A Mabe or Blister Pearl pendant - Groovy!
The following is a little piece I wrote for the blog of an Etsy group I used to belong to (no time now!). It's quite gushing, but can you blame me?!
A Little History of Pearls
Pearls throughout time have always been highly valued and have always been a sign of wealth and good taste (uh hem...I AM a person of great taste). The pearl is the only gem that is created by a living creature and they are the oldest prized gem known to man (and his stylish woman). In Roman times, women of privilege chose pearls as the sign of their wealth and class. Pearls were so prized, the Roman general Vitellius is said to have financed his military campaign by selling just one of his mother’s pearl earrings. Quotes and poems about pearls have existed throughout antiquity with pearls symbolizing endearing and enduring love. William Shakespeare used the pearl often in his prose:
She is mine own.
And as rich in having such a jewel
As twenty seas, if all their sand were pearl,
The water nectar, and the rocks pure gold.
From "The Two Gentlemen of Verona"
~ William Shakespeare
Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough brier,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire.
I do wander everywhere
Swifter than the moon’s sphere.
And I serve the fairy queen
To dew her orbs upon the green.
Cowslips tall her pensioners be.
In their gold coats spots you see.
Those be rubies, fairy favors.
In those freckles live their savors.
I must go seek some dewdrops here
And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.
Farewell, thou lob of spirits. I’ll be gone.
Our queen and all our elves come here anon.
A Fairy to Robin Goodfellow (or Puck) in A Midsummer Night's Dream
~ William Shakespeare
Simply my favorite Shakespeare quote, which is no surprise as I fancy fairies immensely!
Rich honesty dwells like a miser, sir, in a poor house; as your pearl in a foul oyster!
Said by Audry in "As You Like It," whilst protecting her virginity and integrity
I'm not kidding when I say the pearl is the oldest and most revered gemstone known to man (and don't forget his fabulously-adorned woman)! The Bible, one of our oldest documents (every version there is) refers to the pearl as being divine, a symbol of virtue, purity and goodness:
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: /
Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.
And the twelve gates were twelve pearls: every several gate was of one pearl:
and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass.
I made this necklace for my Aunt Carolyn
with abalone & colored pearls
So, how do you know you’re getting the bang for the buck you’re looking for? With pearls, and most of everything else, you get what you pay for. Another thing about understanding the grade of pearls is that it is very common sense. Usually, you can tell what you are looking at with pearls and their quality is almost obvious. Pearl grading is very much like diamond grading in that there are categories. With pearls, there are five basic categories of qualitative comparisons: Luster, shape, color, surface and size.
Luster is how shiny or dull pearl is. Obviously, with pearls, the shinier, the better. The longer the pearl was cultured, the more mirror-like its finish and the more expensive it will be. Low luster pearls are milky or chalky and cost much less than the high-luster pearls. However, well-done low-luster pearls can be very artistic and groovy! Don't count them out completely.
The most prized pearl shape is perfectly round and is category A. Then you’ve got category B or Almost Round; C, Off Round or Roundish; D, Egg Round; and E, Oval or Potato Shaped. Category F is the broadest category and is called Semi-Baroque. It encompasses all other shapes that are neither round nor off-round. Some examples are button pearls, coin pearls, pear pearls, rice pearls, stick pearls, etc. Category F is my favorite category because it’s the most fun to design with! F for FUN! Sheeyeah!
The color of pearls doesn’t really affect the cost as it is completely subjective and a matter of personal taste. Natural pearl colors are dictated by the type of mollusk that houses it and the type of nucleus used. Even the conditions of the water the mollusk lives in can be a factor in determining the pearl’s color. Colors that occur naturally are white, silver, cream, pink, lilac, silver and gold. Other natural colors are black and green-black, otherwise known as Tahitian pearls, which are produced by the black-lipped oyster and which are highly prized and highly expensive! Cultured pearls are often bleached or dyed to obtain the myriad of colors sold.
Peacock-colored coin pearls
The surface of pearls does affect price and the more unblemished a pearl is, the higher its price. To find pearls without blemishes is extremely rare. As pearls are the only gem that is grown by a living creature, each one is unique and has its own identifying marks, much like a person’s fingerprints. In my opinion, a pearl’s natural marks and blemishes are what make it unique and interesting. However, if we’re talking about deep cracks or chips in the pearl’s nacre, you’re looking at a pearl that will probably not last very long, which is what you want to avoid. I've had pearls crack in half when subjected to the stress of being worn on someone's finger or wrist.
Simple, but beautiful...
The last category in determining a pearl’s price is obviously its size. The larger the pearl, the more expensive it is, which is true with any gemstone, in conjunction with the other factors listed above. Duh. However, in the case of pearls, the larger the pearl, the longer it needed the time to develop inside its mollusk. It is also super difficult for a pearl to maintain a perfectly round shape as it grows and it is rare when it does remain perfectly round. That’s why large, round pearls are extremely rare and are very, very expensive, natural or cultured.
Wrapped pearls in all different shapes & sizes!