Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Pearl by any other name would be as pretty…

I know, I know its a little lame to bring in a semi-Shakespearian quote here…but then again maybe not.
“Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Ding-dong.” (Shakespeare, The Tempest,  Act 1, Scene 2)

"If that a Pearl may in a Toad's head dwell,
And may be found too in an Oyster-shell;
If things that promise nothing do contain
What better is than Gold: who will disdain,”  (John Bunyan, 1678).

“Not always can flowers, pearls, poetry, protestations, nor even home in another heart, content the awful soul that dwells in clay.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson).

“A note as from a single place,
A slender tinkling fall that made
Now drops that floated on the pool
Like pearls, and now a silver blade.” (Robert Frost, “Going for Water.”).

A Pearl is at its simplest a piece of sand caught in a mollusk.  It is trapped there, sort of making the sea creature uncomfortable so that it ends up polishing it into a round beauty…although not always round as we shall see.  Pearls found in the wild are quite rare, and indeed these are the only pearls that can truly say they are ‘natural’.  Most of the pearls on the market are ‘cultured pearls’ or grown by men (and women—I say men to mean mankind) in pearl oysters.  Here an oyster is grown, and a piece of sand is placed in what basically amounts to ‘under the tongue’ like when you have to get your kiddo’s temperature.  It’s the rubbing and discomfort of the oyster that creates the pearl sheen, or luster or nacre on the outside of the pearl.
To be considered high quality Gem Grade salt water pearl, a pearl does not need to happen solely in nature—it merely has to have enough iridescence or nacre on it, making it mostly look like the shell within which it was formed.
As I have stated a naturally occurring pearl is quite rare—and unfortunately the animal must die in order for the pearl to be collected.  It’s sad, but also a reason why “Mother of Pearl” is so popular.  There is simply a near abundance of it due to the nature or pearl gathering and manufacturing.  Plus, the iridescence in the actual mother of pearl determines the luster of the pearl inside the animal.  A superior mother of pearl would therefore, generate a superior pearl.  
Generally there are of course two basic types of pearls—saltwater and freshwater.  Within these two general types is where we have to go further to separate the grades, qualities and those given certain names.

 Mother of Pearl made into “Shell Pearls” in order to resemble High Quality Gem Grade pearls.

Note the iridescence on these fresh water “Coin Pearls”  These came from a higher end ‘Mother of Pearl’ or “Freshwater Pearl Oyster”
As an example of the value of natural salt water pearls:
In 1917, jeweler Pierre Cartier purchased the Fifth Avenue mansion that became the New York “Cartier” store for US$100 cash and a double strand of matched natural pearls worth 1 million dollars (US) in 1917 currency.

Next Stop, Akoya and Tahitian.
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