I never had a crush with pearls, I’lle be honest. I remember all female relatives having at least few of those long, classic necklaces with huge (at least to my 8yo eyes) pearls that always looked alike – and never looked good on them (sorry, aunts!)
Growing up in the 80’s, then 90’s, pearls in my mind were associated forever with old age (what’s wrong with old age, 40+ yo Kate?), floral dresses and cheek-pinching ladies who loved to show up uninvited (sorry, again, aunts!)
As always, there are three sides of the same coin. I’ve stolen it from a book, which I don’t remember anymore (getting old, Katie?) but it said something like “There is a 3rd side on the same coin apart from heads and tails, and it is the edge. Smart people stay on the edge and have their eyes on both sides”.
(Now that I was googling the words to write the above correctly in English, I saw that the 3rd side of the coin is not something new and you can find a lot of interesting stuff about it.)
Anyhow, I recently found myself owning a rather big collection of pearls. Long story short, I like to buy my materials in large quantities when possible and with the best possible deals, from anywhere, so here we are. Most of the pearls were old, dirty, dusty, blurry, in different sizes and shapes, others brighter, others pinker, others yellow-ish (?), others black, others tiny like rice, others too big, others looking fake (?)
And despite my eye-rolling face since a kid when thinking about pearls, I instantly FELT IN LOVE.
Why? I have no idea. (Maybe I’m just getting old 🙂 )
Alright, so after washing them in warm water and dish soap – you won’t believe how dirty they were – I sat myself down and thought “Hey, there are so many kinds of them!”
I admit I didn’t know it, all I knew about pearls was the classic, big white bead for old ladies necklaces. And I had to find out about them.
How Pearls are created:
So, pearls are formed within bivalve mollusks (I’m googling), such as oysters, mussels, and clams. When a grain of sand or a parasite gets in the mollusk’s shell, the little fella reacts by secreting a protective layer of nacre (aka Mother of Pearl), a pearly substance composed of calcium carbonate and conchiolin. Over time, as the irritant is encased in successive layers of nacre, a pearl is formed. Voila! Out of personal space violation a much loved material was born, that is being an inspiration for so many years to artists, jewelry makers and cheek-pinching aunties. Who knew?
Natural vs. Cultivated Pearls
Natural pearls are the rarest and most prized type of pearls, and are formed spontaneously within the mollusk’s shell. On the other hand, cultivated pearls are intentionally grown by inserting an irritant into the mollusk’s mantle (the fleshy tissue between the shell and the body). The process of pearl cultivation has significantly increased the availability of pearls, making them more accessible to a wider audience – and cheaper.
Cultivated pearls are NOT fake pearls, they are just real pearls created naturally in the shell, but by human action. Fake pearls are pearl-alike beads, made of plastic or glass. There is some argue out there whether cultivated pearls are real pearls or not, but in my opinion they are real (just not spontaneously created).
Real fake pearls (that sounded weird) are for example, the very well known Majorica Pearls. Although their price would make you think they are the real deal, in fact, Majorica Pearls are extremely well made by layers of glass. More info about it on google.
But, how would I know what kind of pearls I’m looking at?
Let’s go to the best part.
Types of Pearls
There are three main types of pearls:
Freshwater Pearls: These pearls are formed in freshwater mollusks, such as mussels and clams. They are typically smaller and less symmetrical than saltwater pearls, but they come in a wider range of colors, including pink, green, and purple. Generally, their price is quite affordable, making them probably the most popular option for crafters and small business owners.
Saltwater Pearls: These pearls are formed in saltwater oysters, such as Akoya and Tahitian oysters. They are generally larger and more symmetrical than freshwater pearls, and they are known for their exceptional luster and iridescence (the aunties long pearl necklaces).
Keshi Pearls: These pearls are formed as a byproduct of pearl cultivation. They are tiny, irregular pearls that lack the lustrous surface of genuine pearls. However, they are still prized for their unique appearance and are often used in jewelry designs.
I put all three types together and next one to the other for comparison:
Properties of Pearls
Pearls are not only aesthetically pleasing (especially when seeing a lot of them together) but also possess unique properties. They are said to have calming and soothing effects, and they have been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine. Pearls are also believed to have symbolic meanings in various cultures, representing purity, love, and wisdom.
But, how to tell real pearls from fake?
Whether you would like to begin crafting with pearls or buy pearl jewelry, I am not sure there’s a way to identify a natural-real pearl and a cultivated (also real) pearl, but there are ways to recognize real pearls from fake (plastic or glass) ones. The thing is, that not all ways apply to all pearls, so you might have to try them all.
The first and probably easiest way is to feel the weight. Real pearls are heavier than plastic pearls, however glass pearls can trick you, so don’t stick to weight alone.
Another easy way is temperature. Real pearls feel cold to the touch, just for a brief second, before they get warm as you hold them. Again, glass pearls can trick you with that – and that’s why the (amazingly made) Majorica glass pearls can often fool even the experts.
Shape and Irregularity
This is another relatively easy way to recognize fake pearls. A natural pearl will never be perfect, or perfectly shaped (and this is what makes them perfect!), it will have small imperfections, ridges and will not be exactly the same as another one.
Size of drill holes
It is said that real pearls have very narrow drill holes, while fake pearls have wider. With that said, some of the pearls in my collection could be fake, as I have some with large drill holes and should investigate them further.
Pearls remain a popular choice for jewelry and are often worn as symbols of elegance and timeless beauty. Their unique origin, captivating beauty, and diverse properties have made them treasured gems for generations. The third side of the coin I mentioned earlier, is that there is not just the old fashion classic long pearl necklace and if you think a little outside of the box (aka old fashionly), crafting with pearls can be such a fun!
I decided to work with my pearls and made a super cute lil bracelet:
And a bold one:
Pretty cool, aren’t they?
Let’s see how our little lesson about pearls went: Can you tell me which kind of pearls I used for both bracelets?
See you next time and happy crafting with pearls!