Krikawa Jewelry Designs embarked on a two-week pearl tour last fall as part of our Continuing Education, so we will spend the next few entries talking about pearls, and discussing what we learned about pearls harvested in different parts of the Far East.
Let's start with some basic information.
Did you know that malacology is the scientific study of the mollusks and bivalves that create pearls? Malacologists are largely concerned with issues of classifying mollusks and understanding evolutionary and ecological factors going on among mollusk species. As it turns out, we learned just how impact environmental and farming conditions on the quality of pearls being released into the jewelry market.
Pearls are produced when mollusks and bivalves respond to the presence of a foreign organism or substance that penetrates into its inner shell. Similarly behaving like humans immune systems, oysters will secrete calcium carbonate, calcite, and cholionin (nacre) in order to trap the invader. This creates a natural pearl. Natural pearls are extremely rare. When we think of our grandmother's pearls dating back decades, these antique pearls were likely natural ones. Rather, contemporary pearls are cultured pearls, created when humans deliberately insert a piece of foreign material like a bead or a clamshell fragment against the back of the oyster which later induces pearl production.
Jewelers also indicate the degree of perfection in a pearl, referring to its shape and internal composition. The "perfect" pearl is completely spherical; the pearl forms while freely and completely rotating within the oyster. When split in half, the pearl shows a concentric swirl pattern from constant rotation.
Baroque pearls refer to any pearl with an irregular shape. The irregularities can vary greatly, and the degree of irregularity to them depends upon the "seed" material (bead vs. shell fragment, etc.). The most valuable baroque pearls are of the South Sea and Tahitian varieties with Akoya pearls retaining strong popularity as well.
Average pearl sizes vary between six (6) and eight (8) millimeters for the Akoya variety and in upwards of 12 to 14 millimeters for the larger South Sea varieties. Saltwater pearls are generally significantly larger than their freshwater counterparts. Pearls, when strung together, are given different fashion names according to the length of the strand. The shortest necklaces are called collars and are worn snugly against the throat. Pearl chokers are worn at the base of the neck. The princess length sits at the collarbone, followed by the matinee at just above the breast, and the opera reaching the breastbone or sternum.
Our next stop is our visit to Flower Island in the Phillipines.