Rare Antique and Estate Jewelry & Fine Collections of Precious Gems
by M Khordipour
January 31, 2018
Pearls are one of the best-loved, and yet most misunderstood, of all the materials used in jewelry. With gemstones, they will be either natural or synthetic, but pearls fall somewhere in between. All pearls are technically natural, but some will be cultivated in salt or fresh water farms. Farmed pearls are inferior to real natural pearls, despite some similarities.
Although not classed as synthetic, farmed pearls are considered manufactured, albeit by natural process.
As well as being used to adorn ornaments and clothing, they have also been used in cosmetics, make-up and even paint.
Any shelled mollusk is capable of producing a pearl, although very few are of gemstone quality. To produce a pearl, however, all mollusks go through the same process.
When a foreign irritant is detected inside the shell, the mollusk immediately defends itself by creating a sac around the particle. Contrary to popular belief, this irritant is rarely a grain of sand. It is more likely to be a parasite or the result of an attack. This enclosing of the particle is similar in response to the way the human immune system attempts to fight viruses.
The mollusk will then deposit layers of calcium carbonate onto the sac. Over time, often up to a couple of years, this creates a pearl. The layers, combined with the bonding agent is called nacre.
Extremely rare. It might take the opening of thousands of pearl-producing oysters or mussels to find a single pearl. Natural pearl jewelry is among the most limited type of jewelry on the market.
It is highly unusual to see more than one natural pearl in any setting. Those pearls that are found and are of gemstone quality are often sold to collectors. Although strings of pearls are common, there are very few that contain only natural pearls. The natural pearl strings that do exist are valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Pierre Cartier famously bought what is now the New York Cartier store with a string of natural pearls valued at $1m.
Because of the rarity of natural pearls, the market for farm-cultivated pearls is extensive. These pearls, known as "cultured", are still produced by mollusks but are structurally different from natural pearls.
A tissue implant is made into a host mollusk, along with a small bead. The sac is then created around the bead, and the nacre is deposited around it by the mollusk. This "jump-start" process allows cultured pearls to be harvestable in as little as six months.
Mother-of-Pearl is made by using the thin layers of nacre commonly found in mollusks of all types. Because the nacre often covers the entire inner surface of the shell, large sheets can sometimes be created.
M. Khordipour has been collecting rare natural pearl jewelry for over 35 years. Below are a few examples of some of the fine natural pearl jewelry from their collection.
Click here to view our entire collection of natural pearl jewelry.
Because natural pearls are physically different from cultured pearls, telling them apart is quite simple.
Cultured pearls are very smooth, due to the thin layer of nacre on the surface, whereas natural pearls have a certain roughness to them. Rubbing the pearl on your teeth will tell you whether it is natural or not. A natural pearl will feel gritty against your teeth as you move it across. A cultured pearl will have no such grittiness.
Shape is also a good indicator of a pearl's origin. Natural pearls are rarely, if ever, perfectly spherical. Because the layers of nacre secreted by the mollusk aren't applied consistently, natural pearls aren't perfectly round. Cultured pearls only have a very thin layer of nacre on top of an already perfect bead, and so are much closer to being a true sphere.
In x-rays, the beaded center of a cultured pearl will be exposed, unlike the natural pearl which will be consistent all the way through.
We've already mentioned the $1m string of natural pearls used by Pierre Cartier to buy the Fifth Avenue mansion that is the company's New York base.
Perhaps less well-known, but arguably more important is the Murat Tiara. It was made for Prince Alexandre Murat by French jeweler James Chaumet, in 1920, on the occasion of the Prince's marriage to Mlle. Yvonne Gillois.
The tiara is diamond studded and has 3 very large pearls set into it. The center pearl is measured at 303 grains, which is the equivalent of over 75 carats. Even by modern standards, this is an incredibly large natural pearl. All three pearls came from the Murat family's own collection, although their origin is unclear.
The Murat Tiara went up for sale at Sotheby's in London in 2012. It was expected to fetch up to $2m, but eventually sold for over $3.8m. It is unlikely we will ever see it's like again, simply because of the size of the pearls it contains.
February 19, 2018
These pearls shown are absolutely breathtaking!
February 08, 2018
Great article! I never knew that’s how pearls were made!
February 07, 2018
Wow very detailed article!
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