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All About Pearls: A Most Popular & Peculiar "Stone"

All About Pearls: A Most Popular & Peculiar "Stone"

Natural or cultured, classic white or colored, baroque and imperfect or round and refined...

With a rich history dating back many thousands of years, pearls have been one of the most longstanding popular choices in jewelry. Their timeless sophistication and endless versatility make it easy to see why pearls are so much more than just June's birthstone.

At Walton's Jewelry, our GIA-trained staff has seen some of the most exquisite pearl specimens in our 50-year history selling fine antique, estate, and custom jewelry. Whether you're buying pearls for yourself or as gift to a loved one, you no doubt have questions...

Presumed Portrait of Marie-Thérèse, Queen of France; Source - Wikimedia Commons

What are pearls?

While pearls are not minerals, they are classed as gemstones by the Gemological Institute of America and other international officials.

Pearls have been revered for centuries, from the opulent courts of ancient China to the regal palaces of Europe. For hundreds of years, they remained accessible only to royalty and nobility. Did you know Cleopatra is said to have dissolved a pearl in vinegar to win a bet with Mark Anthony about her wealth? Talk about making a statement!

Pearls were the ultimate symbol of status. Before the advent of cultured pearls in the early 20th century, natural pearls were incredibly rare and valuable, often reserved for the elite. Divers risked their lives to retrieve these underwater treasures, adding to their allure and mystique.

Edwardian Platinum & 18K Yellow Gold Natural Freshwater Pearl and Diamond Ring and Earrings Parure

By the 1600s, pearl harvesting was shifting toward more sustainable cultivation practices. As they reached their peak popularity in late 1800s Victorian jewelry, Kokichi Mikimoto refined the world’s first process for creating a cultured pearl, revolutionizing the jewelry industry forever. 

Due to their classic and enduring appeal, pearls have remained popular throughout the Art Deco period and are commonly found in Estate and Modern jewelry too.

Types of Pearls: Understanding the Varieties

Pearls come in various forms, each with its unique charm and characteristics. Let's break them down:

  1. Akoya Pearls: These are the classic pearls most people think of—round, white, and lustrous. Cultured primarily in Japan, Akoya pearls are often seen in traditional necklaces and earrings.
  2. South Sea Pearls: Known for their size and satin-like luster, South Sea pearls come from Australia, the Philippines, and Indonesia. They can range from white to gold, making them highly coveted.
  3. Tahitian Pearls: These exotic pearls, primarily from French Polynesia, are famed for their dark hues, ranging from black to green and even peacock blue. Their unique colors make them a favorite for statement pieces.
  4. Freshwater Pearls: Cultured in freshwater mussels, these pearls come in a variety of shapes and colors. They're generally more affordable but no less beautiful, offering great versatility.

  5. Keshi Pearls: A happy accident of the pearl culturing process, Keshi pearls are formed without a nucleus, resulting in unique, baroque shapes. They’re beloved for their organic beauty and high luster.

  6. Seed PearlsSeed pearls were extremely popular as accent gems in the Victorian era, especially in mourning jewelry where they were used to represent tears.
Art Nouveau 14K Yellow Gold Baroque Pearl Stick Pin Conversion Pendant

    Fun Facts About Pearls

    Natural vs. Cultured: Only one in 10,000 wild oysters will produce a pearl, and not all of them will be gem quality. Natural pearls are the true miracles of the sea. They form without any human intervention when an irritant, such as a grain of sand, accidentally enters a mollusk. In response, the mollusk secretes layers of nacre (the substance that forms pearls) around the irritant, eventually creating a pearl.

    Tennessee Pearls: Yes, pearls can be found in our beautiful state of Tennessee! Several species of mussels thrive in the Clinch River and Sequatchie River, contributing to the unique pearl production in these waters. These freshwater pearls come in various shapes and sizes, influenced by the specific mussel species and environmental conditions.

    The Art of Choosing the Perfect Pearl

    So, you’ve decided to buy pearl jewelry—fantastic choice! But where do you start? Consider the occasion: are you looking for everyday elegance or something for a special event? Classic white Akoya pearls are the perfect gift for the bride or lent as her "something borrowed". Pearls are widely thought to represent truth, new beginnings, and good fortune – all things that have historically been sought in marriage. 

    Given how versatile and easy to wear pearls are, there’s no reason to limit this gem solely to the bride. They are equally stunning on bridesmaids and make wonderful gifts. 

    Think about your wardrobe and personal style. Pearls can be both classic and contemporary, so whether you prefer a delicate strand or a bold pendant, there’s a pearl piece for you.

    Alexandra of Denmark; Source - Wikimedia Commons

    Whether you’re a longtime admirer or a newcomer to the world of pearls, these gems offer endless possibilities for elegance and expression. From their rich history to their modern-day appeal, pearls continue to captivate and inspire.

    At Walton's, we're passionate about sharing the beauty and craftsmanship of pearls with our clients. We invite you to explore our collection, discover the perfect piece, and perhaps even design your own custom creation.