Pearls have a timeless quality that transcends both seasons and changes in fashion. Over the past three thousand years pearls were important financial assets, comparable in price to real estate and far more precious than any diamond, as thousands of oysters had to be searched for just one pearl.
Today pearls are more commonly cultured by Man. Shell beads are placed inside an oyster and the oyster is returned to the water. When the pearls are later harvested, the oyster has covered the bead with layers of nacre. Most cultured pearls are produced in Japan. In the warmer waters of the South Pacific, larger oysters produce South Sea cultured pearls and Tahitian black cultured pearls, which are larger in size. Freshwater pearls are cultured in mussels, mostly in China.
The quality of pearls is judged by the orient, which is the soft iridescence caused by the refraction of light by the layers of nacre, and lustre, the reflectivity and shine of the surface. Fine pearls do not have any flaws or spots in the nacre: it has an even, smooth texture. Other factors that affect value are the regularity of the shape, size, and colour: rose tints are the most favoured.
Cultured and natural pearls can be distinguished from imitation ones by a very simple test. Take the pearl and gently rub it against the edge of a tooth. Cultured and natural pearls will feel slightly rough, like fine sandpaper, because of the texture of natural nacre. Imitations will feel as smooth as glass because the surface is moulded or painted on a smooth bead.
Equally stunning set as a ring or in a complex sautoir, Damian By Mischelle offers some fabulous examples of pearls collected from the South Pacific and Japan.