Pearls are unique among gemstones, being the only ones found within a living creature and the only ones that requires no fashioning, (cutting or polishing,) before use. Another distinctive feature is its near exclusive use by one gender. Although some efforts have been made to market pearl jewelry to males in recent years, pearls remain the most "feminine" of all gemstones. Designated officially as the June Birthstone, it is, unofficially, a near requirement for brides.
Cultured pearls are those that form in certain mollusks, (oysters and mussels,) at the intervention of man. A piece of mantle tissue, or a shell bead, is inserted into the interior of the animal. This causes it to secrete a layer of organic material, (conchiolin,) over the irritant, followed by layers of nacre (nay-ker.) The composition and structure of this nacre is essentially identical to that which forms under natural conditions. The thin layers of nacre create a kind of diffraction grating through which light must pass and are responsible for the surface iridescence, called orient, so admired in pearls. Pearls have both a body color and "overtones" of rainbow hues created by the orient.
The culturing process takes place over a period of one to three years, depending on the conditions, the species and the desired outcome.
The commercial process for raising freshwater pearls originated in Lake Biwa, Japan at the end of the 1920’s. Various problems, such as pollution and viral diseases, have hampered production in recent years. Progress is being made in restoring the ecosystems and breeding resistant mollusks, so we should see a return of Japanese pearls to a prominent place in the market in the future. At present, however, the premier source is China.
Caring for Pearls
Pearls are delicate and need special care.
Since they are soft, they should be stored by themselves. Metal and other materials can damage the surface of pearls.
When getting ready to go out, always put your pearls on last. Do not wear them while using aerosol hair sprays, perfumes, etc. These can ruin pearls.
Clean pearls with mild soap, (not a detergent,) and room temperature water. Under no circumstances should they be placed in an ultrasonic or steam cleaner. Nor should you submerse them in a chemical cleaner