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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Become a connoisseur of natural pearls in 10 easy steps: Part 2

Following on from our last blog, we continue to supply you with top tips on how to recognise natural pearls.

Natural pearls are RARE

The rarity value means that the price a natural pearl commands is usually ten times the price of its cultured counterpart unless the pearl in question is particularly large, of a sought after shape or has been worn by celebrities as is the case of La Peregrina in which case it can go through the roof.

The IT factor natural pearl

One of the most famous seawater natural pearls is La Peregrina a drop shape natural pearl which was discovered in the Americas, it was given by Phillip II of Spain to Mary Tudor as a wedding gift. On her death it returned to Spain and was taken to France. Prince Louis Napoleon sold it to the marquis of Abercorn in 1837, the marquis’s son, drilled La Peregrina and recorded its exact weight, 10.192 grams [ over 50 carats in weight]. When, in 1969, Elizabeth Taylor bought a pearl reputed to be the Peregrina for $37,000, its authenticity was challenged. However, due to the exact record of its weight being kept, experts were able to confirm that it was indeed the famous pearl. It was recently sold again by Christies Auction House, for 10 million dollars plus saleroom fees! Goes to show what celebrity status can do for a pearls perceived value.

Image result for peregrina pearl

Oysters get Blisters!

Natural oyster blister pearls can be started by a parasite like a crab that settles in the shell, or a worm that drills through the oyster shell and dies, or larva that obstructs a duct within the shell becomes infected and is then covered with the epithelial cells that protect the mollusc. These pearls have a flat surface on one side because they have been grown on the inside of the shell.


Oysters can bear seed pearls

Natural pearls which are 2mm in diameter or smaller are called seed pearls, they were particularly popular in Victorian times, on “parures” a set of necklace bracelets and earrings. Which were tiny pearls sewn onto mother of pearl ornamental shapes and strewn together. Horse hair was used to string the pearls, the horse had to be alive when hairs were plucked from its tail for longest durability and flexibility. The drill holes on these pearls are tiny and only maidens were allowed to make these popular Victorian jewellery sets, presumably because it was only very young eyes who could see well enough to stitch these pearls onto the mother of pearl backs. Dust pearls are also around and as their name implies they are but specks of irritation, not really worth bothering with.


One more blog to come on the this beautiful gem – the natural pearl!


Become a connoisseur of natural pearls in 10 easy steps: Part 1

How to recognise a natural pearl

Natural pearl vs not natural pearl … that is the question

On the exterior and to the naked eye, there is no obvious difference between a natural pearl and a cultured pearl. The difference arises from the fact that a natural pearl is formed accidentally and without any human intervention, while a cultured pearl is started by the introduction of an irritant by man, after which the process is continued solely by the metabolism of the living mollusc. In both cases the formation of a pearl is the result of the self-preservation reaction of the mollusc.  If it does not get expel the irritant it must cover it in nacre, otherwise it will die.

LadyDysart Natural FW pearl Necklace

The chances of finding a
seawater natural pearl are
1 in 5000

The term natural pearl implies accidental formation without any human intervention. A natural pearl is caused by the protective reaction of an oyster or mussel to the accidental introduction of a foreign body into its organism. This reaction starts by the mollusc covering the intruder with epithelial cells which will form a pearl sac around the intruder, the pearl sac deposits concentric layers of nacre that surround the offending object and slowly form the pearl, layer by layer. Natural pearls can be formed in seawater or in freshwater.

Make a pearl or … DIE

Natural pearls occur when a piece of shell, coral, bone or a large piece of grit hooks into the flesh of the oyster, it breaks the surface of the epithelial cells and carries with it epithelial or nacre producing cells. The oyster tries to expel the intruder but if it is unable to dislodge the irritant, this foreign body will start the formation of a pearl. A grain of sand is hardly ever involved in the production of a natural pearl as the oyster lives in sand and can easily expel it. Elisabeth Strack an eminent pearl specialist of our day discovered another way in which a natural pearl can be formed, refer to the diagram shown, if the epithelial cells covering of the mantle is broken and these crucial nacre making cells travel as a group into the mantle, this in turn will form a pearl sac and a natural pearl will be born.

Edited E Strack Epithelial cell diagram

Stay tuned for part 2! Soon you will be an expert!

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Pearls real or fake? That IS the question: how to tell the difference between a real and a fake pearl

How to tell the difference between a real and a fake pearl

You have discovered what a pearl is and how a pearl is formed. Having skated past the difference between saltwater an freshwater pearls, we are now ready to tackle the BIG question, one that is put to me almost every week, “how do I know if a pearl is authentic, how can I tell if my pearls are real or imitation?”

Firstly, let’s clarify what we mean by real pearls. To most people this would mean a pearl which is made by a mollusc either wild or cultured, as a saltwater or freshwater pearl, as opposed to fake or imitation, which is man made.  Strictly speaking, a real pearl is a pearl which is formed in nature and the only human involvement is to find it, hence a real pearl should be a natural pearl.  But for the sake of simplicity in this Blog let’s talk about natural and cultured pearls vs. imitation or fake pearls or beads.

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“My pearls are old, they were given to me by my grandmother … so they MUST be real!” – Think again!

The first ever imitation pearls were worn by Elizabeth I who wore wax filled Venetian glass beads with an iridescent finish. These were sewn onto her dress in the 1600’s . They were the first “pearl impostors” and at the time they cost 1 penny each.

The first fake pearl, as we know it today, was created in France by Mr Jacquin who concentrated fish slime from a Bleak and mixed it with varnish in the 17th Century. He called it “Essence of Orient”. This method is still used to this day to make man made fish slime covered plastic beads, the main producer of which is Majorica. The fish slime that is used today comes from salmon and herring.

There is another method to produce imitation or fake pearls: coating plastic beads with acrylic paint. A factor worth considering is that this coating will easily chip off.

Recently a  new type of imitation pearl has entered the marketplace. They are deceptively called “semi-cultured pearls” or “shell pearls” both of which are misnomers. These new imitations are made with crushed mother of pearl mixed with resin, aka plastic. If they have overtones, these will be uniform throughout the strand.

Imitation “pearls” cannot enhance the beauty of the wearer nor attract the eye of the beholder in the same way that true pearls do, as the calcium carbonate crystal structure needed for a pearl to glow is not present. This also means that imitations have no play of light, reflection, refraction, colour or overtones.

Do not be deceived by imitation pearls; they might be expensively designed, packaged or even have individual certificates, but they have no lustre or inner glow. They shine on the surface and do little for their owner and, worse of all, imitation pearls are intrinsically worthless.

The best way to tell the difference is to rub one pearl against another: if it is imitation they will feel smooth, if they are authentic, either cultured pearls or natural pearls you will sense grittiness or traction, this is because you are picking up the microscopic level differences between the tiny calcium carbonate crystals called Aragonite which are held together by the glue like protein called  conchiolin.

We hold regular and very informative pearl talks at our studio. To find out when the next talk held at our studio at 42 Beauchamp Place, Knightsbridge, London SW3 1NX


Pearls, Fashion & Afternoon Tea

Highlights from the Best of Britain Luxury Shopping event

If you were invited to the Best of Britain Luxury Shopping event last week but couldn’t make it, here are a few highlights! The event was at the luscious Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Knightsbridge and it brought together some new and some established luxury ladies brands for an afternoon of tea, cakes, champagne, pearls and shopping! Gomez-Grazia, the celebrity endorsed fashion brand hosted us and other brands including swimwear, diamonds and even super luxurious hairpieces. We invited all our lovely clients – thank you to those who made it and we hope you enjoyed yourself. Ten percent of all sales went to The Great Ormond Street Hospital and a three lucky shoppers won complimentary nights in top hotels in Paris, Monaco and Geneva.

The gorgeous Anna is wearing a stunning Gomez Grazia evening gown and a load of our white freshwater pearl bracelets (you can never wear too many!).

White Freshwater Pearl Bracelet

One of our youngest clients, aged 16, was treated to a pink freshwater drop pendant. Her warm skin tones and Gaelic colouring, with dark hair and blue eyes, meant that pink was her colour! She also suited the peacock black pearls, but young and pretty calls for pink!


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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.