The luster of pearls makes them an incredibly feminine and elegant accessory as studs or necklace. There are so many different colors and forms. his post informs about the origin of pearls, why they are not stones, but gems, and how to best take care of them. Read what to know about pearls.
June’s Birthstone is Pearl
… and it isn’t a stone at all. Whoever came up with the marketing idea of birthstones must have slept in their geology and biology classes.
What Are Pearls Made Off?
Pearls are not gemstones – even though they are often advertised as gemstones of the sea. Shelled mollusks and sometimes snails in both freshwater and salt water produce pearls when there is an irritant within their soft tissue. They deposit thin concentric layers of calcium carbonate in micro crystalline form around the irritant. In the case of natural pearls, it is typical a grain of sand, while in the case of farmed pearls it’s a plastic or marble sphere (see next photo of a bisected cultured pearl). In the early last century, glass pearls were used as nucleus. The actual mother-of-pearl layers consist of a form of aragonite and conchyn. Since it’s a living being the layers fail to have the same thickness all around the nucleus.
More on the quality of fresh and saltwater pearls in this review.
Why Do Pearls Shimmer in All Colors of the Rainbow?
The aragonite deposits like shingles with the conchyn in between. This layering breaks the light and causes the shimmering effect of pearls. The color of the pearl itself differs with the waters the mollusks lived in and the kind of mollusks. It depends on the color of the uppermost conchyn layers.
Size and Shapes of Natural Pearls
Natural colors of pearls are pink, silver, crème, golden, green, blue and black. All other colored pearls are dyed. There are eight “basic” shapes: Round, semi-round, oval, drop, pear, button, circled and double bouldered as well as Baroque pearls.
Natural pearls occur in various sizes ranging from a pin to dove egg. The largest natural pearl found so far weights 450 carat (0.2 lb, 90 g). It is in the South Kensington Museum.
Why Do Pearls Lose Their Mother-of-pearl?
Conchyn is an organic substance. Thus, it is subject to aging and drying. First the pearls start getting matt. Next fine tears and cracks form. Finally, the layers fall off and the plastic or glass pearl gets exposed.
There is no way to guarantee how long a pearl will hold its luster. Estimates are 100 to 150 years on average. But many other aspects play a role.
Carbonate is dissolvable in acids. Human sweat is a moderate to nearly neutral acid with pH-values between 4.5 and 7. The pH-values of oily, natural, and dry skin range between 4.0 and 5.2, 5.2 to 5.7, and 5.7 to 7.0, respectively. Most skin care products, shampoos, and hair sprays are moderately acidic too. The pH-values of face toners, for instance, range from 4.0 to 5.0. Moisturizers, creams and sunscreens have pH-values from 5 to 6. For comparison natural rainwater, freshwater and ocean water have pH-value of 5.6, 7, and about 8.5, respectively. Tap water pH-values vary from 6.5 to 8.5.
How to Protect Your Pearls
Due to the sensitivity of pearls to acidity, avoid wearing your pearls on your plain skin or keeping them on when taking a shower or spraying your hair. It’s best to wear your pairs under a collar or with a mock or turtleneck sweater.
Take your pearl rings or bracelets off when you work with chemicals or perform activities wherein they could be scratched.
Gently wipe your pearls with a clean cloth when you take them off. Doing so helps to reduce the amount of acid that may be on them from perspiration, skin products, etc.
Store your pearls in linen or soft cloths fabric separate from other jewelry in a humid environment to avoid scratches (from other jewelry) and cracks from dryness. Don’t put them in a plastic bag or container as their may be airtight. Recall pearls need moisture.
Why to Wear Pearls on Humid, Rainy Days?
As aforementioned, pearls need humid conditions. Typically the air in Interior Alaska is very dry. Therefore, I like to wear my pearls on rainy days. In this LOTD, big pearl studs, and the engagement ring of my late grandma Hannah.
Another reason is that you are less likely to sweat. Sweat is not good for the luster. As a result, don’t wear pearls on muggy days.
Schumann, W., 1976. Edelsteine und Schmucksteine. Alle Edel- und Schmucksteine der Welt 1500 Einzelstücke. Bestimmungsbuch. BLV, München.
Schumann, W., 1990. Mineralien aus aller Welt. Bestimmungsbuch. BLV, München.
Seim, R., 1981. Minerale. Neumann Verlag, Leipzig.
Photos of me: G. Kramm
© 2013-2023 Nicole Mölders | All rights reserved
This Post Has 7 Comments
I always love the cool things that I learn from your posts!
Learned about how to store pearls as well as why; thank you, Nicole, for that well stated lesson! The pearl and onyx/jet necklace is amazingly creative and love the use of an odd-shaped pearl in it! And, as always, love seeing your smile, even when it’s cloudy and rainy over there in Alaska! Thank you for your updates and your fashion savvy!
I have a pearl necklace and I didn’t know that it could damage them to wear them on your bare skin! Good to know!
I wore my long pearls recently with a slip dress and loved it! I used to wear them to work quite a bit. They are such a timeless look! Great tips on storing them, Nicole!
That was really interesting! I have a couple of different things with pearls, some from my grandmother. I tend to forget about them but they are so classy!
Pearls are timeless! I haven’t worn my pearl studs in years and need to change that! Love yours!
Jill – Doused in Pink
great info on protecting your pearls. I think we all forget they need care
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