Pearls & Chalcedony

This month's theme is June's birthstone pearls + graceful chalcedony. Scroll down, or click one of the links below. We have simplified the front page & added new categories to make it easier for you - like Choose by Shape. Please see the new look at:

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Pearls for the Spring
Where do Pearls Come From?
Knotting a Pearl Necklace
How to Tell Real Pearls from Fake Pearls
Pearl Folk Lore
Pearl Care
Special $12 Offer

Pearls for the Spring
Pearl jewelry is great for the spring, as fresh and as crisp as the air. Pearls have always been popular & a classic never going out of style. There are some beautiful strands of pearls these days, with amazing shapes and colors in freshwater pearls. Like pink, peach, lavender, blue, and even yellow. At one time freshwater pearls were only available as white rice shaped. Until advanced dyes in China now produce almost any color under the sun.

I believe today's popularity has a lot to do with price. Since pearls are so affordable, they can be worn by more people. Though it still takes a few years to grow a pearl, China has developed a system that has enabled them to produce large quantities cheaply. While China's pearl process has grown, Japan's pearl industry has slowed down due to water pollution and high costs.

Where do Pearls come from?
The least expensive cultured pearls today rival the most expensive natural pearls ever found. Natural freshwater pearls occur in mussels for the same reason saltwater pearls occur in oysters. Foreign material inside a mussel can't be expelled. To reduce irritation, the mollusk coats the intruder with the same secretion it uses for shell-building, nacre. To cultivate a pearl, farmers slit the mussel and insert small pieces of live tissue from another mussel.

The ancient Chinese practiced this technique, but the first real cultured freshwater pearls originated in Japan. In the 1930's, Japanese farmers by Lake Biwa achieved natural colors unseen in saltwater pearls. However, water pollution today has virtually destroyed pearl production there. China now has the resources that Japan lacks: many large lakes, rivers, and a low-cost work force. The first Chinese cultured pearls were basic, until the 1990's when China revolutionized pearling. Shapes, luster, and colors of the new Chinese pearls now surpass Biwa quality. Copying the Japanese to improve off-white and mottling, China uses a mild bleach, bright lights, and heat. Natural freshwater pearls are usually odd shapes. So for more roundness, the Chinese now reshape rejected pearls into spheres, and then nucleate mussels with them. However, the word "Biwa" can now also refer to the irregular shape of any cultured pearl.

The best pearls have thick overlapping layers of nacre. This can be tested by viewing its "luster". Roll the pearl with a pen in good light - the best pearls will reflect the pen the most. A large pearl is only more valuable if it's the same quality as a smaller one - and the rounder the better. Being an organic gem, grooves, pits, or dents are expected. However, matching color for a complete necklace is important. Freshwater pearls are popular for their colors: white, silvery-white, pink, red, copper, brown, lavender, purple, green, blue, and yellow. The most desirable are the pastel pinks, roses, lavenders, and purples. Color comes from the mussel species and water quality. Generally pearls assume the color of the shell in which they form, but permanent dyes are used today for most saturated colors.

Knotting a Pearl Necklace
If you look very closely, you'll see tiny knots in between each pearl bead on a necklace. Many of your finer beaded jewelry is knotted because knots keep the beads from rubbing against each other - and if the necklace breaks, beads won't go flying. Knotting also makes the necklace drape nicely and adds length so you need less beads. Pearls should be restrung every 1-2 years, depending on the amount of wear and the exposure to hair spray, perfume, body oils, lotions, moisture, and perspiration they receive. These elements can wear and dirty the silk and cause a potential break point for the strand.

There are a few ways to knot a beaded necklace, but I'll only tell you the easiest for beginners. First, you'll need to choose a type of cord to use. There are two types that are usually used for knotting: silk and nylon. Silk is traditional, however many complain that it snags and frays. Nylon cord can also be used. Both come in a variety of colors. They can be purchased on small cards with about 6 feet of cord and a needle attached or, for the serious knotter, larger spools can be purchased with separate needles. They also come in different sizes. The thicker cord is used for the larger beads since the holes in the beads are larger. For the beginner's technique, two strands are put through each bead, so a thinner size is needed. For 6mm beads, use size 2 for this technique, and try to match the color of the cord with the color of the beads.

A very-popular way to start any beaded necklace is with bead tips (clamp shells). The only difference here is that two strands of the cord are inserted through the bead tip instead of one. Once the necklace is started, string on a bead, and make an over hand knot. Make the knot tight so it's snug up against the bead. Continue to do this: string a bead, make an over hand knot, string a bead, make an over hand knot. That's it. Finish the necklace as you would any beaded necklace whether it's knotted or not. This beginner's way is a lot easier than using one strand of cord, and the results look almost the same.

How to Tell Real Pearls from Fake Pearls
If you are buying pearls, you may be able to identify fake pearls by their name: simulated, faux, glass, plastic, resin, artificial, manmade. Genuine pearls are usually either natural or cultured. Real pearls may come from freshwater or saltwater and from a variety of molluscs (not just oysters). They are both formed from the same material and both are found in "baroque" shapes as well as round. It is also very difficult to tell whether a pearl comes from saltwater or freshwater. To further confuse things, there are also shell pearls and genuine pearls which have been treated, such as coatings or faceting. Before you buy or sell pearls, you need to know whether they are real or not. Here are some ways to tell them apart:

Close Inspection
Take your pearls out into the sun or hold them under a bright light. Unless they are very expensive, genuine pearls won't look perfectly matched. You will be able to see variations in their iridescence (orient) and color. If the pearls are perfectly matched for color and overtones, they are most probably fake.

If your pearl seller offers expensive pearls that are perfectly matched, the cost of a gemologist certificate (from a gemologist of your choice) is a minimal part of the investment. It costs about $150 to have pearls tested, as opposed to several thousands of dollars for the type of pearls that warrant the test. An x-ray will show the inside of the pearl, including variations in density, the presence or absence of a parasite that might have caused the formation of a natural pearl, and the characteristic shapes of drill holes.

As is true with diamonds, magnification reveals a lot about the quality of a pearl. You can see the characteristic ridges and irregularities of real pearls or the grainy smoothness of fakes. You can examine drill holes to see the interface between the nacre and what lies beneath it. You can read any writing on the clasp or setting.

Cutting a pearl open will reveal its true nature. Natural pearls are comprised of many layers of nacre. Cultured pearls have a shell (mother-of-pearl) core covered with a thin layer of nacre (usually less than half a millimeter). Fake pearls have a core with one or more layers of coating applied to them, which tends to flake away from the core upon cutting.

You can also try the tooth test. Rub the surface of the pearl over your teeth. Supposedly a real pearl feels gritty while a faux pearl feels smooth. Real pearls are made up of layers of nacre that are deposited like sand on a beach. The slight waves in the nacre can produce a bumpy feeling against the teeth. However, if the pearls are dyed, the dye can fill in natural depressions, making them feel smooth. Also, some synthetic pearls are made to look and feel like real pearls.

Other Clues
Fakes usually look 'flat'. Real pearls are usually not perfect - having grooves in their nacre, bumps, ridges, or pits. They vary in size and shape from one to another. These rings and grooves of genuine pearls can make inexperienced people think the marks are from molding of a fake. Real pearls come in many shapes, tending not to be perfectly round, so a perfect sphere should be suspect. Expensive genuine pearls may be round, so you must check other clues. Some fakes are made to look irregular, and glass pearls often have flattened ends or slightly oval shapes. Also, genuine pearls tend to warm to the skin faster than glass pearls - but plastic pearls tend to feel warm right away. Real pearls are usually heavier for their size than plastic, resin, or hollow glass pearls.

Real pearls are usually drilled from both sides, to meet in the center. If you could see the cross section of the pearl, the hole may appear wider at the outside edge of the pearl than at the center (which can make stringing poorly-drilled pearls difficult). Inexpensive real pearls may be cheaper because the drill holes are not completely straight, (knotting can get around this problem when making a necklace). Holes of real pearls usually are as small as possible, since the weight of a pearl affects its price. Fakes often have larger, possibly straighter holes. The nacre of fake pearls is more likely to flake away near the drill hole than on a cultured pearl (it won't flake on a natural pearl). And holes of fake pearls usually form a shallow bowl shape, while the holes of real pearls are more likely to be flat.

If you see the Mona Lisa in someone's home, you can be pretty sure it isn't the original! Similarly, you can gain valuable clues about a pearl's authenticity by looking at its surroundings. In a finished necklace or bracelet, real pearls are more likely to have knots between each pearl than faux pearls. Real pearls are usually set in gold, silver, or platinum. You can examine clasps for stamps in the metal or for magnetism (indicating the clasp or setting contains iron as opposed to a precious metal). The clasp should have a safety mechanism, like a fish hook. Insecure clasps are not usually seen on good pearls.

Pearl Folk Lore
There are an almost infinite number of myths and folk lore associated with pearls. Many pearl web sites included their own version of pearl myths. Here are a few that I found: • Pearls have the powers of love, money, protection, and luck. • Pearls were dedicated by the Romans to Isis and they were worn to obtain her favor. • In early Chinese myths, pearls fell from the sky when dragons fought among the clouds.

Pearl Care
Special care is needed for pearls. Since they are naturally porous, it's important to make sure they do not absorb cologne, hair spray, lotions, or make up. Although oils from your skin help keep the pearls from drying out. Pearl jewelry is often purchased in a silk or felt pouch. You should keep the pearls in this to prevent scratches. To clean pearls, don't use any jewelry cleaners & wipe gently with a damp cloth. top of page

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Chalcedony - adds grace to your jewelry
Chalcedony is a very fine-grained variety of quartz. It has a waxy luster with a compact fibrous structure. Because it is also porous, it has been dyed since the Middle Ages. Natural chalcedony is usually grayish blue and sometimes with hints of pink. However, it's usually color enhanced to light blues and pale minty-greens - although these days you can also find emerald green, intense purple, tangerine, raspberry, peachy pink and other colors.

Because of its microscopic quartz crystals, chalcedony is usually semi-opaque. This adds to the gracefulness of your jewelry, since the light diffuses within the stone, making them appear very soft and glowing. Chalcedony has been used as gems for thousands of years, with many colored varieties still cut and polished as ornamental stones. However, unless it is intricately carved or featured, chalcedony is valued much less than it once was.

In the petrified forests of the American Desert Southwest, many of the original tree tissues have been replaced by chalcedony in the formation of petrified wood. What remains is a mineral replica of the original tree in various fantastic colors. The brilliant reds and greens are caused primarily by traces of iron oxides. Some of the best displays of petrified wood can be seen in eastern Arizona's Petrified Forest National Park.

It is said that chalcedony was used as a sacred stone by the Native Americas, promoting stability within the ceremonial activities of the tribe. Chalcedony is thought to augment emotional balance, vitality, stamina, endurance, kindness, charity and friendliness. It also supposedly alleviates hostilities, irritability and melancholy.

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Sample our beads with $12 off any order over $30 from our MrBead bead store, just key in "pearls" at the checkout (without the inverted commas) and click "Redeem Coupon".

Offer valid until 1st June only - so act now! Only for use in our store at the checkout and not valid with any other offers.

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