101 of cultured pearls sea water pearls part 1 – a delicate operation

Did you know there are two main types of cultured pearls? There are seawater and freshwater cultured pearls just as in the natural pearl realm. First up let’s investigate sea water cultured pearls.

Not only are oysters delightful to eat, they also produce the most naturally beautiful gem known to mankind. Pearl production is the reaction of the mollusc in order to protect its wellbeing, we could also call it self-preservation.

Tahitian Pearl

The beginning of the road – Cultured seawater or oyster pearls start life when a technician implants a nucleus and a section of epithelial cells into a pearl bearing oyster. The oyster needs to be 3 years old in order to withstand the operation, and as an oyster is kept up till the age of 7 years in the farm, this means there is usually only one pearl produced per oyster.

Only the best will do When the Mise-Nishikawa method of pearl culturing was introduced, i.e. the process of aiding a pearl bearing mollusc to make a pearl, they discovered that the best nucleus to use was a round bead made of mother of pearl from a freshwater mollusc called a mullette or pig toe, a thick shelled mussel which can be cut into squares which can then be shaped into round beads of different dimensions. This particular shell is used because it has the perfect specific density in order for the oyster not to spit it out of hand. Nowadays most nuclei are made from resin.

pearl specialist

Hmmmm it is tough to be the best  Out of 1000 oysters that are seeded, 500 do not make it to pearl production, 200 produce rejected pearls which are very marked or with large dull patches that look like a dead fish eye, in short something you would not want to wear. 250 are pearls of marketable quality. 50 are top quality pearls. This ratio gives the reasoning behind the price calculation of a cultured oyster pearl. The adage “you pay for what you get” has never been truer.

For those who like percentages here we go:

  • 50% die or eject nucleus.
  • 25% produce pearls of marketable quality.
  • 20% are rejected pearls.
  • Only 5% produce top quality pearls.

Interested in knowing the nitty gritty of the culturing process see you on our next episode.

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In the beginning …. Of cultured pearls Part 2

Let’s give nature a helping hand

As natural pearls were so rare and prized, during the XVII and XVIII centuries scientists in France, America and Sweden, tried to help nature. Most notably the Swedish naturalist Linnaeus in 1748, studied how to aid pearls form in a mussel, with muted success.

Cultured Akoya Pearl

The heart of pearl culture technology

I’ll get by with a little help from my friends – In 1907 Tatsuhei Mise & Tokichi Nishikawa discovered independently and simultaneously the secret of seeding a nucleus into a living oyster. They each applied to patent aspects central to pearl production. Upon seeing each other’s patent applications it was clear they had both reached the same conclusion so they signed the Mise-Nishikawa agreement – which is to this day the heart of pearl culture technology.

Hot on their heels

The following year, in 1908 Mikimoto applied for a patent to produce full pearls, he had already been granted a patent in 1896 to produce half pearls, or Mabe pearls which are akin to the nacre covered “sleeping policemen” half pearls described earlier. When Mikimoto became aware of the Mise-Nishikawa patented method, he altered his own patent so as not to invalidate it, and bought rights to use the Mise-Nishikawa method. Mikimoto then began an unprecedented expansion of cultured pearls and left Mise and Nishikawa’s names for the history books.

Kokichi Mikimoto turns the pearl market on its head

Born in 1858 he was the son of noodle and vegetable vendors, and had a dream that every woman should have the opportunity of owning a pearl necklace. An outrageous dream at the time, as a natural pearl necklace cost half a million dollars in the 1900’s; yet this dream inspired him to change the pearl industry for good. Within a few decades, he had almost achieved his dream; pearls were more accessible than ever before. At the time of Mikimoto’s death aged 97, a strand of his own brand cultured Akoya pearls that cost $100, was to the untrained eye remarkably similar to a natural pearl strand worth ½ million dollars.

Akoya Pearl Necklace with Diamond Leaf CenterpieceAkoya Pearl Necklace with Diamond Leaf Centerpiece

A pearl crusade when Mikimoto began his to produce cultured pearls, they were viewed as “fake natural” pearls, but within a few years the best jewellers in the world recognised them for their individuality and beauty. At one point Mikimoto produced 75% of the world’s demand for cultured pearls.

Each pearl is individual

It is important to remember that cultured pearls, although aided to start their existence, are completely independent and man has no control over their eventual size, shape, colour or even whether they survive. Each pearl whether cultured or natural is truly individual.

Cultured oyster pearls

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In the beginning …. Of cultured pearls Part 1

The notion of helping a mollusc create pearls or a product of beauty has been around since the 14th century. When in China semi-circular pearls or “sleeping policemen shaped” Buddha figurines were made from mud and placed into the interior shell of a freshwater mollusc, the mollusc then obligingly covered the mud figurines in nacre.

Natural Pearls were the ultimate symbol of power and wealth

Natural Pearl ring with diamonds

In Roman times they were the adornment of choice – for those who could afford it. Roman women were so fond of choosing pearls that their husbands were being made bankrupt, because of their insatiable lust for lustrous pearls. It is recorded that Julius Caesar was petitioned to pass a decree ordering that only patrician women could wear pearls, it was passed, ordinary male roman citizens breathed a sigh of relief. No imitating item or substance came close hence…

Pearls reign supreme

Within Europe pearls maintained their premium position as the adornment of choice and hence were highly prized. Ever wondered why all the portraits of monarchs, male or female are seen adorned with swathes of pearls? It was basically an attempt to convince any conquering monarch, that those portrayed were beyond reach, bring to mind the Portraits of Elizabeth 1 they were no dating card, their meaning is clear…. Don’t mess with me, I am so wealthy that I can afford to sew pearls on my dress! In fact these “pearls” were iridescent glass beads bought from Venice for 1 penny a piece – a significant amount of money at the time, and the first relatively convincing imitation pearls.

Surprise … Surprise

natural pearl pin with diamonds

In 1670 the traveller Tavernier expressed surprise that the Japanese people did not hold pearls in high esteem and observed that some fine pearls could be obtained along the coastline of Japan. Half a century later the Japanese discovered the esteem in which the Chinese held pearls, they were so precious that a pearl was placed in the mouth of the deceased in the funeral ritual; ready for a good start in the afterlife. In 1727 Kaempfer recorded that the finest pearls found were those from the Akoya oyster in Japan, which were not unlike the oysters from the Persian Gulf, which were reputed to produce the best pearls of all.

Akoya Pearl stud with diamond

Pearls (especially those from a sea oyster) continued to be prohibitively expensive and the love for their gentle glow continued to grow so …. Man decided to give nature a helping hand. Interested ….do read part two.

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How cultured are you about Cultured Pearls?

IMG_20171006_175746_180Cultured pearls start their existence by the introduction of an irritant into a mollusc by man, after which the process is continued solely by the metabolism of the living mollusc. Once the technician implants the irritant bead into a pearl bearing mollusc adding a graft made from epithelial cells the process can begin, in this case, it is not so much “make a pearl or DIE” as we read within the natural pearl formation, but more an alleviation of the discomfort created by the graft and irritant for the mollusc, it cooperates and creates the beautiful lustrous orb that is a pearl.

The crucial role of epithelial cells

The sole role in life for an epithelial cell is to make nacre, (calcium carbonate and Aragonite) this is normally laid in layers on the interior of the shell in order to create a hard surface –  or natural armour -making it crunchy and less attractive as a meal for predators, the same nacre substance is laid in concentric layers on the irritant which in effect entombs it.  Oysters create two layers of nacre each tide, however each layer is super thin hence although a cultured pearl may only be formed within three years in a farm it literally has thousands of layers of nacre.


Where do the Epithelial cells for a graft come from? In a cultured pearl the epithelial cell graft comes from the mantle tissue of a donor mollusc, which has been chosen for its extra beautiful shell colouring and markings. The donor is sacrificed, and its mantle is cut up into small segments, each segment is then placed into the “surrogate” mother mollusc.

Pearls and human embryos are remarkably similar  The graft which has been placed in the “surrogate mother” mollusc forms a pearl sac that covers the irritant and within this sac the mollusc will secrete concentric layers of nacre to cover the irritant. The pearl then rotates within the pearl sac, and as it rotates more layers are deposited onto the irritant. So as a human embryo moves around in the placenta as it grows so does a pearl during its formation.

Pearl Birth

Pearl bearing molluscs have a mind of their own !  It is important to bear in mind that after the irritant has been introduced the process is continued solely by the metabolism of the living mollusc. The pearl farmer has no control over what the pearl bearing molluscs will produce whether in size, shape, colour, or even whether they will produce a pearl at all. Each pearl is truly individual.

Did you know there are two main types of Cultured pearls? there are seawater or freshwater cultured pearls just as in the natural pearl realm, to learn more tune into our next episode of Cultured pearls.


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Your perfect pearl match

DSC_9216.JPGWe have a dedicated team at Coleman Douglas Pearls to assist you in finding the perfect pearl jewellery for every occasion, selecting specific designs that will allow you to wear the jewellery in various ways giving you ultimate versatility and choosing the perfect classic pearls. Our latest theme is called “What is your colour” because we all have a optimum set of colours, although all pearls will look good, the right colour will have an extraordinary effect of lighting up your eyes.  The optimum colour is to do with skin tone, lip undertone, eye colour and whether you tan well or not.
67highWe would be delighted to assist in helping you choose the perfect shape, colour and design or if you prefer we can draw a shortlist of “must haves” for your wardrobe that will accompany you through life to every occasion.

Do not hesitate to contact us should you be unable to find the ideal design from the shopping pages of our website. One of our team will be pleased to help you by phone on 0207 373 3369 if you are dialing from within the United Kingdom, or +44 207 373 3369 if you are dialing from outside the United Kingdom, alternatively you can email any of our team for assistance at cdp@pearls.co.uk3226_ss_website-1_large

In order to help us find the perfect item of pearl jewellery it would be helpful for us to know:

  • your eye colour and skin tone
  • the look or occasions you require the designs for
  • your preferred price range

We have a broad range to choose from and would be delighted in helping you. We look forward to hearing from you soon, Team CDP x

Taking Care of Pearls


Pearls are the most sensual and flattering of gems. They beautify their owner, reflecting a soft glow that enhances the natural harmony of our features. It is therefore essential to maintain the gentle lustre that has been so painstakingly created by nature. Pearls improve their lustre when worn next to the skin as the oils of the person wearing them keep them moisturized.

Important points to consider in caring for your pearls

  • Wear your pearls as much as possible.
  • Wipe pearls after use to remove any trace of perspiration or perfume.
  • Keep pearls in silk or chamois leather when not in use, away from diamonds or metal.
  • Give your pearls an annual check-up – look for thread stretching, discolouration or fraying.
  • If you wear your pearls often, have them cleaned by a pearl expert once a year.

Things to avoid

  • Keep your pearls away from perfume, hairspray and fake tan.
  • Don’t wear pearls for aerobic exercise or swimming in treated water as they are damaged by excessive perspiration and chemicals.
  • Do not test the genuineness of a pearl by biting it with your teeth.
  • Never store pearls in a hanging position as it can stretch and damage the silk.
  • A storage place that is too dry or airless, for example, a sealed plastic bag, will dry the pearl.

Why not try our pearl essence perfume that has been made with zero alcohol with natural oils that actually enhance your pearls. We’ve had fantastic feedback on it that the smell lingers through to the next day. More info – click here.

Types of Pearls

cultured_grid_largeHere at Coleman Douglas Pearls we understand that there is a lot of mystery behind pearls and how they are formed into beautiful pieces of jewellery, but there doesn’t need to be. It’s quite simple really.

As you probably know, they are created by oysters and mussels. Oysters tend to only produce one pearl in its lifetime whereas mussels can create up to 120 pearls. Pearls are a result from the protective reaction of an oyster or mussel to accidental or deliberate introduction of a foreign body into its organism. This reaction creates concentric layers of nacre (mother of pearl) which are deposited on the foreign body covering it completely.

No two pearls are the same. They usually have some form of irregularity which all adds to the natural aspect of this lustrous gem.

There are four main types of pearls that we sell here at Coleman Douglas Pearls, there are South Sea, Tahitian and Akoya pearls which are formed in oysters and there are mussels formed freshwater pearls.

south_sea_white_gold_pearls_compactSouth Sea Pearls– tend to be 9-14mm in size and are produced in Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines. They vary in shades of white and gold.tahitian_pearls_compact

Tahitian Pearls are similar in size to the South Sea pearls but come in a variety of colours from white to deep black through aubergine and blue, all shades have a grey over tone. Tahitian pearls are mainly produced in Tahiti (surprise) French Polynesia and Mexico although some can be found in Autralia.

Akoya pearls  were first cultivated in Japan, their size varies from 3-10mm in size and in colour they range from pink through to white, gold and grey.akoya_medium



Freshwater pearls are  produced mainly in China and are the easiest to access type of pearl but beautiful none the less. Some of these pearls can be called Biwa pearls which this is a generic name as the most famous freshwater pearls originated in Lake Biwa in Japan.

For a more in depth over view of pearls have a read through here. Or come along to one of our pearl talks, more dates coming soon.

The Gold Edit

This week the team at Coleman Douglas Pearls have decided to showcase just how well Pearls match with everyone’s favourite metal, Gold.


Why do we love gold so much? It was the first metal to be widely known to the human race, beautiful, shiny and malleable it has been the favourite ever since. The Incas referred to gold as the “tears of the Sun” which is rather romantic. Gold is dispersed widely throughout the geologic world, its discovery occurred to many different groups in many different locales, and nearly everyone who found it was impressed with it as was the developing culture in which they lived. Gold’s early uses were ornamental, and its brilliance and permanence (it neither corrodes nor tarnishes) linked it to deities and royalty in early civilizations. It’s never gone out of fashion and we don’t see it ever doing so any time soon.

With Gold being ‘tears of the sun’ let’s match it with our favourite gemstone and what the Georgian and Victorian eras symbolized Pearls as “tears of mourning”. The earliest record we have of pearls as precious objects are artifacts from Mesopotamia dated to around 2300 B.C and recently, a two thousand year old pearl was found in an Australian Aboriginal archaeological dig in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. The Persian Gulf was one of the main sources of natural pearls for centuries, as were Venezuela & Panama where pearls were discovered by Christopher Columbus and Vasco de Balboa on their travels. Natural ‘real’ pearls are very rare these days and are worth thousands. Cleopatra won a bet that she could provide Marc Antony with a banquet costing more than the assets of a country. She took off a pearl earring, dissolved it in wine and drank it. How’s that for value!

We have lots of variations of pearls, gems and metals and don’t forget that we create bespoke designs, so if you have any of grannies pearls and gold lying around come in and meet our pearl specialist and designer Chrissie Douglas who will come up with a beautiful new design and make a match made in heaven.

Hope to see you at our studio soon at 42 Beauchamp Place, Knightsbridge, London.

Award winning pearls

47b-webOur designer Chrissie Douglas has won numerous design awards since starting her career, especially in her Tahitian pearl designs. Chrissie’s aim has always been to offer an investment in style and value by utilising her expert pearl knowledge coupled with an excellent network of suppliers. Her innovative and fresh use of pearls with semi-precious stones and other more unusual materials like leather, silk gauze, wood and felt have produced unique designs.

Titania warrior pic2Out of all the ranges that Chrissie has designed our favourite for the winter has to be the Warrior pearl collection. This collection never goes out of fashion as it is so edgy it enables the wearer to go full on Rock Chick or just to slightly toughen up an otherwise girly outfit. Mainly made from knotted leather and Tahitian pearls this range sure knows how to make an impact. Wear the Tahitian Warrior armband and earrings with your most feminine outfit this Christmas party season and you will be guaranteed to wow your friends.

cog dia ss ne + macaroonOur fine jewellery range is also perfect for all the glitz and glam of this time of year. Enhance your natural sparkle with our cognac diamond and south sea necklace – a great transitional piece through the seasons picking up on the golds of Christmas but also delicate enough to wear in the spring and summer. Other great investment pieces include our Tahitian pearl, diamond and rainbow moonstone pendant and matching earrings. The moonstone has a gorgeous adularescence effect where the light travels across the gem changing its colour from apparently colourless to gorgeous blues.

590.Paul ViantFor other final flourishes to your party outfit please bring a photo of you wearing the outfit along to our showrooms where our pearl team can then source the perfect finishing item. Whether you choose to go for an amazing statement necklace or a classic pair of earrings, here at Coleman Douglas Pearls we’ll have the piece for you!