A Guide to Pearl Jewellery
Contrary to common belief, a grain of sand is not the cause of the formation of a pearl. Molluscs (Oyster and mussels) spend their time filter feeding on the beds of the environment in which they live and can flush these tiny grains this out of their shells.
If however, a sharp fragment finds its way in, and the mollusc can’t eject, its defence mechanism is to deposit around the intruder the substance it uses to build its shell called nacre (a type of Calcium Carbonate in the form of Aragonite).This nacre builds up in layers to eventually form the pearl.
This natural reaction will occur regardless whether the mollusc is a Seawater Oyster or Freshwater Mussel.
These are any type of pearl in which the irritation has been deliberately set up by man to induce the mollusc to coat the irritant.
The technique originally devised by the Japanese over a century ago for use with their indigenous Akoya oyster has been extended for use with different types of oysters from other locations and also adapted for producing Freshwater Pearls using Freshwater Mussels.
Pearls in Jewellery
Pearls have been used in jewellery for over two thousand years-indeed they were the original gemstone being beautiful and finished when found.
In Roman times pearls were fantastically valuable and could be seen in all kinds of jewellery of the wives of the important and very wealthy.
Fast forward to the Tudor and Elizabethan period and once again pearls were the ultimate in luxury.
Plundered by the likes Sir Walter Rayleigh and other privateers, pearls found new homes in the jewellery of the day and even stitched into the clothing of royalty and the very rich in the form of billliments –a decorative border to clothes and French hoods.
The Georgian period saw tiny seed pearls woven into necklaces and other items of jewellery and their use in rings, brooches and pendants was abundant.
The sentimental Victorians were also very fond of pearls in their jewellery and could often be seen in mourning jewellery,crescent and star shaped brooches and pendants, and sometimes paired with diamonds in rings and earrings.
The late Victorian and early Edwardian period brought the return to naturalistic motifs in which the organic gems- such a pearls featured heavily. Unusual feather like natural freshwater pearls from the Mississippi river could often be seen as droppers in pendants, necklaces and earrings of the Art Nouveau era.
The big change in pearls in jewellery came in the 1920’s when the then new Japanese Cultured pearls initially entered the market.
The introduction of these farmed product allowed for the first time, ownership of these beautiful organic gems by people other than the super-rich.