From royalty to the common person, pearls are a forever trendy gem. They go with any outfit and come in different shapes and colors. You’re in the right place if you’re curious about pearls and what makes them special.
We’ve explored the world of pearls. And in this guide, we’re sharing how they’re made, their symbolism, how to care for them, and more.
How are pearls made?
Pearls form when a foreign material, such as a grain of sand or tiny parasite, enters the mantle (the area between the body and shell) of mollusks such as mussels, oysters, abalones, or marine snails.
The mollusk then secretes a smooth crystalline fluid called “nacre” or “mother of pearl” on the invading organism as a natural defense. This fluid then hardens into a layer around the foreign material which serves as the nucleus. Thousands of nacre layers build up to form a smooth, lustrous beauty – the pearl.
How long does it take an oyster to make a pearl?
It can take an oyster between six months and 20 years to form a pearl. However, before an oyster can begin to make a pearl, it would need to be about three years old.
How rare is it to find a pearl in an oyster?
The chances are 1 in 10,000 that you’ll find a pearl in an oyster. If the statistics run in your favor and you happen to be that fortunate one who sees a pearl in an oyster, it’s likely to be of poor shape and quality, making it unsuitable for jewelry.
Can you harvest pearls without killing the oyster?
Yes, but this requires a skilled and talented harvester. An untalented worker may slice through the shell, damaging the brain and stomach of oysters. However, a skilled worker can harvest a pearl, insert a new nucleus, and the oyster can keep living and even form another pearl.
What is the rarest pearl?
It’s the stunning Melo Melo pearl. Interestingly, it doesn’t form in an oyster or mussel but a Melo Melo sea snail common in the South China sea. This rare pearl takes decades to grow and only occurs naturally.
The pearl is orange-colored, lustrous, and silky. Perhaps, the most exciting detail about the Melo Melo pearl is the enigmatic flame-like impressions on its surface.
Why are pearls so precious?
Pearls aren’t considered “precious” gems like diamonds and emeralds. However, they are special because, unlike other gemstones sourced from the depths of the earth, pearls come from the sea.
They form in living creatures and require no cutting or polishing to perfect their beauty. Pearls are “born” beautiful, and they are rare. Consequently, jewelry lovers have treasured them for many centuries. In fact, they are also known as “the queen of gemstones.”
What do pearls symbolize?
Pearls are believed to symbolize perfection and incorruptibility. Before the middle ages, pearls symbolized nobility since they were accessible mainly to the elite. They also represent innocence, beauty, sincerity, and wisdom gained through experience.
What does the Bible say about pearls?
The Bible comments favorably about the pearl. It alludes to the preciousness of pearls in a few instances. It’s compared with true wisdom and likened to something holy and of high value. In Job chapter 28, verse 18, the Bible says, “a bagful of wisdom is worth more than one full of pearls.”
In the famous Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew chapter 7, verse 6, Jesus Christ compared holy things to pearls. He mentions that pearls should not be thrown before swine, indicating that pearls were considered valuable.
In Matthew chapter 13, verses 45 and 46, Jesus Christ illustrated how precious God’s Kingdom is by comparing it to one pearl of high value.
Types of pearls
Pearls come in various colors, shapes, and sizes. We can classify pearls based on specific criteria such as whether they are natural or cultured, whether they are freshwater or saltwater pearls, and the type of sea creature it originates forms. Let’s explore.
Natural pearls vs cultured pearls
Natural pearls are known as wild pearls. They occur naturally and don’t require human interference. Natural pearls are extremely rare; thus, most natural pearls available today are antiques.
Cultured pearls, however, require human intervention and grow on pearl farms. Both natural and cultured pearls are considered real pearls by experts.
Saltwater pearls vs freshwater pearls
Saltwater pearls form in mollusks found in the sea. They usually contain only one pearl per shell. Because of this limited production, saltwater pearls are scarce and expensive. For example, South Sea pearls, Akoya pearls, and Tahitian black pearls.
Although they can occur in several colors, they are common in white, cream, and pastel colors like pink, peach, orange, and lavender.
On the other hand, freshwater pearls form in mussels that grow in rivers and ponds. Unlike its sister, the saltwater pearl, it can house several pearls in its shell (as many as 50 pieces) at a time. It also comes in many colors, but the most common are black, gray, and brown.
Pearl types by origin
Pearls can also be categorized according to their sources. Here are the common types of pearls by origin.
These pearls form inside bi-valve mollusks called clams. They occur in different colors and patterns. They can grow quite large but are usually smaller than saltwater pearls in oysters.
They don’t usually have a perfect round shape and are dull-faced compared to cultured pearls. Clam pearls are also called river pearls.
Like clams, oysters are bi-valve mollusks, meaning they have laterally compressed bodies enclosed by a shell consisting of two hinged parts.
Not all oysters produce pearls, for example, edible oysters. Pearl-producing oysters are from the family Aviculidae, mainly from the genus Meleagrina, sometimes called Pinctada or Margaritifera.
How to tell if a pearl is real
Here are a couple of ways to find out.
The tooth test
Hold a pearl to the front of your teeth. Rub it across your front teeth (but not the edge), then watch out for a sandy feel. Real pearls feel grainy, but fake pearls feel smooth.
This is a reliable way to know if a pearl is real. To do this, get a 64-power magnification microscope. Ensure you have good lighting, preferably fiber-optic lighting.
Place your pearls under the microscope, then observe the patterns. Real pearls have a scaly appearance, while fake pearls look grainy.
To find out other ways to tell if your pearls are real, learn more from our guide on how to tell if pearls are real.
What are pearls worth?
Pearls can cost from as little as $20 to more than $200,000, depending on the source and quality. Check out our post on how much pearls are worth to learn more.
Which pearl is the most expensive?
The South Sea pearl is the most expensive. Its price ranges from $400 to over $200,000, depending on the quality. They grow mainly in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Australia.
They are also the widest variety of pearls, are lustrous, and available in gold and silvery white colors. These impressive attributes make them scarce and costly.
Which pearl is the cheapest?
Freshwater pearls are the most affordable. They take about six months to form and are widely available. Freshwater mussels can produce up to 50 pearls simultaneously, although 30 pieces are more typical.
8 tips for caring for pearls
You want your precious pearls to last a long time, so here are 8 tips for caring for various types of pearls.
Avoid harsh chemicals
Pearls form from organic materials, so harsh chemicals will damage them, causing them to lose their shine and luster. Keep your pearls away from household cleaning agents like washing liquids and bleach.
Cosmetics and beauty products like lotion, perfume, and makeup are equally dangerous to pearls. Anything containing vinegar or citrus is also bad for pearls.
Clean your pearls regularly
Your pearls will absorb sweat, body oils, and dirt after you wear them. Don’t simply return them to their place afterward. Clean them with a soft cotton cloth after each wear.
If your pearls need more cleaning, prepare a solution of lukewarm water (preferably distilled water instead of tap water containing chlorine) and mild soap.
Using a soft cotton cloth, wipe the pearls with the solution. Next, wipe with another clean, damp, soft cotton cloth to remove any soap residue. Finally, lay them on a dry cotton cloth to dry completely.
💡 Take Note: Avoid using hot or cold water to clean your pearls as that will damage them. Also, squeeze the water from the cloth before wiping the pearls. It should be damp, not wet. Using too much water or submerging them will damage them.
Store pearls safely
Avoid storing your pearls on a jewelry rack. They can stretch the silk thread that strings the pearls together. Instead, lay them flat in a jewelry box lined with a soft cloth or store them in a soft pouch.
Never store your pearls in an airtight container, such as a ziplock bag. Pearls are organic and need to breathe. Without air, they’ll become brittle and lose their shine.
Wear your pearls often
Wearing your pearls often will keep them lustrous and shiny. Pearls appear hard, but they are pretty porous and love moisture. They will absorb your natural oils, keeping them looking great for a long time.
💡 Pro Tip: It’s advisable to put on your pearls at least 30 minutes after applying cosmetics, so they don’t absorb dangerous chemicals.
Visit a jeweler for maintenance
Once a year, your jeweler may need to restring your pearls, especially if you wear them often. The threads (silk or nylon) soak up body oils and turn dark after a while, so they need replacement.
Also, restringing prevents the strand from breaking. We suggest you ask the jeweler to knot the thread between pearls so you don’t lose any pearls in case the strand breaks.
Avoid prolonged exposure to sunlight
Over time, pearls can become yellow when exposed to the sun for a prolonged period. If you intend to spend considerable time under the sun, pearls may not be suitable jewelry for the occasion.
Protect your pearls from dry heat
High heat can cause pearls to split, crack, or burn. Avoid cooking or heat-styling your hair while wearing your pearls. The heat from a stove top or hair dryer will damage them.
Avoid bathing or swimming with pearls
Water will weaken the silk thread binding your beads. And the chemicals from soap or chlorine will damage the surface of your pearls.
💡 Take Note: An excellent rule is, “wear pearls last and take them off first.”
Frequently asked questions
Still got questions about pearls? We’re answering some questions people usually ask.
Is it OK to wear pearls everyday?
There are different schools of thought on the matter. Some pearl enthusiasts say these beautiful gems are classic and exclusive, so you should wear them only on special occasions.
Other enthusiasts feel that styles and trends are changing, so you can wear pearls every day, even with casual clothing. Besides, they need your natural oils to stay looking lustrous.
It’s reasonable to keep these two schools of thought in mind. Some pearls like the South Sea and Tahitian black pearls are rare and expensive, costing hundreds to thousands of dollars. So it makes sense for the owner to reserve them for special occasions.
On the other hand, a variety like freshwater pearls is accessible, more affordable, and suitable for daily wear. It comes down to the owner to decide.
Why can’t pearls get wet?
A silk or nylon thread binds the pearls together. If the thread comes in contact with water, it becomes weak and eventually breaks, resulting in the loss of pearls.
Also, genuine pearls are composed of nacre, an organic element. Chlorine from a swimming pool will damage the surface of the pearls.
To read more about water-friendly jewelry, check out our post on what kind of jewelry you can wear in the shower.
How long do pearls last?
Genuine pearls can last a lifetime with proper care and maintenance.
How do I clean pearls?
Use a soft cotton cloth to wipe clean after each use. If pearls require deeper cleaning, use a solution of distilled lukewarm water and mild soap to clean with a soft cotton cloth. Then wipe off the soap with a damp cotton cloth and lay to dry on another soft cotton cloth.
How do I avoid losing my pearls?
Ask a jeweler to knot the strands between the pearls. Alternatively, they can knot the first few pearls on both sides of the clasps. The knots will prevent the loss of several valuable pearls if the strands break.
What color of pearl is the most expensive?
Gold. The South Sea pearl color varies from a creamy white to a deep golden hue. The deeper the hue, the more expensive the golden pearl.
What shape of pearls are most expensive?
Perfectly round pearls are the most expensive.
Do pearls get better over time?
Not necessarily. With time, pearls can age and become yellow. Please follow our care and maintenance tips in this post to prevent this.
Indulge in the Queen of Gems
Pearls are genuinely precious gifts to womankind. They are delicate, subtle, and special. They can grace any attire with sophistication and style. Pearls make timeless fashion statements.
Whether your budget suits the freshwater pearls or the Akoya, Tahitian, or South Sea pearls, we think every woman should own this beautiful gem. Afterall, what’s not to love about pearls?
💎 You should know: We use affiliate links throughout our site. This means we may earn a cent or two when you make a purchase on our site. Thanks for adding to our shine.