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