Friday, June 1, 2012

Pearls - the lustrous birthstone for June

Black Pearl Earrings by MaryAnneKarren 
Cleopatra once dissolved the most valuable pearl in the world in her wine and drank it down to prove to Marc Antony that she could consume the wealth of an entire nation in one meal. Or so the legend goes. Perhaps it didn’t happen exactly like that, but the story illustrates the allure and power that pearls have held in history. Throughout the ancient world, pearls were among the most rare and coveted of gems. The pearl appears in legend, myth, and religious traditions from many ancient civilizations, and has symbolized beauty, mystery, power, birth, truth, purity and virtue. Today, pearls are still seen as symbols of beauty, elegance, refinement, and purity (think weddings), and pearl is the birthstone for June.

Although Cleopatra may not have been able to dissolve a pearl in her wine while dining with Marc Antony, a pearl can be dissolved in vinegar over the course of a day or so. This is because pearls are composed mostly of the organic material, calcium carbonate, which is secreted from the tissues of a mollusk.

Pearls are produced naturally when an irritant like a grain of sand or a parasite becomes lodged in a mussel’s tissues. The animal secretes layers of nacre, the same substance they coat the glossy interior of their shells with, to surround the irritant and render it harmless. The nacre hardens, and over the course of months or years, the object can grow to become a sizeable pearl.

Today, the vast majority of pearls for sale are cultured. Pearl culture uses the same principle to induce the growth of pearls in a controlled environment. The mollusks are bred on farms, and an irritant is introduced manually to produce specific sizes and shapes of pearls. Traditionally, high quality pearls were cultured only in salt water. These pearls include the Japanese Akoya and the Tahitian and South Sea pearls. In the last twenty years, culture of pearls in fresh water has exploded. New techniques have made it possible to grow high quality freshwater pearls much faster and cheaper than traditional salt water culture methods. Today, commercial freshwater pearls are produced almost entirely in China, and quality continues to improve while prices remain low.

Compared to most gemstones, pearls are delicate! Because they are an organic material, they are especially sensitive to chemicals and anything acidic. Read on to learn more about pearl care.


  • Wear them often! Your natural skin oils are good for pearl luster.
  • Put pearls on well AFTER applying any lotion, perfumes, makeup, sunblock, hairspray, or other beauty products, and avoid getting any of these things directly on the pearls.
  • Clean your pearls with a soft cloth after wearing.
  • Store pearls in a protected location. Pearls can scratch, so a soft bag or box is recommended.
  • If something bad happens (say you accidentally spray perfume on your pearls), wash them with lots of water. The pearls themselves will not be hurt by copious amounts of water, but soaking isn’t great for the silk cord they may be strung on. Remember that the cord is replaceable and the pearls may not be, so washing is preferable to damaging your pearls. After washing, don’t wear the pearls until the cord is completely dry.
  • Have your pearls restrung occasionally. If the silk cord becomes brittle, discolored, or the pearls can slide a bit between the knots, it’s time to have them restrung by a professional jeweler. 


  • Don’t drop your pearls in vinegar and drink them down. But seriously, avoid spilling anything acidic such as salad dressing, citrus, and other food or drink on your pearls. Wash them right away in lots of water if a spill occurs.
  • Don’t wear pearls in the pool or hot tub. Chlorine and other chemicals can affect the color and luster of pearls.
  • Don’t allow lotion, sunblock, perfume, hairspray, or other beauty products to contact your pearls directly. Don’t store pearls in a scratchy place, like under your watch at the bottom of your jewelry pile.  

Browse pearl jewelry made by EtsyMetal artists here: PEARLS

-article written by Mary Anne Karren
Related Posts Widget for Blogs by LinkWithin