Pearls 101

Pearls have been a source of fascination for centuries. They have been considered the most magical and feminine of all gems and are the only one created by a living organism. Pearls emanate a certain warmth and glow not found in other gems, due to their unique beginnings.

Pearls have been prized for their beauty and rarity for more than four thousand years. From ancient China, India, and Egypt, to Imperial Rome, the Arab world, and Native American tribes, cultures around the world and throughout recorded history have valued these unique, biologically based gemstones much longer than any other gem.

Pearls are the birthstone for June, and also the anniversary gem for the 3rd and 30th wedding anniversaries. Recognized as the emblem of modesty, chastity and purity, pearls have also come to symbolize a happy marriage.

Cleaning and Caring for Your Pearls

• Wear your pearls regularly. Your body's natural oils help maintain pearls' beauty. • Apply cosmetics, lotions, perfume and hair spray before putting on your pearls. • Wipe your pearls with a soft cloth after wearing them. • Remove spills immediately with a slightly damp cloth and then dry with a soft cloth. • Store pearls separately from other jewelry, preferably in a slightly damp linen cloth to prevent the pearls from drying out • Have your pearls restrung every two to five years if worn regularly or when the silk becomes dirty. • Don't wear pearls with jewelry made of metal or other material that may scratch the pearls. • Avoid contact with salt water, chlorinated water or perspiration. • Never use an ultrasonic jewelry cleaning machine or steam cleaner.

How Pearls are Strung - the Finishing Touch

In the past, silk thread was used to string peals throughout the industry. However, today pearl strands are strung on a silk thread that is much more durable and longer lasting than silk alone.

The thread is knotted between each pearl for three reasons:
• To protect the pearl at the drilling hole. The knot prevents one pearl from rubbing against the next one and chipping the nacre. • To prevent the loss of more than one pearl if the string breaks. • To give the necklace a fuller look and more flexibility. The more flexible it is, the better it will hang around the neck. It will still feel more comfortable, and better conform to the body of the person wearing it. She will look better and feel more at ease.
All Shane Co. Akoya, Tahitian, and South Sea pearl strands are knotted between each pearl. However, since freshwater pearls are less expensive, it is acceptable in the pearl industry to knot after every third or fifth pearl.

When a pearl strand is newly strung, it will not "lay flat" right away. However, as the strand is worn it will relax and lay better.


Our Pearl Types

Akoya Pearls

Considered the classic among cultured pearls, Akoya pearls are primarily round or oval in shape and most commonly measure 5 to 8mm. They are cultured in many parts of the world, but most commonly in southwestern Japan and China. Their colors range from pinkish white to creamy shades of silvery blue.

Chinese Freshwater Pearls

Freshwater pearls are grown in an amazing variety of delicate shapes, ranging from round and oval to button, drop and baroque. Their colors vary from pure white to orange and rosy violet.

Tahitian Pearls

Tahitian pearls are synonymous with magic and perfection. Most come from the atolls and lagoons of the South Pacific. They tend more toward drop shapes than round and vary in size from 8 to 14mm, and some can occasionally reach 16 or even 18mm. They can be black, silver, dark or light gray. The rarest color is "peacock green" – the greenish black color of a peacock feather.

South Sea Pearls

The South Sea Pearl is unquestionably the rarest and finest cultured pearl in the world. No other pearl can equal its natural beauty and size. South Sea pearls range in size from 9mm up to 20mm, and come in many varied shapes and colors. Among all of the South Sea pearls, the Australian are especially prized and generally more valuable.

Summary of Pearl Types

  • Akoya
  • Freshwater
  • Tahitian
  • South Sea
    • Where Cultivated
    • Ocean salt waters of Japan and China
    • Lakes and rivers, mostly in China
    • Named after one of the tropical French Polynesian Islands, Tahiti
    • The South Sea, including the Indian Ocean around Australia, Southern Indonesia, and the Southern Philippines
    • Oyster Name
    • Pinctada Fucata Martensii
    • Margaritifera margaritifera. The most common species may live up to 15 years.
    • Pinctada Margaritifera oyster can live 30 years.
    • Pinctada Maxima is the largest and rarest pearl oyster in the world.
    • Oyster Size
    • 4 to 5 inches
    • Approximately 8 inches wide by 12 inches long
    • Grows up to 12 inches, and weighs up to 11 pounds
    • Sometimes found in excess of 12 inches in diameter
    • Number of Pearls per Oyster
    • One pearl per oyster except in the smaller sizes; under 5mm they can produce two pearls in one oyster.
    • Can tolerate nucleation once because of its small size; however, can yield as many as 35 to 40 nuclei from one shell, depending on the size of the shell.
    • About 20 percent of the oysters can be nucleated a second time.
    • Can be nucleated up to four times, each time yielding a larger pearl, but the quality may decline. Can take a large bead and produce the largest pearl.
    • Growing Time (cultivating to harvest)
    • 2 to 3 years depending upon the producer and the conditions
    • 8 to 10 months
    • 2 years
    • 2 years
    • Size of Pearls
    • 5mm to 8mm
    • 2mm to 13mm
    • 8mm to 14mm
    • 9mm to 20mm
    • Nacre Thickness
    • .50 mm
    • Almost 100% nacre
    • 4mm to 6mm
    • 4mm to 6mm

Pearl Grading

Learn what to look for. Decide your priorities. Then make the choice that's right for you.

Pearl Luster

The most important indication of a pearl's quality is luster. The luster of a pearl refers to the glowing appearance of its surface, and is judged by its brilliance and ability to reflect light. A pearl with a high luster will be very shiny and show reflections like a mirror, while a pearl with poor luster will appear very milky or chalky.

Pearl Luster

Luster is determined by the quality of a pearl's nacre – its thickness, translucence, and arrangement of overlapping layers. Factors affecting the quality of the nacre include the cultivation place, the health of the mother mollusk, the length of time spent in the mollusk, pollution and the type of mollusk used. Only strong layers of nacre can produce deep luster.

All Shane Co. pearls are treatment free and purchased directly from pearl producers. While the luster of treated pearls will fade over time, Shane Co. pearls will retain their natural beauty for a lifetime.

Pearl Color

Pearls present a whole palette of colors to choose from. Light colored pearls are produced in shades of white, pink, silver, gold and blue, while dark colored pearls range from peacock green and aubergine purple to all the shades of gray.

Pearl Color

Above all, a pearl's color is a question of personal taste. Although some shades are especially rare or popular and therefore highly valued, such as rosy white, silvery white and pale gold, the color of a pearl is certainly not an indication of its quality.

Pearl Shape

The shape of a pearl plays an important role in determining its value; pearls can be divided into four basic shape groups. They are in order of value:

Round:  Round to nearly perfectly round.
Off-round:  Slightly round, oval, drop, button and egg.
Semi-baroque:  Not round. Some examples are pear, drop, and button shapes.
Baroque:  Very irregular in shape with a surface that is often very uneven.

Pearl Shape

Throughout history the round pearl has been considered the most valuable and popular shape. However, some of the world's most famous and valuable pearls are often not symmetrical in shape because the other grading factors are also important.

Shape is a good category to compromise on if you need to cut down on price. In fact, non-traditional shaped pearls are often used to make some of the most interesting jewelry pieces you'll find.

Pearl Size

The size of a pearl is expressed in terms of its diameter, which is measured in millimeters. Size has a significant impact on price. One millimeter difference has been known to raise the price by between 100 and 200 percent.

Pearl Size

Surface Quality

The fewer the spots (or blemishes) a pearl has, the higher its value. However, surface characteristics can also be accepted as positive features, like birthmarks to a human being. They may serve as identifying marks that a pearl is yours and not somebody else's, and help prove that it is real and not imitation.

Surface characteristics can add to the uniqueness of each pearl and do not necessarily affect its overall beauty.

Pearl Surface Quality

Luster is determined by the quality of a pearl's nacre – its thickness, translucence, and arrangement of overlapping layers. Factors affecting the quality of the nacre include the cultivation place, the health of the mother mollusk, the length of time spent in the mollusk, pollution and the type of mollusk used. Only strong layers of nacre can produce deep luster.

All Shane Co. pearls are treatment free and purchased directly from pearl producers. While the luster of treated pearls will fade over time, Shane Co. pearls will retain their natural beauty for a lifetime.


How Pearls are Formed


Oysters The pearl is the only gemstone which is grown inside of a living organism. Pearls are formed within oysters or mollusks when a foreign substance (most often a parasite – not a grain of sand) invades the shell of the mollusk, entering the soft mantle tissue, and picking up epithelial cells. In response to the irritation, the epithelial cells form into a sac (known as a pearl sac) which secretes a crystalline substance called nacre (pronounced nay-ker). Nacre is the same substance that makes up the interior of the oyster's shell, and builds up in layers around the irritant, forming the pearl.

There are approximately 8,000 different species of two-shelled (bi-valve) mollusks, of which only about 20 are capable of consistently producing pearls. Natural pearls have always been extremely rare and valuable. Because the layers of nacre tend to maintain the irregular shape of the original irritant, natural pearls which are round or spherical in shape are even rarer still, and are highly prized. Most natural pearls are irregularly shaped.

Oyster Farms In a completely natural state, only a very small percentage of oysters will ever produce a pearl at all. Of the pearls which are produced, only a handful will develop into a desirable size, shape, and color, and only a small fraction of those will be harvested by humans.

It is commonly assumed that only one in ten thousand oysters will naturally produce a gem quality pearl. Obviously, if we relied only on nature, ownership of pearls would still be relegated to only the wealthiest people in the world, and pearl producing oysters would be on the brink of extinction due to over-harvest. As pearls have been a prized gem by much of the world's population for thousands of years, this need has led to the development of cultured pearls.

Tom Shane inspecting oysters In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, several Japanese researchers discovered a method of dramatically increasing the number of oysters that produce pearls. Essentially, the technique involves inserting a foreign substance, or nucleus into the tissue of the oyster or mollusk, then returning the creature to the sea and allowing the resulting cultured pearl to develop naturally. A technique for artificially stimulating the development of round pearls in Akoya oysters was perfected and patented in 1916. Since then, this technique has been improved upon and used extensively throughout the pearl industry – no longer simply used to culture Akoya pearls, but freshwater, South Sea and Tahitian pearls as well.

Woman grading pearls This development greatly expanded the pearl industry, in which pearls could be farmed like an agricultural crop, rather than simply sought hit-and-miss. These cultured pearls can now be produced in sufficient quantities to make them available to virtually everyone.

The cultured pearl industry has now far surpassed that of the natural pearl industry. Although a market still persists for pearls gifted to us by nature, these pearls are becoming more and more difficult to find, with rare full strands being auctioned for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Today, purchasing a pearl necklace from nearly any store in the world means purchasing a strand of cultured pearls.