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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Become a connoisseur of natural pearls in 10 easy steps: Part 3

Our final blog on natural pearl expertise! Visit us at CDPearls 42 Beauchamp Place SW3 1NX for pearl talks where you can test your knowledge!

Keshi pearls are they ?? or are they not ???  A keshi pearl can be a natural pearl which occurs within a cultured oyster host, in a cultured pearl farm, or when the graft and nucleus in a cultured pearl fail to attach to each other; the oyster rejects the nucleus, and unusually the graft tissue remains behind to form a pearl sac and secretes nacre layers. The term Keshi in Japanese means seed, these pearls are almost always baroque in shape. Although a Keshi could well be a natural pearl in composition, it must always be described as Keshi because it is formed in a cultured oyster and in a farm so it was bound to be found.

Tahitian Pearl Brooche

What do a gypsy and Empress Eugenie have in common ? Natural freshwater pearls. They can be formed in rivers or lakes and as the term implies a freshwater pearl is formed accidentally without any human intervention in a pearl bearing mussel or mulette. Famous natural pearls have come from Scottish, European and American rivers; like the Queen Pearl which was once owned by Empress Eugenie and the Abernethy Pearl, or “wee Willie” found in 1967 by Bill Abernethy in the river Tay in Scotland.

Mussels can also have blisters and seed  Freshwater natural pearls are formed when a small stone or a calcareous concretion lodges in the pearl bearing mussel and starts the formation of a pearl; these pearls have rounded surfaces although they can be of many different shapes. Their colours can be among others white, soft pink, mauve, heather, brown and pale grey. Blister pearls have a flat surface on one side of the pearl and seed pearls are 2mm in diameter or less.


Natural pearls be they seawater or freshwater should always have certificates. A word of caution it is illegal to fish for freshwater natural pearls in Scotland so … best keep to pearl specialists who will be able to furnish you with natural freshwater pearls and furnish the requisite certificate of authenticity.

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PEARLS – Seawater vs Freshwater

Now that you know how a pearl is formed from our last Blog it is time to explore the provenance and difference between saltwater pearls and freshwater pearls.

Saltwater pearls have their provenance in the PINTADINES

Seawater pearl producing shellfish are not in fact oysters. Although for ease everyone has and will continue to call pearl bearing shellfish oysters, for the most part, seawater pearl bearing molluscs belong to the Pintadine family. Within the Pintadine family there are seven pearl producing shellfish; unlike their edible sedentary namesakes, the Pintadines are not edible and are mobile from one generation to another.


The mobility of the Pintadine shellfish is due to their reproductive cycle, when conditions are right one shellfish releases spermatozoa into the water; this act begins a chain reaction on all other pearl producing Pintadines in the area. They release eggs and spermatozoa into the water; which are mixed at the mercy of the currents and larvae is formed. The larva propels itself with a small foot in the water and grows into spat. At 45 days the spat is ½ inch long or approximately the size of your thumb nail, with the appearance of a very thin and transparent oyster.  It will, at this early stage, make the biggest decision of its existence: once this small spat finds a suitable spot in which to attach itself and grow, surrounded with plenty of light, food and warmth,  it can no longer move.

Once the spat is attached and has become a baby oyster much of its energy will go into growing mother of pearl layers to cover its shell. These nacre layers are in effect the oyster’s protection against hungry predators.

It is a miracle of nature that we have pearl bearing oysters at all! The existence of pearls rely on chance fertilisation, the avoidance of being eaten by predators and then the precarious decision of where to settle for life. If a life threatening piece of coral or shell is lodged in the flesh of the oyster before it is 3 years old or weak it will die.

Looking on the bright side if the oyster is alive and healthy at 3 years of age it is strong enough to withstand the introduction of a foreign body into its organism. As the intruder slices its way into the depths of the oysters ‘body’ it carries with it epithelial cells from the mantle, these cells form a pearl sac around the intruder and the epithelial cells start doing what they do best they deposit concentric layers of nacre that surround the offending object and slowly form the pearl, layer by layer, a miracle of nature. It is not surprising that this rarity is reflected in the value of pearls.

Freshwater pearls have their provenance in UNIONIDES

Freshwater mussels kept by Alfred, 1938

The Unionides produce the majority of the freshwater pearls that we know. These are bivalve shellfish, normally referred to as mussels or mulettes; they too are mobile and mainly inedible. The mobility of pearl producing mussels is also due to their reproductive cycle; in this case the fertilised egg enters the gills of a fish and feeds off its blood turning into larva. When the larva has been in the host fish for about two months and the fish reaches a particularly suitable stretch of water, the larva disengages from the fish and settles. It will usually choose a stretch of slow moving waters in a river or a suitable spot in a lake, the depth at which these mussels are found is between 1 and 1.5 metres from the surface. Hence when fishing for freshwater pearls they can be spotted by looking into a glass bottomed jar, which will give clarity to the water and enable the fisher to see if mussels have unusually protruding areas in the smooth outer shell. Pearls are formed when a small stone or a calcareous concretion lodges in the pearl bearing mussel and starts the formation of a pearl; these pearls have rounded surfaces although they can be of many different shapes. Their colours can be among others white, soft pink, mauve, heather, brown and pale grey.

How do you fish for Natural freshwater pearls?  Take your lead from Chrissie Douglas’s ancestor Alfred Smith who regularly sought pearls in the river Tay, a glass bottomed viewer and a staff to move things around in the river bed, as seen below, but be warned it is illegal nowadays to fish for pearls in Scotland!

Alfred pearl fishing 1, Inverurie

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Our Christmas Gift Guide

zPinkChampagneTruffleTree-PinkEarringsQuestionMarkShape_24404December is here and the festivities are really starting to get us all excited here at Coleman Douglas Pearls. Don’t worry if you haven’t finished your Christmas shopping yet you have come to the right place! We can help you find presents for everyone you are looking for and wrap them in our luxury Christmas gift wrap to take all the stress out of the way for you!

c SMALL Freshwater Double Drop earrings in grey £168First up are the girls in your life, whether it be your mum, wife, sister, daughter, girlfriend . . . we guarantee we have something to suit all ages and tastes. Our classic double strand necklace in white was featured this year in Vogue’s 100 year anniversary edition and is perfect for both younger and older ladies. Paired with our large joy of life earrings this is the perfect combination for that special lady in your life to find under the tree!

Pearl, Tourmaline and diamond Pendant £2273We also do great gifts for younger girls with our white freshwater drop pendant and our small pearl studs. These don’t just come in white – we have also got them in pink, grey, peacock black and copper so you can find the perfect pearl for your girl! If, however, you are needing to pull out ALL the stops this Christmas our cognac diamond and south sea pearl necklace is the gift for you! Stunning glittering diamonds in shades between yellow and brown reflect perfectly with our golden and white south sea pearls making this a truly special piece for a truly special girl.

b SMALL Freshwater pearl cufflinks on silver £151And here come the boys! Our For Him range has everything a discerning gentleman could want with a wide variety of cufflinks and tie pins (which us girls also like to steal now and then to put on our pashminas . . . shhhhh!) we will find the pearl for your guy. You can’t go wrong with one of our classic biwa pearl tie pins they work with literally everything! If you’re looking to add some glamour into you’re man’s life then look no further than these tahitian pearl cufflinks – the perfect addition for those special occasions.

Pop by our pearl jewellery store this December and try some of our delicious prestat truffles with your coffee/tea or even a glass of champagne – you will deserve it after completing all your Christmas shopping!

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!

Golden Summertime

South Sea Golden Pearl Strands2Golden south sea pearls are set to be a big hit this summer at Coleman Douglas Pearls! With their range of summery yellow and golden hues these pearl collections will be with you every step of this exciting summer. These pearls just exude a flame-like warmth perfect as this summer marks the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London! In honour of this the Museum of London are putting on an exhibition of rarely seen artifacts, as well as an impressive hands on area where people can see what London was like before, during and after the fire.

curesd-childIf your pearls aren’t bringing enough magic into your life then this summer (which we doubt will be the case!) JK Rowling has the answer – her eighth installment of the Harry Potter Franchise! Set 19 years after Harry and Co were students at Hogwarts this new play will incorporate all your old favourite characters alongside some new ones. If you weren’t lucky enough to get tickets to the West End show a book of the play is going to be released at the end of July. . . .

olympic slideAnd if all this nostalgia is making you feel like a child again then fear not – the Belgian artist Carsten Holler has just the activity for you. Kicking off the Olympic 2016 excitement is a brand new installation at the 2012 Olympic Park. The infamous Olympic sculpture (The Helter Skelter) has been converted into the worlds longest and tallest slide – the perfect activity for children of all ages!

cogdiaOur Pearl team still think the best way to make your summer golden is with pearls so pop in to our London pearl jewellery showroom to find the perfect coloured pearl for you. We are also crossing our fingers for all the athletes heading to Rio that their summer will also be golden.