Cultured Pearls - Gems We Help Create

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In , the first cultured Akoya pearl was made — an amazing achievement that created the cultured pearl industry we know today. These perfect oceanic climates attribute to the production of pearls with brilliant lustre and rich colors — the qualities the Akoya pearl has become renowned for. Akoya colors range from white, cream and pink to silver pink. Akoya pearls, unless color-treated, have neutral colors and overtones. Most pearls are white to dark grey, with pink, green, or silver overtones. Occasionally, akoya pearls are blue with silver and pink overtones, but these colors are extremely rare.

Akoya pearls are never naturally black — black akoya pearls have undergone either Cobalt radiation treatment or treatment with an organic dye. Interesting fact about Akoyas is that the Akoya oyster is the smallest pearl-producing oyster in the world. Akoya pearls are often available in the market in sizes of 3 — 10mm. The Akoya pearl remains a pure symbol of elegance and beauty. The South Seas that lie between the northern coast of Australia and Indonesia are the native habitat of the large silver-lipped South Sea oyster, also known as the Pinctada maxima, from which the White South Sea Pearl originates.

The impressive mollusks grow up to 12 inches in diameter and produce pearls that are harvested from 9mm upwards — some of the largest, rarest and most valuable pearls in the world. They have a magnificent, satiny white luster as a result of their thick nacre layers, acquired through months of cultivation. Their opalescent appearance subtly alters under the slightest of light changes, making them a true marvel to behold.

Shapes range from round, oval or teardrop to free-form baroque. Frequently referred to as black pearls, Tahitian pearls are highly valued because of their rarity; the culturing process for them dictates a smaller volume output and they can never be mass-produced because, in common with most sea pearls, the oyster can only be nucleated with one pearl at a time, while freshwater mussels are capable of multiple pearl implants.

Before the days of cultured pearls, black pearls were rare and highly valued for the simple reason that white pearl oysters rarely produced naturally black pearls, and black pearl oysters rarely produced any natural pearls at all. Black South Sea pearls are coveted treasures the world over. Some high-quality Black South Sea pearls feature what is called a peacock color, which has a remarkable red and green tint combined. The majority of Fiji's islands were formed through volcanic activity.

Located about miles west of Tahiti, Fiji is another sanctuary for Pinctada Margaritifera oysters. About sixty percent of the pearls harvested in Fiji are still somewhat black as the traditional Tahitian pearls and only about forty percent are produced in breathtaking natural colors.

Cultured Pearls

The Fiji Pearls as the Fiji Sunsets come in rich warm hues of gold, copper, champagne, pistachio, cranberry, and chocolate. Their cool hue palette is made up of deep blues and vibrant greens. The nutrient rich bays, the pristine waters and the unique fauna of the Fiji islands are all factors contributing to the creation of beautiful pearls that may also shine with overtones of turquoise, coppery-gold, dusty rose or deep sapphire. Trade names of cultured pearls are Akoya, white or golden South sea, and black Tahitian. Most beadless cultured pearls are mantle-grown in freshwater shells in China, and are known as freshwater cultured pearls.

Cultured pearls can be distinguished from natural pearls by X-ray examination. After a bead is inserted into the oyster, it secretes a few layers of nacre around the bead; the resulting cultured pearl can then be harvested in as few as twelve to eighteen months. When a cultured pearl with a bead nucleus is X-rayed, it reveals a different structure to that of a natural pearl see diagram. A beaded cultured pearl shows a solid center with no concentric growth rings, whereas a natural pearl shows a series of concentric growth rings. A beadless cultured pearl whether of freshwater or saltwater origin may show growth rings, but also a complex central cavity, witness of the first precipitation of the young pearl sac.

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Some imitation pearls also called shell pearls are simply made of mother-of-pearl , coral or conch shell, while others are made from glass and are coated with a solution containing fish scales called essence d'Orient. Although imitation pearls look the part, they do not have the same weight or smoothness as real pearls, and their luster will also dim greatly.

A well-equipped gem testing laboratory can distinguish natural pearls from cultured pearls by using gemological X-ray equipment to examine the center of a pearl.


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With X-rays it is possible to see the growth rings of the pearl, where the layers of calcium carbonate are separated by thin layers of conchiolin. The differentiation of natural pearls from non-beaded cultured pearls can be very difficult without the use of this X-ray technique. Natural and cultured pearls can be distinguished from imitation pearls using a microscope.

Another method of testing for imitations is to rub two pearls against each other. Imitation pearls are completely smooth, but natural and cultured pearls are composed of nacre platelets, making both feel slightly gritty. Fine quality natural pearls are very rare jewels. Their values are determined similarly to those of other precious gems, according to size, shape, color, quality of surface, orient and luster. Single natural pearls are often sold as collectors' items, or set as centerpieces in unique jewelry.


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  5. Very few matched strands of natural pearls exist, and those that do often sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. The introduction and advance of the cultured pearl hit the pearl industry hard. Pearl dealers publicly disputed the authenticity of these new cultured products, and left many consumers uneasy and confused about their much lower prices. Essentially, the controversy damaged the images of both natural and cultured pearls. By the s, when a significant number of women in developed countries could afford their own cultured pearl necklace, natural pearls were reduced to a small, exclusive niche in the pearl industry.

    Previously, natural pearls were found in many parts of the world. Present day natural pearling is confined mostly to seas off Bahrain.

    Your guide to pearls

    Australia also has one of the world's last remaining fleets of pearl diving ships. Australian pearl divers dive for south sea pearl oysters to be used in the cultured south sea pearl industry. The catch of pearl oysters is similar to the numbers of oysters taken during the natural pearl days. Hence significant numbers of natural pearls are still found in the Australian Indian Ocean waters from wild oysters.

    X-ray examination is required to positively verify natural pearls found today.

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    Keshi pearls , although they often occur by chance, are not considered natural. They are a byproduct of the culturing process, and hence do not happen without human intervention. They are quite small, typically only a few millimeters. Keshi pearls are produced by many different types of marine mollusks and freshwater mussels in China.

    Keshi pearls are actually a mistake in the cultured pearl seeding process. In seeding the cultured pearl, a piece of mantle muscle from a sacrificed oyster is placed with a bead of mother of pearl within the oyster. If the piece of mantle should slip off the bead, a pearl forms of baroque shape about the mantle piece which is entirely nacre. Therefore, a Keshi pearl could be considered superior to cultured pearls with a mother of pearl bead center. In the cultured pearl industry, the resources used to create a mistaken all nacre baroque pearl is a drain on the production of round cultured pearls.

    Therefore, they are trying to improve culturing technique so that keshi pearls do not occur.

    All nacre pearls may one day be limited to natural found pearls. Tahitian pearls , frequently referred to as black pearls, [15] are highly valued because of their rarity; the culturing process for them dictates a smaller volume output and they can never be mass-produced because, in common with most sea pearls, the oyster can only be nucleated with one pearl at a time, while freshwater mussels are capable of multiple pearl implants. Before the days of cultured pearls, black pearls were rare and highly valued for the simple reason that white pearl oysters rarely produced naturally black pearls, and black pearl oysters rarely produced any natural pearls at all.

    Since the development of pearl culture technology, the black pearl oysters Pinctada margaritifera found in Tahiti and many other Pacific islands including the Cook Islands and Fiji are being extensively used for producing cultured pearls. The rarity of the black cultured pearl is now a "comparative" issue. The black cultured pearl is rare when compared to Chinese freshwater cultured pearls, and Japanese and Chinese akoya cultured pearls, and is more valuable than these pearls. However, it is more abundant than the South Sea pearl, which is more valuable than the black cultured pearl.

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    This is simply because the black pearl oyster Pinctada margaritifera is far more abundant than the elusive, rare, and larger south sea pearl oyster Pinctada maxima , which cannot be found in lagoons, but which must be dived for in a rare number of deep ocean habitats or grown in hatcheries. Black pearls are very rarely black: they are usually shades of green, purple, aubergine, blue, grey, silver or peacock a mix of several shades, like a peacock's feather. In the absence of an official definition for the pearl from the black oyster, these pearls are usually referred to as "black pearls".

    A farm in the Gulf of California , Mexico, is culturing pearls from the black lipped Pinctada mazatlanica oysters and the rainbow lipped Pteria sterna oysters. Biologically speaking, under the right set of circumstances, almost any shelled mollusk can produce some kind of pearl. However, most of these molluskan pearls have no luster or iridescence. The great majority of mollusk species produce pearls which are not attractive, and are sometimes not even very durable, such that they usually have no value at all, except perhaps to a scientist or collector, or as a curiosity.

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