Pearls are classic and glamourous gemstones that have been loved and lusted over for generations. From the largest symmetrical La Peregrina pearl worn by Elizabeth Taylor to the iconic pearl necklace worn by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, pearls are effortlessly elegant and reminiscent of Old Hollywood. Due to their lustrous beauty and interesting origins, pearl jewellery has become extremely popular and in high demand. If you want to invest in pearl jewellery, it’s important to understand the different types of pearls and what to look out for when you’re buying them. Here’s our guide to pearl jewellery and what tips and tricks to use when buying your next pearl piece.
Pearls: History, origins, and types
Most gemstones are found in the Earth’s crust, but pearls are an exception. Pearls are the only gemstone that comes from a living creature: the molluscs. Molluscs like clams, mussels and oysters create pearls naturally. When an irritant or a piece of bacteria gets inside a molluscs’ shell, it produces a layer of fluid called a nacre around the irritant as a defence. The mollusc secretes layer upon layer of nacre to form the pearl. This process can take up to 5 and even 10 years and the result is a pearl!
This is what is called a natural pearl but there are other types of pearls that you can get. Natural pearls aren’t always perfectly round and can range in shapes, sizes, and colours. White or cream is the typical colour of pearl and colour can be determined by different types of waters, like saltwater or freshwater. Freshwater pearls typically have a rose-pink colour, and a Tahitian pearl has a signature black-purple colour.
Due to the length of time that it can take to make a pearl, there are other types of pearls available that are made in different ways. These are cultured and imitation pearls.
Cultured pearls make up most pearls that are available and used in jewellery today. A cultured pearl is made in a very similar way to natural pearls but there are two key differences. Cultured pearls are made by molluscs that are kept on a ‘pearl farm’. Irritants like shell bead nuclei are inserted inside the mollusc purposely by pearl farmers which activates the nacre reaction from the mollusc. It doesn’t harm the mollusc in anyway – nor does the removal – and the process still takes 5-10 years to produce a pearl.
Imitation pearls are completely manmade and created by glass beads that are dipped into a solution made from fish scales. They look extremely shiny and lustrous, but they do fade overtime which real pearls don’t tend to do.
How to buy pearl jewellery
Whether you’re buying a natural, cultured, or imitation pearl, there are a few characteristics to look out for to tell the difference between the different pearl types and to find the best pearl for your collection.
How to tell natural / cultured pearls from imitation
One thing that will help you figure out if a pearl is natural is by the details of the piece. Professional jewellers and jewellery brands will let you know what type of pearl you’re buying so you can be sure you’re getting what you’re paying for. Another way to tell is by looking at the price tag. Natural and cultured pearls will be more expensive whereas an imitation pearl will be a more affordable or cheaper price range. Finally, you can tell the difference by the feel and shine of the pearl. Natural and cultured pearls have layers of nacre so they can feel quite gritty whereas imitations are smooth and glide across each other, and a natural pearl has lustre which is beautifully bright whereas imitations can be a little dull.
How to choose pearl jewellery
A popular way to pick pearls is to match them to your skin tone. This lets both your complexion and the pearls shine. Lighter skin tones should go with lighter pearls and darker skin tones work well with pink and purple pearls. Pearl earrings are extremely popular and typically set in metals. Pearls should match the metal in terms of colour. Warmer coloured pearls look good in rose and yellow gold, and white and black pearls look best in white gold and silver.
To start shopping for your perfect pearls, shop Auree Jewellery’s collection of pearl jewellery.