Frequently Asked Questions
- What are freshwater pearls and how are they different from other types of pearls?
- How is a freshwater pearl made?
- What does “cultured pearl” mean?
- How can I tell the difference between a real pearl and a synthetic or stimulant?
- What is the best pearl color for me?
- What is the right necklace length?
- How do I care for my pearls?
- What shapes do pearls come in?
- What colors are available in freshwater pearls?
- What exactly is a pearl?
- My pearls do not hang gracefully. What can I do?
- What is the most desirable color?
- What are the differences between saltwater and freshwater pearls?
- How often do pearls need to be restrung?
- How is the quality of a pearl determined?
What are freshwater pearls and how are they different from other types of pearls?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 (where they are totally protected under law). However, most freshwater cultured pearls sold today come from China. The difference between wild and cultured pearls focuses on whether the pearl was created spontaneously by nature – without human intervention – or with human aid. Pearls are formed inside the shell of certain mollusks as a defense mechanism against a potentially threatening irritant such as a parasite inside its shell, or an attack from outside, injuring the mantle tissue. The mollusk creates a pearl sac to seal off the irritation.
How is a freshwater pearl made?The mantle of the mollusk deposits layers of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) in the form of the mineral aragonite or a mixture of aragonite and calcite (polymorphs with the same chemical formula, but different crystal structures) held together by an organic horn-like compound called conchiolin. The combination of aragonite and conchiolin is called nacre, which makes up mother-of-pearl. The commonly held belief that a grain of sand acts as the irritant is in fact rarely the case. Typical stimuli include organic material, parasites, or even damage that displaces mantle tissue to another part of the mollusk's body. These small particles or organisms gain entry when the shell valves are open for feeding or respiration. In cultured pearls, the irritant is typically an introduced piece of the mantle epithelium, together or without a spherical bead (beaded or beadless cultured pearls).
What does “cultured pearl” mean?A cultured pearl is a genuine pearl grown using human intervention. A piece of tissue is placed inside the pearl and is enveloped eventually by calcium carbonate or "nacre," which is the mollusk's natural defense mechanism. A non-cultured or natural pearl is created without human intervention and is virtually non-existent in the present day with the possible exception of antique pearl jewelry.
How can I tell the difference between a real pearl and a synthetic or stimulant?The most common way to differentiate between a genuine freshwater pearl and a synthetic or simulant is to run a pearl along the "bite" of your teeth (be sure to wipe your pearls first with a non-abrasive cloth). The pearl should have a gritty feel; a synthetic pearl or simulant should feel smooth like a plastic bead. Genuine pearls also have a more intense luster than simulants or synthetics.
What is the best pearl color for me?While pearl color is clearly a personal choice, there are certain guidelines in selecting a color that is more complementary to a specific skin tone. Women with fair skin color typically prefer white pearls with rose overtones, while cream and gold pearls are preferred more by women with darker skin complexions. However, black and silver colored pearls are usually flattering on all skin tones.
What is the right necklace length?The desired necklace length is very much dependent on a woman's personal style and the specific occasion. There are six popular lengths of pearl strands each with a few guidelines for wear. The collar pearl necklace length is 12 to 13 inches long and fits snugly across the middle of the neck. Often made of multiple strands, this length is well suited for V-neck and off the shoulder fashions. The choker pearl necklace length is 14 to 16 inches long and lies in the hollow of her neck. The most versatile length and complementing almost any neckline, a pearl choker can go with virtually any outfit from casual to fancy eveningwear.
The princess pearl necklace length is 17 to 19 inches long and falls just below the collar line. This classic length is the most popular and a good choice for anyone who is not certain which pearl strand length is most appropriate. The princess length is suitable to wear with button up blouses, V-necks, and also complements low, plunging necklines. The matinee necklace length is 20 to 24 inches long and rests comfortably along the bust line. This length is appropriate for both casual and business attire. For a luxurious layered look, you can pair this length with one of the shorter. The opera necklace length is 28 to 34 inches long and rests in the middle of a woman’s chest. This length is ideal for layering to wear as a double strand or knotting at the neckline to create a fashionable vintage style. The rope necklace length is 36 inches and longer. This versatile length can be worn as a double or triple strand. For a more bold fashion style, pearl ropes can be knotted and slung over the shoulder to accentuate the beauty of a backless dress.