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.

Follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for more inspiration.

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.


Follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for more inspiration.


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.

Follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for more inspiration.


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!


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

For more information on pearls visit our instagram page

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 !





Types of Pearls

cultured_grid_largeHere at Coleman Douglas Pearls we understand that there is a lot of mystery behind pearls and how they are formed into beautiful pieces of jewellery, but there doesn’t need to be. It’s quite simple really.

As you probably know, they are created by oysters and mussels. Oysters tend to only produce one pearl in its lifetime whereas mussels can create up to 120 pearls. Pearls are a result from the protective reaction of an oyster or mussel to accidental or deliberate introduction of a foreign body into its organism. This reaction creates concentric layers of nacre (mother of pearl) which are deposited on the foreign body covering it completely.

No two pearls are the same. They usually have some form of irregularity which all adds to the natural aspect of this lustrous gem.

There are four main types of pearls that we sell here at Coleman Douglas Pearls, there are South Sea, Tahitian and Akoya pearls which are formed in oysters and there are mussels formed freshwater pearls.

south_sea_white_gold_pearls_compactSouth Sea Pearls– tend to be 9-14mm in size and are produced in Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines. They vary in shades of white and gold.tahitian_pearls_compact

Tahitian Pearls are similar in size to the South Sea pearls but come in a variety of colours from white to deep black through aubergine and blue, all shades have a grey over tone. Tahitian pearls are mainly produced in Tahiti (surprise) French Polynesia and Mexico although some can be found in Autralia.

Akoya pearls  were first cultivated in Japan, their size varies from 3-10mm in size and in colour they range from pink through to white, gold and grey.akoya_medium



Freshwater pearls are  produced mainly in China and are the easiest to access type of pearl but beautiful none the less. Some of these pearls can be called Biwa pearls which this is a generic name as the most famous freshwater pearls originated in Lake Biwa in Japan.

For a more in depth over view of pearls have a read through here. Or come along to one of our pearl talks, more dates coming 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.

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.

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.