15 Sep 2010
A diamond may be the epitome of romance and longevity but the pearl has long been a statement of sheer luxury and sophistication. Last century this little gem defined the style of some of our most adored fashion icons and royalty - the likes of Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor, even the Queen Mother. But now the ever-classic pearl ensemble appears to have come of age with newly found urban spunk.
Click here to view a selection of pearl jewellery.
The natural pearl is a gem secreted by marine molluscs. The creature has a remarkable capacity for producing nacre as it goes about defending itself from parasites that have lodged themselves inside the oyster's soft body. By depositing layer upon layer of pearly material over a foreign object, the pearl is born. In an almost identical fashion, the cultured pearl is formed with man's intervention by surgically implanting an irritant to stimulate the mollusc into its gem-creating activity.
Some people mistakenly believe that cultured pearls are fake pearls. But just as farm-raised cattle produce real beef, farm-raised pearls are real pearls whose beginning is triggered by man rather than by the vagaries of nature and chance. Australian cultured pearls are grown in large oysters and are harvested in waters between 60 and 120 feet deep. Australia is the world's major producer of white South Sea pearls and during the 1998 season the tropical waters off northern Australia yielded approximately sixty percent of total world production.
Another really exotic pearl is the Tahiti cultured pearl, commonly known as the black pearl, (which comes from the black-lipped oyster) and was a secret treasure of coral islands and long considered a royal symbol. The Tahiti black pearl's magical name evokes both its colour and origin, as it is indigenous to the deep turquoise waters of the French Polynesian lagoons.
Pearls come in a variety of shapes that range from the classic round or oval to the heavy baroque pearl with its intriguing tail. The button-shaped pearl is cushion shaped and the mabe is a half sphere with one flat surface. When selecting the right pearls for you, look for lustre and colour tones that are clear and not dull. Check for chips or blemishes and if a cultured pearl necklace is your penchant, choose one that is appropriate for your personality and appearance. You may prefer a long necklace for that 1920s carefree look or a short or choker collier for a more sophisticated "statement".
Having selected and purchased your pearls, you must take care to treat them as the precious jewels that they are. Never toss them into your jewellery box along with the rest of your jewellery. They could be scratched by the hard or rough surfaces of harder stones or hard metal edges. Instead, take care to wrap them in a soft, clean cloth. Always apply make-up, hair sprays and perfumes before you drape the pearls around your neck.
The pearl is a mysterious and charming gem of the sea and a perennial favourite of women all over the world. This luminous beauty is the only gem that is perfect as soon as it is released from its hiding place; it requires no cutting, no polishing. It simply is.