I just received the following wonderful question! Since I am due to write today's blog post, I thought this info would be important to lots of y'all too. So, here we go:
"My dad is wanting to buy my mom a set of pearls for their 55th wedding anniversary. I have been looking at your site and I really like the Large Pearl necklace. My only question is - is says freshwater cultured pearls. Are these round? I always thought freshwater was the "funny" shaped one. Sorry, another question - do you grade your pearl? If so, what would they be? Thanks for getting back with me."
So, great, great questions! First, a little info on freshwater pearls. So, all pearls can be separated into three categories.. The first is natural pearls. Natural pearls are pearls that are formed spontaneously in nature without human intervention. They are hard to find and can range from being worthless to being very expensive. They usually fall more to the very expensive side of the spectrum. Next are cultured pearls. When a man named Mikimoto saw how expensive natural pearls are, he decided to inspire mollusks to create pearls and thus the cultured pearl was born. So, a cultured pearl means that there has been human intervention to start the pearl making process. So, the mollusk is still making the pearl but we are not waiting on him to get an irritant to start making that pearl, we go ahead and give him the irritation to inspire him to start making the pearl. The third category is fake pearls. These range from the super cheap plastic pearls to the fake pearls with fancier names and higher price tags like Swarovski pearls or Mallorca Pearls. All fake, man-made pearls sometime wrapped up in fancier packages.[caption id="attachment_8752" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Fancy Box[/caption]
I deal in cultured pearl and natural pearls and what I want to talk about here are cultured pearls. Pearls can be cultured in freshwater or saltwater. Mikimoto first cultured pearls in saltwater and then he realized how awesome it would be to culture pearls in freshwater. Why? When you are in an ocean, you have more unpredictable weather and tide conditions. Also, there are ocean-wide contaminations or diseases that can be vast and widespread. Freshwater offers easier and more accessible environments. Here is the problem, though, the same process of culturing pearls in saltwater cannot be exactly replicated in freshwater. Mikimoto tried it and he could not produce gem quality pearls in freshwater. So, freshwater pearls became synonymous with funky shaped pearls or, as we say around The Pearl Girls, "wompy" pearls.
Oh how times have changed. Chinese researchers took over and they discovered they could actually create gem quality pearls in freshwater but they had to do it differently. In culturing saltwater pearls, a piece of mantle tissue and a mother of pearl bead is inserted into the oyster. The mollusk then coats the bead with its pearl making material. The bead, typically, does not work in freshwater pearls. So, most freshwater pearls are created with just the piece of tissue. The oyster has no round bead or (what I call) a "template" to start with. It also takes A LOT longer to form. It might take a freshwater mollusk up to 5 years to form a pearl with no bead inside of it. The pearl will be thicker, heavier and as close to a natural pearl as possible. But it might also be "wompy". Only the top percentage of freshwater pearls are round because they do not have that round bead to start with. This is the same way that a lot of natural pearls are also not always round![caption id="attachment_4330" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Natural pearls are rarely perfect![/caption]
This also means that freshwater pearls CAN be round! So, that blows the theory of freshwater pearls = "wompy"pearls right out of the water. Freshwater pearls can not be only round, they can be extremely valuable and beautiful!
Now, my thoughts on grading. Every company probably in the world grades their pearls. It is a fantastic way for companies to create a system of saying this pearl is better than that pearl. It helps them organize and price their inventory and it also helps them sell! It remind me of school. I went to a great school in my small Georgia hometown and I was absolutely brilliant (or so I thought!) but my Dad sent me to boarding school at age 13. And when I got to boarding school, I was no longer an A student, I suddenly became a C student. So even though I felt like an A and in one environment I was an A, compared to others in the world, maybe I really was just a C. Again, I still thought I was brilliant (all that matters, really) but using he school as a different point of reference, I suddenly changed from being an A to a C. And, on a personal note, I had to climb my way back up to A. Sad but true!
So, back to grading pearls. There is no universally accepted grading system for pearls. We have to look at various factor.. color, size, nacre quality, roundness, surface quality, luster to determine an overall "grade" for pearls. And not too many pearl companies are claiming to have Cs. In fact, there are a lot of As. You might have seen them, there are A, AA, A+, AAA, AAA+++. I am not sure what that means. And neither does the Gemological Institute of America which creates grading systems in the first place. So, I choose not to join the fray! Instead, I travel the world for my pearls, I choose my suppliers based on my interest in what they are doing, how their farm works, what their working conditions are, their environmental impact, etc. Then I choose pearls based on their roundness, their luster and their nacre quality and you get The Pearl Girls pearls. So, ask me what the grade of my pearls are and, like anyone else, I would give you an AAA+++ because I truly think they are the most magical, beautiful gems in the world and that their value far exceeds their price. But, since AAA+++ does not have any bearing in the marketplace, I will simply tell you these are fabulous pearls and I am proud that you have chosen The Pearl Girls for your special pearls.
P.S. Wouldn't a 55 pearl necklace be a fabulous gift for a 55th wedding anniversary! :)