Bead Library: Pearls

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Freshwater Pearls: The Worlds Water Gem | Pearls

Freshwater Pearls: The Worlds Water Gem

By Grace McNabb

Most modern freshwater pearls are cultured which means that with human assistance, the mussel goes through a process called nucleation where a small glass bead or shell fragment is inserted and left for six months to 6 years. During this time the bead is encased in a luminous and hard substance known as nacre. The longer the pearl stays in the shell and the more nacre that builds up, the higher it is in value. This process does not harm the mussel and can be repeated throughout the natural life-cycle of the mollusk. Freshwater pearls are naturally beige, pink or cream colored though many are irradiated through a laser process to produce permanent color changes to the nacre. This process produces amazing jewel toned hues but pearls can also be bleached or dyed to produce lighter colors.

The difference between a saltwater pearl and a cultured freshwater is that the saltwater pearl is grown in an oyster and the freshwater pearls are grown in a freshwater mussel, though all cultured pearls have been formed around an implanted substance. Saltwater pearls are more temperamental to grow than freshwater pearls no one has been able to grow saltwater pearls in a tank where freshwater pearls can be grown indoors or a in more controlled environments. Pearls are unique in the gemstone world being they are the only jewel that is produced solely by a living organism and requires no polishing, cutting or drilling by humans to increase its value.

Pearl is the birthstone for June and has been heralded throughout the ages as a mysterious symbol of love and commitment. The earliest recorded history of pearls is in China, around 2300 B.C. but these gems of the deep are mentioned in all manner of history from Hebrew scripture to ancient Roman records and throughout eastern religious texts. The metaphor of the pearl symbolizes love and devotion as a grain of sand is turned into a rare gem over time. As the official birthstone for June and the gemstone for both of the Sun Signs Gemini and Cancer, pearls are also a traditional gift for the first wedding anniversary. These wonders of nature are also typical as a sweet gift 16 and are a current must have for brides and wedding jewelry.

Today, freshwater pearls are readily available in all manner of shapes and sizes which can be found in fair quality by the strand from under $10.00 to exceptional quality strands ranging from $50.00-$200.00. Nothing beats the classic look of pearls, whether they are kept simple in a Princess length strand (18 inches), doubled around the neck (Opera length) or all mixed up with in a chunky multi strand necklace, the pearl holds a unique place in the design world as well as the gemstone world.

About the Author

A talented jewelry designer, Grace has contributed creatively to Harlequin Beads & Jewelry through her photography and jewelry-making.
All article text and photos Harlequin Beads & Jewelry unless otherwise noted.
Text and photos may not be used without permession from Harlequin Beads & Jewelry.

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In Harlequin's bead library you will find information on the history of beads, how beads are made and how beads have been used throughout the world.

Many articles include a bibliography to provide you with additional resources. Many of the beading books referenced are available at your local library.

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Harlequin Beads and Jewelry specializes in Swarovski crystal, pendants and pearls, Czech glass and seed, Japanese seed and gemstone beads, plus a full selection of stringing supplies and jewelry findings.