“The Queen of Gems” is the name given to pearls centuries ago as they were then the most valuable of gemstones. They were first used as jewellery by the Romans and Egyptians as far back as the 5th century B.C. and Chinese records mention them as early as 2300 B.C.
Pearls are graded into different categories; there are “Natural Pearls”, “Cultured Pearls” and “Imitation Pearls”. A natural pearl is a product of nature when a parasite enters a mollusc and settles inside the shell, the mollusc then forms a pearl sac of nacre (mother of pearl) to cover the irritant thus producing a pearl over a period of several years. Cultured pearls are the response of the shell to an implant inserted by man and both freshwater and seawater shells are used. Imitation pearls are completely man made, usually of glass, ceramics or plastic.
In general natural pearls are by far the most valuable as they are extremely rare. Cultured pearls make up the majority of those currently sold and are not nearly as expensive as natural pearls. Saltwater pearls cost more than freshwater because the saltwater oyster produces only one pearl at a time, whereas freshwater mussels produce many more – sometimes up to 30 at a time. Most saltwater cultured pearls are grown in the oceans of Thailand, Australia and Tahiti (among others) with round beads being implanted into the shell. Trade names to look out for are Akoya, South Sea Pearls and Black Tahitian Pearls. Cultured pearls are grown in freshwater shells almost exclusively in China with a small quantity being produced in Japan and the U.S.A. Imitation pearls have little value and are used in inexpensive jewellery.
Both natural and cultured pearls have an iridescence to them and the lustre of a pearl is an important factor in determining the value, together of course with the size. The largest natural pearl ever found was from a giant clam and is called “The Pearl of Puerto”. It measures 1ft. wide x 2.2ft long and weighs 75lbs!
X-ray examination is the method most widely used to distinguish a natural pearl from a cultured pearl.
Here at Old Mill Antiques we have in stock a selection of cultured pearl necklaces (both antique and modern pieces) in varying length. From the shorter lengths which are referred to as “Collars” or “Chokers” to the longer lengths known as “Opera length” or “Ropes of Pearls”. Also, we have many pairs of earrings which are always a popular item as well as bracelets, rings and pendants. Our costume jewellery range includes a wide choice of imitation pearls and the prices for these pieces are very affordable.
If you are in the market for treating yourself to a lovely item of pearl jewellery or indeed thinking of a gift for someone, why not come and visit our showroom in our beautiful old historic town of Bridgnorth. Our knowledgeable staff are always on hand to assist you and we have our own award winning tearooms on the first floor for when you are in need of a snack and a “nice cup of tea “.