Legend has it that pearls were created from the tears of joy that Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, shed when she was born from sea froth. Perhaps that’s why they also say that pearls bring tears. Ancient Chinese mythology says they came from inside the brains of dragons. Then there is also the saying that you should never buy pearls for yourself, but either give or receive as a gift. But what of this marvel of the oceans.
Women have loved pearls for centuries, Cleopatra famously dissolved a single pearl in a glass of wine and drank it, simply to win a wager with Mark Antony that she could consume the wealth of an entire nation in just one meal. There is also the story that Krishna, the Hindu god discovered the ‘first’ pearl which he presented to his daughter as a gift on her wedding day. But how would you know whether your precious jewel is pearl or paste.
What creates the difference in colour:
The colour of a pearl is determined mostly by the trace elements in the water and according to the lady at the pearl factory, black pearls which used to be pretty rare are now easily cultivated by introducing iron into the water where the mollusc is growing.
Copper in the water produces pink pearls and white is dependant on the calcium in the water. But cultured pearls can also be dyed.
Difference between Fresh and Sea Water Pearls:
1. Takes 1-6 years to develop
2. A single mollusc can create up to 50 pearls
3. Cheaper than Saltwater
4. Have a softer lustre
5. Come in a variety of shapes
6. More durable and last longer
1. Takes 5-10 years to develop
2. Only 1-3 pearls
3. More expensive
4. Has a more mirror like lustre
5. Mostly round and more sought after
Difference between natural and cultured pearls:
Mostly, all pearls these days are cultured. Which means they are grown in pearl farms and have the intervention of man. This means that a small piece of mollusc tissue or a bead is placed into the mollusc, which is then covered with nacre – (the material pearls are actually made of.) The longer the pearl is left to grow, the better the quality and size.
Natural pearls are extremely rare and just as expensive, mostly due to over farming in the past. But it is said that the best natural pearls came from the Persian Gulf. Contrary to what many people think, most saltwater pearls are not natural but cultured.
However, these days with the use of modern cultivating methods it is possible to find freshwater pearls that match the lustre and shape of their saltwater counterparts at a more affordable price.
How to tell if your pearl is real:
1. Rub the pearl on your teeth – it should be slightly rough, never smooth
2. Rub two pearls together, there should be a white powder that results from the friction – this is the calcium. Once you wipe it away, the pearl should retain its lustre.
3. Hold your pearl to the light, it should still radiate its lustre.
The South China Seas produce some fine quality pearls and visiting the factory was more than an opportunity to buy, it was a great opportunity to learn and see.
Did you know:
1. Any mollusc can produce a pearl, not just an oyster
2. Currently the most popular pearl according to the Chinese is the ‘golden pearl’
3. Pearl powder is used in the making of cosmetics and is said to have anti-ageing properties