For more than 2000 years Pearls have been used as a symbol of love, success, social rank, and have therefore been used to enhance many royal crowns – including most English ones – for centuries. they have long been associated with purity and beauty, and although they fell out of favour for a while during the early part of last century, they are now firmly back in fashion. However the fashions of pearls has stepped aside from the traditional styles and more common now are the freshwater and baroque styles despite or perhaps because of their imperfect nature. That’s not to say there is not a huge appreciation of and associated high value still placed on traditional pearls.
Cultured and natural pearls start their life when an irritant, either a grain of sand or a placed seed pearl finds it’s way into a live oyster, muscle, or similar mollusk. As a natural pearl (the irritant is usually naturally placed there and not by means of human interference) there is higher value placed on them. The recipient oyster will try to reject the irritant and in so doing produces nacre, which hardens and builds up in layers resulting in the pearl finish. The final lustre of the Naycre (pronounced NAYkur) determines the shine of the pearl and therefore the final value. It’s impossible to overstate how important the finish is to the value of both natural and cultured pearls.
Pearls for Kings and Sultans
Natural pearls are extremely rare and historically have been found in most abundance outside the Pacific in the Persian Gulf. Through trade and plunder they often found their way into the crowns of royalty around the world, turbans of India, and notably the crown of Elizabeth 1 of England. Back in the days of medieval Europe pearls were high on the list of most desired evidence of wealth and inspired an unquenchable appetite for them.
Through later years the art of creating pearls through the ‘cultured’ pearl process as described above and the Japanese excelled at the craft. The first Akoya pearls were cultured in the early 1920s and is it said their white colour and rose overtone greatly complimented a fair complexion. Akoya pearls are regarded as the highest standard of cultured pearl and one name stands out above all others in this industry – and that name is Mikimoto.
Any set of pearls – from an antique collectors point of view – needs to be well matched in size, with solid gold clasps (or earring posts) and often with Mikimoto Pearls in particular, you will generally find a deeper and more beautiful lustre, with very few blemishes.
One thing that adds to the value of any set of pearls, and the high quality ones in particular, is that over 10,000 individual pearls may be sorted before a 16″ single strand of beautifully matched pearls is assembled. Therefore even cultured pearls of high quality can be very expensive.
My advice if your pearls need to be restrung is to use a restringer who only works with natural silk and who only places a single knot between each pearl. It if my personal opinion that double-knotting takes from the look of pearls and casts the eye to the knots more than to the actual pearl. It’s also important to consider how the string is inevitably attached to the clasp. If it is simply knotted to a metal clasp your chance of wear and tear and eventual breakage is increased significantly. I personally insist all of our pearl strrands are ‘gimped’. Gimping is where the restringer will use a flexible beading wire that the string can run through at the point it joins the clasp, so protecting it from wear. This attention to detail is the sign of a high quality restringer at work, vs a shoddy back yard worker. When it comes to pearls, it’s best to pay for the better quality option to preserve their value in the long term.