each oyster is x-rayed to confirm that its nucleus has not been rejected. Oysters with nuclei still inside are returned to the water to continue cultivation, a period that lasts 2 to 3 years.

South Sea Pearl Harvesting

Because of their long, 2-to-3 year cultivation period, South Sea pearls develop an exceptionally thick coating of nacre -- from 2 to 6 millimeters -- perhaps the thickest of all saltwater cultured pearl varieties. When extracting South Sea pearls from their oysters, technicians take special care not damage them. If the oyster is healthy, another nucleus is placed inside -- a process that may be repeated up to 4 times for a single oyster.

South Sea Pearl Processing

Fine South Sea cultured pearls look exactly like natural pearls. One can only tell the difference by examining them by x-ray. Therefore, most South Sea pearls are not treated, dyed or enhanced in any way. Only cleaning and slight polishing are needed to bring out their natural beauty and glow.

South Sea Pearl Quality Evaluation

Because of their rarity, tremendous size, and silky lustre, South Sea pearls command premium prices, and are coveted by jewelry aficionados.Gem quality South Sea pearls are extremely rare for two important reasons: one is that the Pinctada maxima oyster used to cultivate them is a wild species -- one can never be certain how many will be available for cultivation. The second reason rests in the pearl's long cultivation period -- any pearl is more likely to become flawed the longer it's left in the oyster, and therefore, large, round, unflawed pearls are always extremely rare.

Lustre of South Sea pearls

Lustre refers both to a pearl's brilliance -- the way its surface reflects light -- and its inner glow: the way it refracts light. The nacre coating of South Sea pearls is especially thick, giving them a soft yet deep, rich lustre unlike that of any other type of pearl. Their lustre may be referred to as "satiny," less "mirror-like" than that of Akoya pearls. South Sea pearls also possess a beautiful soft iridescence found only in pearls with exceptionally thick nacre.

Surface of South Sea pearls

Surface quality refers to the amount and kinds of flaws that appear on the outside of a pearl, ranging from "clean" -- virtually free of spots, bumps, pits, cracks, circles and wrinkles -- to "heavily blemished" -- pearls dominated by such flaws. Non-damaging blemishes such as spots, bumps, pits, circles and wrinkles will occur on South Sea pearls. But remember, as products of nature, pearls are almost never flawless, and flaws don't always detract from the value or beauty of a pearl. This is especially so with South Sea cultured pearls, whose exceptionally long cultivation period makes flawless or slightly flawed South Sea pearls extremely rare.

Shape of South Sea pearls

South Sea pearls can be found in all the shapes possible: all beautiful in their own right -- "round," "drop," "button," "oval," "semi-round," "circle -- or "ringed"," "baroque," and "semi-baroque." Because of their popularity, the "round" and "drop" shapes are usually the most expensive, but as always, personal preference dictates the shape each customer will find most beautiful.

Color of South Sea pearls

South Sea pearls appear in a wide range of colors, with the most common being white, silver/white, pink, and gold. As a note, South Sea pearls produced in Australia usually come in white; so too with those from the Philippines and Indonesia, though they tend to be creamier, more champagne or golden in color.

Size of South Sea pearls

South Sea pearls are among the largest of all saltwater cultured pearl varieties, ranging from 8 millimeters to as large as 22 millimeters. Their average size is 15 millimeters. Note that South Sea pearls are also found in smaller sizes, between 2 and 8 millimeters. pearls of this size are usually very baroque "keshii" pearls, a very rare type of pearl that is all nacre with no nucleus. [kesh-ee]

Know your Tahitian Pearls

In Tahiti, the story is told of the god Oro, who long ago used his rainbows to visit Earth, giving mother-of-pearl its iridescence and Tahitian pearls their entrancing colors. And so it's true, that Tahitian pearls are not simply "black" as they're commonly called, but themselves rainbows of color that make them such prized possessions today. Though it's true they take their name from French Polynesia's most well-known island, Tahitian pearls are in fact not cultivated in Tahiti, but elsewhere throughout the waters of French Polynesia, a collection of islands and atolls in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean. Tahitian pearl's rich history helps explain their allure and ever-increasing demand in today’s market. With the European discovery of the Pacific Islands in the late 1700's came a rush of traders and explorers who soon learned of the water’s riches, among them: mother-of-pearl, turtle-shell, sandalwood, and of course, natural pearls. In time, the pearl oysters of two islands -- Gambier and Tuamotu -- quickly became depleted, nearly to the point of extinction. Indeed, Europe’s growing demand for mother-of-pearl buttons caused the exploitation of the islands’ oysters to last another 150 years. Then, by 1880, France gained control of the island group we now refer to as French Polynesia, and some actions were taken. Strict regulations were applied to curtail the intense fishing among these islands, including zones designated as off-limits, to allow oyster beds to repopulate. This conservation plan has been in effect ever since, specifying the islands and atolls where fishing is permitted, causing divers and their families to quickly migrate to them for work. In the mid-20th century, building on the successful pearl culturing techniques of Kokichi Mikimoto in Japan, experimentation began with the oyster that produces Tahitian pearls. In fact, it was through the skillful efforts of Japanese cultivation experts that the oysters were first nucleated, and that finally produced some of the earliest Tahitian cultured pearls. The first thousand Tahitian cultured pearls were harvested in the mid-1960's. Today, the atolls of French Polynesia -- coral crowns in the middle of a great ocean -- continue to provide the perfect nutritious, pristine environment necessary for Tahitian pearl cultivation.

Tahitian Pearl Cultivation

Tahitian Pearls form in the "Black Lipped" oyster Pinctada margaritifera, almost twice the size of the Japanese Akoya oyster. This warm water species naturally ranges across the central and south Pacific, but its main homes are in the great atolls of French Polynesia. Tahitian cultured pearl farmers generally raise their oysters from young, in specially designated areas, in the lagoons in which they'd normally live. As with all pearl oysters, only those that have reached maturity are nucleated. Tahitian pearls take 2 to 3 years to form.

Tahitian Pearl Harvesting

Compared to harvests at Akoya pearl farms, harvests at Tahitian pearl farms are much smaller, simply because the oysters used to grow them are far less plentiful. Tahitian pearls generally develop a nacre coating 2 to 3 millimeters thick.

Though the survival rate of nucleated Tahitian pearl oysters is low, some may be nucleated up to 4 times, the last time being to produce a "mabe" pearl -- a half-spherical cultured pearl grown on the inside shell of an oyster rather than within its body.Technicians take great care not to damage the oysters when removing pearls. If, after extracting a pearl, a technician determines the oyster is healthy, he or she will immediately insert another nucleus to produce another pearl.

Tahitian Pearl Processing

Tahitian pearls undergo no form of chemical processing or enhancement. When harvested, they are simply cleaned, dried and lightly polished.

Tahitian Pearl Quality Evaluation

These large, dark beauties, are treasured for their rarity and their intriguing, exotic color and lustre. The most beautiful Tahitian Pearls increase in value, and so, are great investments.

Lustre of Tahitian pearls

Lustre, the way light plays on a pearl, is a combination of a pearl's brilliance and inner glow. Lustre is one of the most important quality factors of Tahitian pearls. Their lustre spans the entire range, from high, to medium levels, to low ... yet regardless of which, one should stress lustre as one of Tahitian pearls' finest features.

Surface of Tahitian pearls

Tahitian cultured pearls display a wide range of surface qualities, from "clean" to "heavily blemished." High-quality Tahitian pearls may occur virtually free of flaws such as spots, bumps, pits, wrinkles and rings. As with all pearls with long cultivation periods, Tahitian pearls possess surface imperfections that tend to add to their interest and allure.

Shape of Tahitian pearls

Tahitian pearls come in all the shapes cultured pearls are found: "round," "drop," "button," "oval," "semi-round," "circle -- or "ringed," "baroque," and "semi-baroque." ALT: "round," "semi-round," "drop," "button" "oval," "circle -- or "ringed", "semi-baroque," and "baroque."

Color of Tahitian pearls

Tahitian pearls are known for their iridescent, vibrant, almost metallic colors, unique among saltwater cultured pearls. Though commonly called "black" pearls, Tahitian pearls are actually gray, to lighter or darker degrees. But, in addition, Tahitian pearls have the unique ability to display a variety of colors at the same time, shimmering about their surfaces in varying shades -- colors such as Peacock, Eggplant -- or Aubergine, Green, Olive Green, Blue and Magenta. The most highly prized Tahitian pearls are those of the iridescent peacock and cobalt blue colors, followed by the rainbows, grays and golds. Other fancy Tahitian pearl colors may range from parchment, to lemon, to a golden-orange.

Click here for more history on pearls.

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