Pearls: The Classic

Drop Pearl Black, pink, white and cream. Round, pear, oval and irregular. Earrings, necklaces, collars, pins and bracelet. Pearls come in many shapes, sizes and colours, and are used in all types of classic and trendy jewellery. One thing is for sure: they make for gorgeous jewellery and never go out of style. Oops, I guess that's two things.

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Oysters, Not Just Aphrodisiacs

There are two ways oysters make pearls: Natural and Cultured. In both cases, it begins with an irritant getting into its shell (much like an annoying boyfriend, but without a prized gem in the end). With natural pearls, the irritant, or intruder, (usually a piece of sand or shell) swims its way into the oyster's shell. With cultured pearls, the intruder is physically placed into the shell.

Then, Mother Nature takes over. To protect itself, the oyster releases a secretion called nacre, to battle the intruder. Over time, this secretion builds up and forms a pretty pearl. Creating a cultured pearl takes much less time than for a natural pearl – usually about three years.

Since the time it takes to make a cultured pearl is shorter than a natural pearl, the vast majority of pearls being cultivated these days are cultured. Jewellery made from natural pearls go for much higher prices because of the complexity in cultivating them and their rarity – they are usually older pieces from estates or your grandmother's jewellery box.

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Pick Your Pearl

White PearlYou might be surprised to find the varieties of pearls that come in all sizes, shapes and colours. Here's a run-down of the most popular types:

Akoya – these pearls are named for the Japanese oyster cultivated to produce these classically round cultured gems.

Baroque - varieties, which come in both natural and cultured versions, are prized for their irregular shapes.

Biwa - refers to freshwater pearls grown in Lake Biwa in Japan. Rarely perfectly round, they may be oval-like or baroque.

Tahitian PearlBlister – these pearls are natural half pearls. Their flat sides make them ideal for mounting in a bezel.

Double pearls - are two or more pearls united by birth. Though joined, each pearl retains its distinctive shape.

Drop versions - are shaped like drawn-out water drops, globular at the bottom and tapering to a point at the opposite end.

Dust pearls - are tiny seed pearls, pierced and strung as necklaces.

Half pearl - owing to imperfections, begin life whole, but are sawed in two and mounted like Blister pearls.

Mabe - is often a South Sea pearl, cultivated for its large size and mounted with a bezel. Pronounced "mah-bee".

Oriental pearls - natural salt-water pearls so named before the advent of cultured pearls, come mainly from Oriental waters.

Paragon - or master, pearls are superior in shape, size, color and luster. They are exceptionally large and round.

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Pearl Necklaces: What You Need to Know

Ok, so you've decided you want a pearl necklace. Now what? Here are some tips that will help you choose the one (or two or three) that's right for your specific dress, favored neckline and event.

Collar (12-13 inches): No, this type of necklace is not for your dog. It's comprised of three or more strands hugging the middle of your neck. Think formal, elegant impression, perfect for v-necks and off-the-shoulder styles.

Choker (14-16 inches): This is your basic classic single strand circling the base of your neck, just above the collarbone. It's perfect for, well, just about everything.

Princess (18 inches): This versatile accent highlights a variety of fashions. It can dress up a crew neck or turtleneck. Or provide a stunning distraction to a plunging neckline (not that a plunging neckline isn't distracting enough).

Matinee (20-24 inches): Falling just above your cleavage, this strand can also dress up a simple tee shirt or blouse, or provide just the right amount of elegance for business attire.

Opera (28-34 inches): Because of its length, this one can serve as a two-for-one style. Let it dangle long with a high neck, v-neck or tunic, or double it for an entirely different choker look.

Rope (45 inches or more): You can have a lot of fun with this style. Knot it up into a glamorous lariat; let it dangle to your navel, or double it up for a multi-layered look. There are few dress or shirt styles this necklace won't work with.

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The Price of Pearls

Trying to figure out what types of pearls you want in your necklace? Here are five factors you'll want to consider, especially when it comes to your budget.

1) Size: With pearls, the bigger the better – when it comes to worthiness. Also, large natural pearls are worth more than similarly sized cultured pearls because of their rarity.

2) Shape: Since perfectly round pearls are the most sought after, they're the most valuable. Two other sought after variations are slightly off round and off round, since it's pretty hard to even notice their off-roundedness. Other popular shapes include the drop, pear, egg and button. More irregular shapes are also prized.

3) Surface: Depending on the kind of oyster, the surfaces of pearls may range from smooth to rough. Smoother pearls, not surprisingly, are worth more than grainy ones.

4) Luster: The better the nacre, the brighter the luster. Cultured pearls are graded very bright, bright, medium, slightly dull and dull. Akoya and Mabe pearls are notable standouts when it comes to luster brightness.

5) Color: This factor is more related to taste and style than value. Some things to consider: your skin tone, your hair color, and the clothing color you normally wear. Pearl colors can accent and complement and they vary widely. The pearl color palette includes such hues as rose rose, white rose, cream, white, blue white, yellowish white and hard yellow. You need to try them on and see which one fits best, just like a pair of jeans.

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Keeping Your Pearls Looking Good -- Forever

Like any jewellery of value, pearls require proper care to keep them looking good. Here are a few tips that will ensure that your pearls' luster never fades:

  • Never use abrasives or solvents to clean pearls.
  • Avoid cleaning products with ammonia.
  • Steam cleaning or using an ultrasonic cleaner can damage pearls.
  • Do not use anything that could scratch the surface, including toothbrushes.
  • Use a mild liquid soap and water with a soft cloth to wash pearls.
  • To dry, spread them on a moist towel.
  • Wait until fully dry since wearing a moist necklace can stretch the string.