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A Legendary Gem

Thousands of years ago, long before written history, man probably accidentally discovered the first pearl while searching the seaside for food. Since that time, the pearl has been treasured as a symbol of wealth and social status. It has been revered for its mystical powers, valued for its uniqueness, and sought after for its rare natural beauty. Medieval knights wore them for protection in battle; Ancient Romans saw them as the ultimate symbol of power and wealth; Cleopatra is believed to have worn them, and the Greeks esteemed the pearl for its association with love and marriage.

The pearl has made its mark in history and continues to be the cornerstone of classic style, culture, and refinement. Pearls are the foundation of the modern woman's wardrobe. The elegance of fine pearls is a fashion statement in the work place, as well as for a night on the town. Fashionable, luxurious, and versatile, pearls enhance a woman's style.

What is a Pearl

A natural pearl begins its life when a small foreign object, such as a grain of sand or a parasite, accidentally enters into an oyster's soft, inner body. The oyster tries to expel the irritant; but when it cannot, it takes a defensive action to protect itself. It produces a smooth liquid, called nacre, to cover the irritant. Layer upon layer of this silky substance continues to cover the irritant, which results in a lovely, lustrous gem called a pearl.

Cultured Pearls

Cultured pearls are the same as naturally grown pearls. Oysters are collected and raised in a controlled environment to ensure their healthy growth. When they are mature, an irritant is intentionally introduced. Like all pearls, the nacre is produced and the natural process takes its course.

In cultured saltwater pearls, a bead of crushed and compacted mussel shell is placed inside the oyster to serve as the irritant. These pearls are referred to as Akoya, (a-COY-ya) which means "salt water" in Japanese. Due to the initial bead nucleus, Akoya pearls are somewhat more lustrous and rounder in shape.

In cultured freshwater pearls, a tiny bit of tissue gathered from a donor oyster is placed inside the mussel to serve as the irritant. Unlike the round bead of compacted mussel shell used for Akoya pearls, this natural irritant dissolves into the mussel, leaving behind microscopic nuclei. This means the pearls produced are not a coated bead, but a nearly solid composition of nacre. Cultured freshwater pearls are available in much larger sizes from their saltwater counter parts. Most commonly seen in white, many don't know that they have the unique ability to produce many natural colors: including apricot, pink, and plum purple. These brilliant gems are grown largely in China, where the process of fresh water cultivating has been practiced since the 13th century.

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