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.

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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.

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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

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?

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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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Jackie film revives a fascination with pearls

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She may only have been America’s First Lady for a brief couple of years but Jacqueline Onassis Kennedy, with her elegant style, left a much-mirrored legacy to the fashion world. Portman portrays her with aplomb in Pablo Larraín’s fêted biopic Jackie. The film’s French costume designer Madeline Fontaine was recently awarded the 2017 Costume Design BAFTA for her epic recreations of Jackie’s outfits.

Jackie excelled in simple, classic dressing: camel, white, black and navy were her staple colours. She loved a strapless silk dress in a shade of sherbet to make her jewellery sing. She was queen of oversized shades and luscious headscarves. And no doubt the best-known 1960s Jackie O image is of the tailored suit, pillbox hat and white gloves – perfectly accessorized, of course, by several strings of pearls.

Jackie, who once said: ‘Jewelry is epoch making and to me it has a significance of its own’, was sure of the impact of jewellery on a look. Her pearls – usually the three-strand necklace, sometimes a pair of oversized statement pearl and diamond earrings and perhaps also a brooch – were her daily, go-to accessories. Surprisingly, these were often not of the real variety. But she gave them iconic status anyway, and in 2010 two of her simulated pearl necklaces along with a pair of faux pearl and diamond earrings sold for more than £50,000 at auction – an inflation of its value by more than 10,000 per cent.

In the well-known words of Mrs Kennedy: ‘Pearls are always appropriate.’

Channel your inner Jackie O with our pearls:

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Classic 3 Strand Biwa Pearl Necklace in White, £273

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Large Freshwater Pearl Stud Earrings, £137

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Triple Strand Biwa Pearl Bracelet in white, £166

Valentine’s Day Pearls

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, we at Coleman Douglas Pearls will start popping open the champagne at our studio in Beauchamp Place. Here is a selection of our favourite Valentine’s Day appropriate pearls. We also have a section dedicated to Anniversary Gifts so please do have a browse and …see you soon !

 

 

 

 

The Diamond Edit

neakdi_main_image_largeDiamonds and pearls have to be two of the most beautiful and recognizable gemstones. Here at Coleman Douglas Pearls we can’t get enough of them. Here is a blog post dedicated to the beautiful pairing.

For 1,000 years, starting in roughly the 4th century BC, India was the only source of diamonds. In 1725, important sources were discovered in Brazil, and in the 1870s major finds in South Africa marked a dramatic increase in the diamond supply. The stone’s name is derived from the Greek word adamas, which translates to “unconquerable”.

In ancient Rome, pearls were considered the ultimate symbol of wealth and social standing. The Greeks held the pearl in high esteem for both its unrivaled beauty and its association with love and marriage. Because pearls were (and are) so highly regarded, a number of European countries actually passed laws forbidding anyone but nobility to wear them, a bit like in the 18th century and beforehand when only royalty were seen with diamond engagement rings. ri1575_main_image_large_large

Putting these two gemstones together make for the absolute perfect engagement ring or gift for your loved one. They both represent eternal love and strength. As we adore pearls here at Coleman Douglas, we’ve got the most beautiful collections to show you. If you’ve got an idea in mind as to what you’re looking for (and you have some pearls in a locked drawer somewhere), bring them in and we’ll transform them into your perfect piece of jewellery.

Mix and Match

One of the best things about pearls is their ability to go with anything. You can wear them with jeans, you can wear pearls with your black tie dress, even men can wear them. Get Pierce Brosnan wearing a solo Tahitian pearl on a leather cord or Johnny Depp in a Tahitian pearl stud earring any day.ne1632_main_image_large_large

Pearls with other gemstones is what gets us extra excited here at Coleman Douglas Pearls. For example; Sapphires and Tahitian pearls are the true meaning of match made in heaven. Aquamarine and white freshwater Pearls are the perfect twosome for a beautiful bride adding that ‘something blue’ element to the mix.

Other favourites are gems such as the rainbow of colours that Tourmaline brings, Prehenite, Black Diamonds, Rose Quartz, Peridot, Citrine and Amethyst, the list could go on and on. Whatever you feel like mixing and matching, our designer extraordinaire Chrissie Douglas will create it for you. Make sure you pop down to our studio to pick and choose your favourite gemstones.

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