Pearl: the Classic Organic Gem That's Second Only to Diamonds in Popularity
Pearl is one of those timeless gems that in a similar way to diamonds never go out of style. The ancient Greek and the Etruscan civilization made jewelry such as bracelets and earrings from gold, pearls and gemstones. The early Romans fashioned jewelry in the same style as the Greeks. And as the Roman empire grew the Romans gained access to gemstones such as peridot, jasper, emeralds, topaz ,onyx and sapphires.
They used these gems combined with pearls to make necklaces and bracelets, which were used to secure clothing. And a Romans wealth and importance in society was judged by the amount of pearls they owned. Pearls were also greatly valued by the ancient civilizations of China and India. They decorated the attire of emperors and also sacred status.
Pearls are formed in most bivalve mollusks, however only the shell fish that produce nacre or aragonite, a type of calcium carbonate, will produce the gems we consider as pearls. When a tiny piece of matter invades a bivalve, usually an oyster or mussel, incredibly thin layers of nacre coat the object repeatedly until a peal is formed. The color of the pearl could be white, brown or black. Or they can be white with a color influence such as pink or sometimes grey or blue. The color is caused by proteins found in the mollusks shell. The same types of proteins found in coral.
Although natural pearls are still harvested, they cannot compare in numbers to the mass production of cultured pearls. The idea of culturing pearls was first discovered by the Chinese hundreds of years ago. They found that by implanting tiny pieces of clam shell into three year old oysters, the oysters produced cultured pearls four years later. Although cultured pearls are cheaper, their quality is often not as good as natural.
A pearl farm at Seram Indonesia.
Most pearls come from peal oysters, giant clams and conches. They are found in saltwater and freshwater including rivers. Basically anywhere bivalves can survive, however pearls from the ocean are found in tropical and sub-tropical locations. These include the Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean, Red Sea, Polynesia and Australia. Peals are also cultured of the coast of Florida and California. The top producer of cultured pearls is Japan and the biggest company is Mikimoto.
Special care needs to be taken with pearl jewelry, because the pearls surface is porous and it is susceptible to damaged from chemicals. Pearls are also soft and can be easily scratched. For this reason they are most often used for earrings and necklaces.
The Pearl of Laotze is the largest pearl in the world at 14 lb,1 oz. It was found in the Philippines in 1934.
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