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Types of pearls - String together a treasure from the sea

Anushya Mamtora | Updated on August 17, 2011

Mikimoto Akoya pearls   -  BUSINESS LINE

Fire & Ice collection with Tahitian pearls :Ganjam   -  BUSINESS LINE

Mikimoto pearls   -  BUSINESS LINE

Mikimoto pearl ring   -  BUSINESS LINE

Mikimoto pearl earrings   -  BUSINESS LINE

Mirari baroque necklace   -  BUSINESS LINE

Mirari Panchlara pearl necklace

Rose Sautoir pendant with South Sea pearl

Among many other jewellery launches and newsletters in our inbox last week, one particular mail caught our eye. It simply read ?How to choose the perfect strand'. The fact that it came from Mikimoto, one of the world's best pearl jewellery brands, only doubled the curiosity. Choker for the teens, the slightly longer Princess for young women, Matinee for the 30 plus and the rope like Opera for the charming old ladies, choosing the ideal strand of pearl was immediately made simple. However, it's not only the length of the pearl necklace which leaves pearl jewellery lovers confused. How to pick the right kind, size and colour of pearls, whether to opt for beaded cultured ones or nature's own creation? These doubts persist when you stand amidst a gorgeous collection of Akoya or South Sea pearls, golden, white, pink and black beauties, baroques, drops and perfect rounds, all vying for your attention.

Here's a simple low-down on some interesting and important facts, varieties and trends on wearing pearls.

On the jewellery stand

When you peer into a jewellery showcase, you are likely to encounter the following.

Natural pearls: These pearls are formed by shelled molluscs when they produce a composite material to react to an irritant that gets trapped inside. Layers and layers of this ?nacre' is what form a pearl. Such pearls formed without human intervention is rare and at times requires searching hundreds of pearl oysters and mussels to find one perfect pearl. No wonder, it costs a small fortune.

Cultured pearls: Similar to natural pearls, cultured pearls also grow inside molluscs but under controlled environments and human intervention. These pearls are widely available and used extensively in jewellery. Cultured pearls can be beaded and beadless. In beaded pearls, the farmer opens the shell of the mollusc carefully and inserts a nucleus bead (a polished round made from freshwater mussel shell depending on the final shape of the pearl he desires) along with a piece of mantle tissue. This kicks-in its defence mechanism and layers of organic substance is secreted around the bead, giving birth to the pearl.

Some popular beaded pearls are:

Akoya: The most lustrous of the lot, these saltwater pearls are produced by Akoya oysters. The perfect round, white lustrous pearl you might come across is usually an Akoya. It also comes in shades of cream, pink, silver, light greens and blue. The diameter is usually around 3 to 7 mm depending on the size of the oyster.

South Sea: The white radiant one comes from silver lipped oysters and the golden one from gold lipped oysters. Larger than the other pearls, the South Sea ones are about 9mm diameter and are also the most expensive.

Tahiti: The fascinating black pearl produced by black oysters is called Tahitian pearls as the oysters are found more in the waters of Tahiti and Okinawa. The colours range from midnight black to grey with green, blue and red accents and begin at 8mm.

The beadless pearls have only the tissue and not the nucleus bead. Chinese cultured pearls are very popular in this category.

Sizing up the pearl!

With so many imitation pearls penetrating the jewellery market, it's difficult to pick the real from the fake. But buying from a reputed brand ensures that your pearl is authentic. However, if you were to pick some to make your own strand, here are some important grading parameters.

The first look. Is the pearl lustrous with that lovely sheen to it? Lustre is what gives a pearl its charm. Apart from smoothness and clarity, the depth of the nacre or its layers also adds to the lustre of the pearl. The nacre thickness is in fact testimony to the number of years the pearl has been cultured. The more, the better.

The perfect size and shape. Depending on how you want to play up the pearls in your jewellery, it's vital to decide the right size and an appropriate shape. The larger the size or carat, the costlier the pearl. Some popular shapes are rounds, semi-spherical or mabe pearls, tear-drops, rice, oval and baroque.

The smooth feel. Though there's nothing called the flawless pearl, evenly surfaced ones have more lustre, look better and are priced higher.

The gorgeous hue. You may love the pink hint or subtle grey, but don't forget to find out if the colour is natural or the pearl is dyed. Also, while white is the most sought after and expensive, including ones with the pink sheen, yellow is the cheapest, followed by cream.

If you want to confirm if the pearl is genuine or fake, use a good magnifying glass; the fake one will appear grainy.

Workmanship rules. However expensive and rare the pearl, transforming it into jewellery requires the delicate hand of an expert. Take a keen look at the drilling of the pearls to string it in; if not done properly, the fall with vary.

Creating a jewel

Though the cost of pearls are usually far behind that of precious metals and stones, it finds prominence in high-end pieces of jewellery.

A lone strand of gleaming pearls is a must-have jewel to own and cuts across fashion styles of yore and present. Whether used as a necklace or bracelet, the pearls make a statement of its own. Simple pearl studs also feature in the jewel cases of most fashionable women.

However, the eternal pairing of pearls with diamonds is a hit among brands and jewellery lovers. Be it pink, black or pristine white, the colours of the pearls bring out the best in a diamond and the sparkle of diamonds adds more charm to the pearls.

Japanese brand Mikimoto, one of the biggest names in pearls has a fascinating range of jewellery using Akoya, South Sea white and gold, Tahiti, Freshwater cultured and Conch pearls. Some of its best pieces include Dancing Drops choker with diamonds, white South Sea Couture ring and Empress necklace and ring made with pink conch pearls. Australian major Paspaley is a specialist in South Sea pearls and have transformed them into stunning pieces of jewellery. Its latest Marquise collection is a striking interplay of tanzanite, diamonds and pearls.

The Indian jewellery scene is also replete with pearls. Though India doesn't have a pearl farm of its own and imports all its pearls, traditional jewellery as well as contemporary ones uses pearls of different kinds. Popular traditional ornaments that are used even today, especially during weddings, like panchlara (five strand necklace), waist band and haath-phool, sees extensive use of pearls of all sizes and shapes.

If you are looking for exclusive collections here, luxury jewellery maker Ganjam's Fire & Ice collection with Tahitian pearls and Le Jardin collection is worth checking out. Mirari's Baroque pieces, Jaipur Gem's South Sea pearls bracelet, Rose's Sautoir Pendant and Zoya's Tahitian pearl earrings are a treat to own.

But nothing can come close to the unmatched elegance of a simple string of pearls. This Queen of Gems will charm you till eternity.

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Published on March 09, 2011
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