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

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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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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.

La Peregrina – the pilgrim pearl

image (17)Happy Easter from all of us here at Coleman Douglas Pearls! The majority of you will have all headed on your travels to make the most of this fabulous long weekend, either on a holiday abroad or to visit family. We thought it would be the perfect time to tell our own Easter story – the one of the wandering, pilgrim pearl, La Peregrina. This amazing pearl has a fascinating history and has traveled the globe, changing hands regularly – with some of those hands being very well known…..

La-Peregrina-pearl-Elizabeth-Taylor-close-up-250La Peregrina was discovered in the mid 16th Century off the isle of Santa Margarita in the Gulf of Panama, by an African slave who was awarded his freedom when he handed it in. La Peregrina then travelled the world to Spain, the UK (Mary Tudor owned it for a while) and back to America when it was bought at auction by Richard Burton for his wife Elizabeth Taylor, a lady famed for her jewellery collection! Cartier were commissioned to redesign the necklace, pairing La Peregrina with diamonds and rubies. After Taylor’s death the necklace was sold for a record price of £7.1 million, and so the wandering pearl’s journey continues.

If your not lucky enough to be jetting off this Easter here are some fun events happening around London that may make it more bearable. You all will have heard of The Boat Race which takes place on Easter Sunday BUT have you ever heard of the Oxford v Cambridge Goat Race? Neither had we but this annual event is gaining in popularity as spectators head to Spitalfields City Farm to see two goats battle it out.

Chocolate Market at Duke of York Square

Or how about heading to Duke of York Square on Saturday 26th March for their Chocolate market? Visit all the different stalls selling their delicious chocolate goodies from Easter eggs to hot chocolate, this is a chocoholics paradise! What a perfect place to overindulge, after all its only Easter once a year!

Tah prl ringAnd if you have eaten enough chocolate to sink a rowing boat head to our London pearl store in 42 Beauchamp Place. Treat your self to some inedible goodies in the form of this eggcellent Tahitian egg shaped ring! Perfect for those who fancy giving the chocolate coma a miss this year.

Aquamarine – The feel good stone

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What better way to celebrate that Spring is here than checking out the gorgeous blues of aquamarine, a firm favorite of one of our Pearl Team here at Coleman Douglas Pearls.

Aquamarine is the birthstone of March and is said to bring the wearer good feelings and lasting relationships. It is the blue member of the Beryl family that also includes Emerald which is the green variety.

NE1753 lowThe name aquamarine comes from the Latin “aqua marina” meaning water of the sea. Aquamarines’ blue colour comes from iron impurities within a colourless beryl crystal (goshenite).  Unlike their emerald counterparts, aquamarines are often totally free from impurities and have excellent transparency and clarity. In maritime legend, aquamarine was said to have come from mermaid treasure chests and is therefore considered a lucky stone for sailors. In ancient times sailors were given aquamarines to ensure a safe passage on their voyages and also to ward off sea-sickness.

Aquamarines are one of the Queens favorite stones and she is especially fond of her  Brazilian Aquamarine Parure Tiara. The set was a gift from the Brazilian prime minister on behalf of his country upon the Queen’s coronation in 1953. It is rumored to have taken over a year to match the exquisitely coloured stones and upon seeing how much the Queen enjoyed them the government continued to source matching stones. In 1958 the Brazilian government had collected enough to present the Queen with a second gift of a large brooch and bracelet to add to her set which she still wears today.

RING treat tuesdayWe have numerous designs here at our Beauchamp Place London showroom incorporating aquamarine and pearls. If you can’t find exactly what you are looking for, do not hesitate to contact us, so that we may create your own bespoke design. We also offer other services such as ear piercing and personal shopping to help you find the perfect gift.

Fashion at the Oscars

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The awards season has finally ended in spectacular style with the 2016 Oscars. The glitz, the glamour and more importantly the pearl jewellery was out in force on Sunday in the LA sun. Our pearl award this year has to go to the winner of the Best Actress Statue – Brie Larson. Brie pulled off this stunning blue Gucci dress with ease and combined it with the mother of all accessories – a large pearl encrusted statement belt. Teamed with some pearl and diamond drop earrings and simple, elegant hair and make up, we think Brie was spot on!olivia wilde oscars 2016

Coming in a close second place was Olivia Wilde and her gorgeous Valentino Grecian outfit. The beautiful pleats and cut of this dress was saved from being slightly casual, again with her stunning accessories. From her elegant seed pearl and diamond choker to her pearl and diamond earrings, Olivia epitomized style even in her pearl clutch bag!

In third place has to be Whoopi Goldberg for this fantastic squid ring. Showing off her unique sense of style and humour, this pearl ring had us all wanting a statement cuff.

oscar blog 2016

Other celebrities wearing pearls at the awards included Lisa Thompson who looked amazing in her pearl rope to collect the award for Best Production Design for Mad Max Fury Road. Best Supporting actress nominee Jennifer Jason Leigh was sporting some beautiful delicate pale pink pearl drop flower earrings, and the pearl jewelry didn’t stop there! Pearls also proved to be popular at the after parties with the likes of Liberty Ross and Anjelica Huston donning statement pearl earrings to the Vanity Fair party. But don’t take our word for it – who do you think was best dressed?