Tuesday, June 01, 2010

PEARLS ~ June Birthstone

Pearls ... Pearls ... Pearls ...

Pearl  is a Birthstone for June, and for the astrological signs of Scorpio and Cancer. It is the traditional gift for a 30th anniversary (reflecting its historical high value), although in the modern lists Pearls are to be given for the twelfth anniversary.

A pearl is a hard object produced within the soft tissue (specifically the mantle) of a living shelled mollusk. Just like the shell of a mollusk, a pearl is made up of calcium carbonate in minute crystalline form, which has been deposited in concentric layers. The ideal pearl is perfectly round and smooth, but many other shapes of pearls (baroque pearls) occur. The finest quality natural pearls have been highly valued as gemstones and objects of beauty for many centuries, and because of this, the word pearl has become a metaphor for something very rare, fine, admirable, and valuable.

The unique luster of pearls depends upon the reflection, refraction, and diffraction of light from the translucent layers. The thinner and more numerous the layers in the pearl, the finer the luster. The iridescence that pearls display is caused by the overlapping of successive layers, which breaks up light falling on the surface. In addition, pearls (especially cultured freshwater pearls) can be dyed yellow, green, blue, brown, pink, purple, or black.

Valuable pearls occur in the wild, but they are very rare. Cultured or farmed pearls from pearl oysters make up the majority of those that are currently sold. Pearls from the sea are valued more highly than freshwater pearls. Imitation or fake pearls are also widely sold in inexpensive jewelry, but the quality of their iridescence is usually very poor - and generally speaking, artificial pearls are easily distinguished from genuine pearls. Pearls have been harvested and cultivated primarily for use in jewelry, but in the past they were also stitched onto lavish clothing. Pearls have also been crushed and used in cosmetics, medicines, or in paint formulations.

Freshwater and Saltwater pearls
Freshwater and saltwater pearls may sometimes look quite similar, but they come from different sources.

Natural freshwater pearls form in various species of freshwater mussels, family Unionidae, which live in lakes, rivers, ponds and other bodies of fresh water. These freshwater pearl mussels occur not only in hotter climates, but also in colder more temperate areas such as Scotland: see the freshwater pearl mussel. However, most freshwater cultured pearls sold today come from China.
For those who love the look of pearls, but don’t enjoy the price tag, Freshwater pearls are the least expensive, while remaining quite attractive. They are especially desirable for rope necklaces made of several strands which are twisted about each other or long opera-length strands.

Another advantage of Freshwater pearls is their innate durability, which naturally resists chipping, degeneration, and wear.

Saltwater pearls on the other hand grow within pearl oysters, family Pteriidae, which live in oceans. Saltwater pearl oysters are usually cultivated in protected lagoons or volcanic atolls.
Natural pearls have always been deemed rare, and are universally costly. They are most commonly sold by their carat weight, however, most of the natural pearls on the market today are vintage pearls, as virtually every pearl producer now relies on cultured pearls. Natural pearls are simply too risky, rare, and expensive to find and sell.

It is recommended that if you do have the opportunity to buy a natural pearl, you should refrain from buying it unless it comes with an official gemological x-ray certificate, which proves that it is natural, and states its quality. For something so rare, expensive, and beautiful, a little security is a must.