The Pearl: Myths and Facts!

Pearls (at least in our opinion) are the most amazing gem you can come across. They come out of the shell in perfect condition, no polishing or faceting needed, and are available in a variety of colors, sizes, and shapes to rival any other gem. Pearls have been worn for ages, with some of the first pieces of pearl jewelry dating back to Ancient Egypt. Pearl mythology is found in numerous cultures around the world. Aphrodite was said to be born from the sea, and pearls were the drops of water flung from her body. Some Chinese legends say that pearls were formed inside the brains of dragons. In Arabian legend, they are said to be created from hardened moon drops. Today, we know much more about pearls, including which animals can produce them and how to culture them, but they still hold an air of mystery about them. Pearls International is here to educate you, and separate some of the pearl facts from the myths!

Chocolate pearls come from sick oysters.
MYTH! As with any pearl, if the color is natural (not dyed) it comes from the nacre the oyster uses to produce the pearl. The only chocolate pearls that occur naturally are rare Tahitian Pearls. Freshwater pearls that are chocolate in color have been dyed. Pearl farmers actually take very good care of their stock, protecting them from predators and cleaning the barnacles off of their shells periodically, so they can grow and stay healthy. It is very unlikely for your pearl to be produced from a sick animal.

Photo Credit: Greg Vaughn Photography
See the browns and golds in the shell? That is the same material that makes the chocolate pearls you see here.

You can tell if a pearl is real by rubbing it against your teeth.
FACT! Real pearls feel gritty against your teeth. Most faux pearls will feel smooth and are likely made of glass beads painted with pearlized paint. However, the gritty feel can fool you. Shell pearls, which are made up of ground mother-of-pearl, will still feel like a real pearl against your teeth. If you are unsure, look at each pearl on your necklace carefully for imperfections. No two pearls should look exactly the same. If you have a strand of perfect, exactly round, blemish-free pearls and you did not pay an extraordinary amount of money for it, it’s likely to be fake.

You can only find a pearl in an oyster.
MYTH! While most of the lustrous pearls you see in jewelry come from oysters, pearls can also come from many other species of mollusks, including clams and scallops. In fact, the world’s largest pearl was formed inside a giant clam. You can also find pearls in conch shells.

Conch Pearls
These pearls are formed within a conch shell. Technically speaking, they are not really pearls at all, since they contain no nacre. But they sure look pearly enough to us!

Saltwater pearls are more expensive because they are larger and more lustrous.
MYTH! Freshwater pearls can be have just as much shine as a saltwater pearl. Saltwater pearls are usually larger, but that it because of the way they are produced. The oyster is nucleated with a shell bead that is larger than the materials used in freshwater pearls. Therefore, you are actually spending more money for less “pearl” with a saltwater specimen. OIn fact, the extra layers of nacre on freshwater varieties also make the gems stronger and less likely to chip or flake after time. So what does make a saltwater pearl more expensive? The short answer is that freshwater pearls are cheaper to produce. You can get around 20 pearls from one freshwater mollusk at a time, while saltwater oysters usually produce 1-3 at a time. That, coupled with the amount of care it takes for a pearl farmer to manage a stock of saltwater oysters compared to their freshwater cousins, accounts for the cost of saltwater pearls.

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