Pearls and Freshwater Pearls

Pearls come in a range of categories and prices. You may see saltwater and freshwater pearls available, plus natural and cultured pearls. Cultured freshwater pearls are the most readily available, and offer some wonderful and affordable options for jewellery making. Pearl symobolises purity, and is the birthstone for June.

Pearls and Freshwater Pearls, Beads and more, available to buy on eBay

About Pearls

Pearls aren't gemstones, although we might all consider them to be beautiful and precious gems, and they have such become an important part of the jewellery and gemstone world. Pearls in fact come under the category of organic gems - those created naturally by a living organism, such as amber, coral, ivory and jet.

Pearls are formed in shellfish such as mussels and oysters. A pearl is in fact a defence against irritants that may get inside the shell, such as grit. The shellfish naturally forms layers of a material called nacre around the grit, which gradually build up around it to form a pearl. In cultured pearls, the "irritant" is actually introduced to begin this process. This may be a piece of grit, but mostly it is a mother of pearl bead (or indeed several), with the aim of quickening the process. It takes around three years for 1mm of nacre to form.


Different Types of Pearls

There are many different types of pearls that you may come across. Essentially you can divide pearls into seawater and freshwater categories. The saltwater varieties are nearly always more expensive than the freshwater kind.

Saltwater Pearls

There are a few types of saltwater pearls, such as black pearls, keshi pearls and akoya pearls. Akoya pearls come from Asia, in particular Japan, but also Korea and China. They are usually round and light pink, but also can be found in pale yellow, green and grey. Black pearls come from the black-lip mussel. These are the only natural black pearl, although you will find many pearls dyed black. Keshi pearls are tiny, inconsistently shaped pearls that have grown naturally next to a cultured pearl. Their interesting shapes offer great potential in jewellery making. Some of the most sought after saltwater pearls are the South Sea pearls, which are cultured pearls renowned for their vibrant colour.

Freshwater Pearls

Freshwater pearls are the most affordable type. Different types include biwa, mabe, blister and seed. Seed pearls are tiny, usually just 2mm, and very hard to work with, but are usually strung. Blister pearls are named because they have grown attached to the surface of the shell, and as such, have taken on a similar iridescent look. Mabe pearls are cultured pearls, using a technique where the pearl is grown around a bead, which is then removed. This makes the mabe pearls a little more delicate. Biwa pearls are so named because the were originally cultured in lake Biwa in Japan. They are renowned for their smooth surface, lustre and vibrant colour, although they are often unusually shaped. Many pearls originating from China are incorrectly given the Biwa name, probably to raise the price.

Pearl Shapes

The word pearl stems from the Latin word for pear (pirum) because of the typical shape of pearls. However, pearls can come in a range of shapes (and of course sizes). The round pearls are probably the most popular, but you may see off-round, button pearls, fancy pearls (sometimes 2 pearls fused together) and rice pearls (shaped like a rice kernel).

Typical Pearl Uses

Pearls have been used in jewellery and ornately decorated items for centuries. They offer wonderful opportunities for jewellery makers and designers, and can be used in a huge range of styles and types of jewellery. They have a timeless charm and elegance, and suit both contemporary and traditional styled pieces. Because pearls can come in a wide range of colours - white, black, brown, pink - simply choosing the pearls and planning jewellery designs around them can be a real joy. However, be aware when working with pearls that they are sensitive to acid, and also extremes of humidity and dryness.

Pearl Jewellery

The pearl is the birthstone for June. Pearls were once considered to be the tears of the gods. In ancient times, the Greeks thought that pearls could promote a happy marriage and relationship. In more recent times, pearls came to signify purity. Pearls make beautiful, affordable jewellery pieces, from necklaces to earrings. Pearl jewellery needn't be old fashioned either. Many young jewellery designers are using pearls in more unusual designs these days.

Pearls Sources and Origins

Cultured pearls are probably the most common type, and these are found in Japan, China, Australia and Polynesia. Natural pearls can be found in the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Manaar. Freshwater peals can also be found in parts of Europe (including Scotland and Ireland) and USA (Mississippi).

Pearl Jewellery