In periods of prosperity, Hebrew women of exalted rank wore necklaces fashioned from multiple strands of pearls. The cords on which they were strung were woven from linen or wool sometimes colored; as the Talmud reveals and their lengths varied, so that some hung around the neck, others draped over the breast, and some even fell to the waist.
A SHORT HISTORY
Pearls have been objects of envy and desire since ancient times, and their natural beauty has always evoked wonder. Their origin recalls the birth of the goddess Aphrodite who sprang to life from the sea, first appearing to mortals on the foam of a wave.
Jewelers of old used pearls from India, the island of Taprobane (now called Sri Lanka), the Red Sea, and the Persian Gulf. Natural pearls were traded throughout Asia and Europe in exchange for precious wares. The Roman emperor Caligula was famed for his pearl-encrusted boots; when he invited guests to a banquet, they gathered to teat on delicacies sprinkled with powdered gold, while sipping a conco6tion brewed from pearls dissolved in vinegar.
Another legendary pearl was lost for-ever in a chalice of vinegar it belonged to Cleopatra. The Egyptian queen owned a pair of pendant earrings famed for their size and beauty. Determined to awe Mark Anthony with her wealth, she tossed one of them into a goblet of vine-gar. After the conquest of Egypt, the second pearl was carried off to Rome where it was used to adorn the statue of Venus that stood in the Pantheon.
The scientific name for pearls is Meleagrina margaritiftra, derived from the Greek margaritas (meaning "perfect beauty"). These daughters of the sea are indeed precious, but they have become increasingly scarce and are now both rare and costly. Most are cultured in the sea or freshwater.
Various warm water mollusks produce pearls naturally. A small foreign Aka., such as a grain of sand, gets into the crustacean and creates an irritation, causing an overproducing of nacre (from the Persian nakkor meaning "shimmering ornament") that gradually surrounds the particle and slowly forms a pearl.
Nacre is a unique blend of calcium carbonate crystals and organic material that is deposited in layers. This particular composition produces extraordinary optical effects and gives pearls their iridescent luster and rainbow tint.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, there was a discovery that revolutionized jewelry and eventually led to the near disappearance of natural pearls. In 1920, Kokichi Mikimoto, a Japanese inventor, had the clever idea of introducing a particle of nacre and a small bit of tissue into the oysters cultivated in sea farms. Within a few years, the natural pearl trade was in ruins, as buyers showed a marked preference for the flawless, and less expensive, cultured pearls.
After the foreign particle is introduced, it takes two or three years for a pearl to form and at least five years for a high-quality gem with a thick coating of nacre. Oysters are not the only type of mollusks that produce this substance. Other gastropods, such as freshwater mussels, can also make pearls. China exports a large quantify, mot of which are cultured in lakes. The mot common are Biwa pearls, which sometimes have an elongated shape and are pastel or dark in color (they can be darkened by soaking them in dye). They are generally less expensive than the Meleagrina and are used to make bracelets and necklaces that are affordable for all.
QUALITIES OF A FINE PEARL
A pearl's diameter may range from 8 millimeters to around 20 millimeters for the largest Specimens.
Round forms are the most sought after, but other more irregular "Baroque" shapes have their own appeal and are generally less expensive than perfect. spheres. Color has little effect on price, since tastes vary from one country to another. The gray pearls of Polynesia and amber-hued pearls of Australia have been highly prized over the last ten years. The American market has long preferred pearls with a pale or rose hue.
Whatever a pearl's color or size, its luster is of the utmost importance. Jewelers seek pearls with a smooth surface that flawlessly reelect’s light. A pearl may be large and perfectly round, but if it has little luster, it will be less valuable than a smaller pearl with a silky, glowing radiance. However, any imperfections in the nacre will diminish its value.
The price of a pearl depends on its size, shape, color, and luster. Stones are measured in carats, while pearls are measured in grains. Look for pearls that show no imperfections and have a fine orient.
FROM THE LIGHTEST TO THE DARKEST
Pearls come in many shades, from gleaming white to black and include pink, solid gray, blue gray, green (a splendid peacock hue), and gold. Darker colors are typical for pearls from Tahiti as well as some from Australia, which also produces astonishing pearls that look as if they have been dipped in gold.
Pearls are sometimes dyed and these have a uniform, consistent color. They are, of course, less expensive than natural pearls.
Pearls have often been imitated, especially when the only ones available were very rare and costly natural pearls.
Beginning in the eighteenth century, the French developed a process of applying a blend of animal glue and fish scales known as essence d'orient to a round, glass bead, giving the illusion of a genuine jewel. These were called perles d`ablette after the silver, scaled fish used in their production. The technique has since been refined, and today there are very good imitations, sometimes enhanced with gold or gemstones.
Keep an eye out for these in your grandmother's jewel box, a flea market, or a garage sale; you may find some wonderful surprises.
CARE AND MAINTENANCE
Fine pearls have an inimitable luster, known to connoisseurs as "orient." Pearls are living jewels and change with skin contact over time. They are naturally porous and therefore fragile.
It is often said that the more pearls are worn, the more lustrous they become. This claim may be true, if the skin in question suits the pearls, but there are cases where they mysteriously "die" and lose their natural glow. This occurs when there is excess acidity in the skin's surface, which gradually eats away at the nacre and diminishes its distinctive gleam. This problem may occur if a necklace is worn day after day or if pearls in rings or earrings are touched too often. There is jut one solution to this problem: pearls must be regularly wiped with a dampened soft cloth or rinsed in freshwater.
Pearls will also deteriorate if they are left for a long time in a closed box on a bed of cotton or some other dry material. Cotton absorbs their natural humidity and luster, resulting in fading and color change toward gray or pale tan. If this should happen, there is no remedy.
Of course, you can substitute a dip in the ocean with a glass of salt water.
Necklaces mug1 be restrung on a regular basis, particularly when they are worn daily.
Over time, the cord will become soiled and worn and may break. If it is a valuable piece, have it restrung by a jeweler who should use silk cord, which is both flexible and sturdy.
A knot is always tied between each pearl to prevent them from being dam-aged by rubbing against each other or scattering if the necklace should accidentally break.
A clever trick
There is a simple method for identifying an authentic pearl immediately: rub the pearl lightly against your tooth. A fake pearl will feel as smooth as glass!
Pearls can be easily cleaned with a damp soft cloth.
In hot countries where people may perspire heavily, pearls should be rinsed in freshwater to remove any traces of salt. Necklaces, for example, often have traces of salt at the nape of the neck and the shoulders, where pearls are in closest contact with the skin.
To revive their luster, rub pearls gently with a very soft cloth sprinkled with a few drops of sweet almond oil. They can also be rubbed between the hands.
Chemicals, such as detergents, dish washing liquid, and strong soaps, are not recommended. Toothbrushes with hard bristles can scar the fragile surface of pearls.
Never use a jewelry cleaning product or cloth, unless it is specifically intended for cleaning pearls. Ultrasound machine cleaning can crack pearls and should never be used.
III-fated alliances Never spray perfume or place polish directly on pearls as this will damage the nacre. Be careful with any rings set with pearls when cooking; vinegar and lemon juice are fateful. Unless you want to imitate Cleopatra or Caligula ....
Pearls are fragile and should be stored separately, preferably wrapped in silk or in a soft leather case. Contact with metal or gemstone jewelry may scratch or dam-age pearls.
Never drop pearls on a stone floor or other hard surface because they may crack or break.
Never spray perfume or place polish directly on pearls as this will damage the nacre. Be careful with any rings set with pearls when cooking; vinegar and lemon juice are fateful. Unless you want to imitate Cleopatra or Caligula .