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

Here are some key tips and facts on 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!

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.

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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

For more information on pearls visit our instagram page

Pearls real or fake? That IS the question: 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 101 – What is a pearl?

Where does a pearl come from ? is a question we are often asked. There are many different types of pearl, some rarer than others, but before we start differentiating between them lets first understand how pearls are formed. Pearls are the product of the act of self-preservation by a mollusc, be it an oyster or a mussel. If the mollusc does not react in this way it will die.

In other words the creation of a pearl is caused by the protective reaction of an oyster or mussel to the accidental or deliberate 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, which in turn deposit concentric layers of nacre that surround the offending object and slowly form the pearl, layer by layer.

 

So …what is nacre ?

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Nacre is made up of calcium carbonate in the shape of tiny crystals called Aragonite. Calcium carbonate is also found in chalk, our teeth and various other everyday items. With a pearl the Aragonite crystals are held together with a glue-like protein called Conchiolin. In our teeth which are also made of calcium carbonate;  the protein that holds that Calcium Carbonate of our teeth together is stronger than Conchiolin hence when we are invited to “test” the genuineness of pearls against our teeth it is not only unhygienic but totally undesirable as our teeth will scratch the pearl.

 

What makes nacre?

Pearl Birth

Epithelial cells produce nacre and are therefore essential to pearl formation. They are found in a special tissue called the mantle which is found at the hinge and the edge of the molluscs flesh, as seen in the photograph shown. Nacre grows not only on pearls but also as mother of pearl on the interior of the shell. Nacre layers within the shell of the mollusc act as a protective shield against the outside world, making the mollusc less attractive as food to predators.  The only difference between pearls and mother of pearl is that in a pearl the layers are concentric and in mother of pearl they are flat or straight.

 

Where does a pearl gets its lustre from?

pearl layers

Nacre layers play a vital role in the pearl’s lustre. Nacre layers are very thin, translucent and reflect light, thus creating the pearl’s distinctive lustre. Generally the thicker the nacre with regular, thin and translucent layers, the finer the lustre will be on the pearl. In other words lustre is caused by the reflection of light on the surface of the pearl and the refraction of light as it passes through the layers of nacre. This effect appears to make the pearl glow from within.

Pearls, Fashion & Afternoon Tea

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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.

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!

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!).

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Coleman Douglas Pearls X Aqua Flor Perfume

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Pearl Essence Perfume

‘Dawn and Dusk’ are a revolutionary concept in perfume, the new Coleman Douglas Pearl friendly perfume essences. A novel concept on which our designer, Chrissie Douglas and Sileno Cheloni of AquaFlor in Florence, have worked on for the last three years.

A natural creation: Most perfumes have alcohol which attacks a pearls’ radiance and eventually dulls the pearls and even changes the colour of our skin. Dawn and Dusk essences have a base tone of salt and water, mimicking the natural oils produced by our body and maintaining the pearls moisture whilst adding to its splendor. To prove this point, each phial of pearl essence contains a cultured pearl which as time goes by increases in lustre. Once the essence finishes it can be strung into a necklace exuding a gentle scent for years to come.
Easy handling: The delicate phials fit perfectly into a handbag and their “roll on” feature allows for easy use “on the go”.
Our Pearl Essences have two distinct scents
Dawn evokes a fresh morning sea breeze in French Polynesia. Its base notes are Amber and a musk accord of Ambergris and sea moss. Its head notes are seaweed and pink salt whilst white thyme and wild fennel are Dawn’s heart notes.
Dusk has an essence which builds on Dawn and brings a sultry note with base characteristics of amber and a woody accord of ambergris and bamboo wood. Its heart notes are an aromatic melody of white thyme and African rosemary, with seaweed, pink salt and bergamot as its head notes.
Come to our showroom in Beauchamp Place and sense for yourself this groundbreaking perfume essence it is guaranteed to make you want more …

 

Mother’s Day Pearls

What better way to celebrate our wonderful mothers than with pearls? Over the next two weeks we are giving away six stunning pieces for you to either keep or give to a special mother you know. To enter, just follow us on Instagram or Facebook and tag a friend on the competition image.

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Meanwhile, at the studio, we are busy stringing lots of pearls ready for you to come and choose the perfect gift for the best mum in the world. Whatever her style, colouring or age, we have the perfect pearls for every mum out there! Here are a few of our favourites.

Akoya Pearl and Diamond Earrings £1,170

Large Freshwater Pearl Stud Earrings £137

‘Triple Strand ‘Raindrop’ Long Lariat Necklace in White £714

Biwa pearl & Rock Crystal Short Lasso Necklace in Peacock Black £154

Labradorite & Tahitian Pearl Bracelet £909

Freshwater pearl & Rock Crystal Necklace in Grey £193

 

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Spectre
‘The name’s Bond, James Bond’
One of the most well known lines in the world, and currently the hot topic of many J.B fans as ‘Spectre’ has finally arrived at The Big Screen.
The British Secret Service agent, known for his sophisticated style, cool gadgets, and daring international exploits was once again pushed to the limits in saving the world while still finding time for ‘romance’. So let me ask you one thing…what do you imagine a Bond Girl to be like?
Elegant, beautiful, stylish, confident, sassy… the list goes on. Therefore, it didn’t shock our Pearl Company when low and behold one of the Bond girls wore Tahitian pearl studs.

Spectre 2The pearl studs were gracing the ear lobes of the stunning Monica Bellucci.
Seen here complementing her black ensemble, the pearls did what they do best…take a back seat while enhancing their wearers natural beauty.
Fancy a pair of your own? Pop into our Pearl Beauchamp Place Showroom, located at 42 Beauchamp Place, Knightsbridge, London, SW3 1NX, where our pearl guru will help you find the perfect metallic hue to suit your complexion.

bond 3Tahitian pearls are known for their mesmerizing metallic colour and deep lustre which lures you in.

A favorite of not only Bond girls but also Bond himself, Pierce Brosnan was photographed wearing his tahitian pearl thong necklace on a tropical beach…where would you wear yours?

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Daniel Craig, another pearl connoisseur, happened to meet one of our clients at the premier who commented on how beautiful her multi strand pearl necklace was. ‘…I love wear them all the time, especially as ‘James Bond’, Daniel Craig, complimented me on them!’ – Kit (Client)

536 Tahitian PearlsOne question usually asked is, why do Tahitian pearls have natural metallic colours and other pearls, such as south sea pearls, do not?
The answer lies with the host shell. Tahitian pearls are created in black lipped oysters which produce nacre which always has a hint of grey. These oysters are found in Mexico, Panama and French Polynesia, several places that James Bond has visited.

So to leave you with one of our favorite James Bond quotes…

Bond: “My dear girl, there are some things that just aren’t done. Such as, drinking Dom Perignon ’53 above the temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s just as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs.”

The Warriors of Hollywood

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Pierce Brosnan, Jason Momoa and Jonny Depp, all actors who have played ‘warrior’ roles in films.
But what else do these actors have in common…PEARLS!
Yes you heard right, all three men have been spotted wearing Tahitian Pearl pendant necklaces in magazines and on the Red Carpet.
And it’s not the first time men have been seen wearing pearls, just look through history.
Julius Caesar’s love of pearls is said to have been a contributing factor to his invasion of England in 55BC! Other pearl enthusiasts include Charles I, Steven Tyler, Elton John, Pharrell Williams.
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Tahitian Pearls are naturally dark colour ranging from grey to black and peacock green to aubergine.
However, on rare occasions you can sometimes find them very light, from white to yellow and pink, all of which have grey overtones.

Fancy adding Leather collectionsome Tahitian pearl jewellery to your look?
If so you’re in luck. Our Pearl Guru, Chrissie Douglas, designed a whole collection called ‘Warrior’, which is full of knockout leather and Tahitian Pearl necklaces, earrings and cuffs, and having won the Tahitian Pearl Trophy award for innovative design, I’d say this is a must for your ‘warrior’ look.

James bond 4Our Tahitian Pearl pendant, a favourite of the actor John Shepherd, is made up of a lustrous dark Tahitian round pearl on a strong black leather plain thong, allowing the pearl to take centre stage.
The necklace is finished with a classic sterling silver T-bar clasp.

If you fancy more detailing onPuck 2 your leather then our Tahitian Pearl and leather bracelet was made for you.
The leather has been woven together to look like barbed wire interspersed with cultured pearls for a truly ‘tough guy’ look.

To view more of our pearl and leather collection as well as several other Coleman Douglas Pearl designs call into our Pearl Center.