Well known for their unique shine and smooth texture, Pearls have been the world’s favourite oceanic jewel since they were hunted by divers in the 19th century. Their famous iridescent lustre owes to a series of thin surface layers that reflect and refract incoming light in wonderfully eye-pleasing ways. Pearls are typically divided into two categories: natural and cultured.
Natural pearls are composed almost completely of organic nacre, or as most know it, mother-of-pearl, and are gradually cultivated inside the shell of the oyster or mussel over years and years. Pearls are therefore like trees: the more they age, the more concentric layers are accumulated, and the wider the diameter becomes. The value of a natural pearl depends upon regularity of shape, smoothness of surface, and size.
Cultured pearls, on the other hand, still attribute their tantalizing sheen to the all-natural nacre that makes up their outermost layers, but contain a non-nacre nucleus that comprises most of the pearl’s volume. Cultured pearls can take as little as 6 months of natural development, and now account for 95% of all pearls in the industry. Because the surface layers are still entirely natural, however, it is virtually impossible to distinguish between wholly natural and cultured pearls without the help of an x-ray.
Another distinction is the difference between freshwater and saltwater pearls. While saltwater pearls are made by oysters, freshwater pearls come from freshwater mussels, and are noted for their relatively wide variety of subtly beautiful, naturally occurring colours.