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 PEARLS       Shop this topic
About Pearls
Behold the "Queen of Gems". Over a thousand years ago the Hindu book of the Rigveda, told how Krishna, the preserver of life, dove into the sea to search for a pearl for his daughter Pandaïa on her wedding day. The Romans believed pearls promoted marital joy. Artwork often depicted the bond between Cupid and Psyche as a strand of pearls. A natural pearl necklace of matched spheres was a treasure of almost incomparable value throughout most of history. It was the most expensive jewelry in the world. It was recorded that the Roman general Vitellius financed a military campaign by selling just one of his mother's pearl earrings. Although we generally associate natural pearls with the Persian Gulf, during colonial days, fresh water pearls were discovered in abundance in the Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee River basins in the US. South America provided saltwater pearls. The New World became known as the "Land of Pearls". These pearl beds have long since been depleted. There are very few sites in the world today providing natural pearls.

Cultured Pearls
At the turn of the century a handfull of Japanese revolutionized history. The leaders became Kokichi Mikimoto, son of a noodle maker, and his hard-working wife, Ume, who discovered and promoted a method for inducing oysters to produce round pearls. Known as a flamboyant showman and promoter, he single-handedly convinced jewelers, lawmakers and the public to accept these cultured artifacts as true pearls. Over 95% of todays world production is cultured. There are several widely known types or brand named cultured pearls.

  • Akoya - Pearls from the Akoya saltwater oyster. From Japan, China and other countries. Akoya in Japanese means saltwater. Colors include white, pinks, creams, and yellow or golden.
  • Biwa Pearls - Freshwater cultured pearls from Lake Biwa in Japan.
  • Mikimoto Pearls - A leading brand of pearls from the originator of cultured pearls.
  • South Sea Pearls - Saltwater cultured pearls from the South East Asia region. Usually silver or gold and 10 - 20mm in size.
  • Tahitian Black Pearls (South Sea Black Pearls) - From the black-lipped oyster. This oyster is harvested in places ranging from Tahiti, and Fiji, to Panama in the Gulf of Mexico. Colors range from gray to black with overtones of blue, green or red.

Simulated Pearls
Imitation pearls or faux pearls are manufactered from a variety of materials and are not considered fine jewelry. Some simulated pearls are high quality, such as Mallorca or Majorcan pearls from Spain.

Pearl Qualities
Pearls are graded according to color, luster, shape, surface markings and size.

  • Color - The main color of a pearl is its body color. Common colors are white, yellow, cream, pink, silver and black. Pearls can also have a slight secondary color that may be visible when light reflects off of it. This translucent tint is called the overtone. A wide variety of colors are available through dyeing and irradiation.
  • Luster - Shimmering, iridescent coloration occurs as the pearl is turned in the light. This effect is caused by light being refracted and reflected through the thin layers of a substance called nacre that make up the pearl. Because of this, larger pearls that have more layers, typically show more luster.
  • Shape - Pearls come in a wide variety of forms, and there are various classification systems in different parts of the world to classify them. These are some of the common basic shapes recognized.
    • Round - perfectly spherical
    • Off-round - "roundish" to the eye, but slightly symmetrically oval. Worth less than the perfectly round pearl.
    • Oval - more oblong than round, but symmetrical.
    • Button - more flattened, or very flattened, but still symmetrical. Often used for setting into earrings.
    • Drop - Symmetrical teardrop or pear shaped. Often used for pendants or earrings.
    • Semi-baroque - not symmetrical, but only slightly irregular. These can be ovals, drops, or buttons, and may be called egg-shaped or potato pearls.
    • Baroque - these are non-symmetrical and irregular in shape. They include things such as coin, Biwi, or stick pearls that can be far removed from the classical round pearl.
  • Surface Markings - Pearls with the smoothest surfaces are highest quality. Sometimes during the formation of the pearl, bubbles or other irregularities occur.
  • Size - Individual pearls are measured in millimeters, and can range from 3 to 13mm or more. The top illustration presents a true millimeter scale that is printable.
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