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The Secrets of Pearls
What are Cultured Pearls?
What is Mother-of-Pearl?
Knotting a Pearl Necklace
How to Tell Real from Fake Pearls
How to sell Bead Jewellery – The Bead Queen
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Pearls are expected to be expensive and in short supply
The reason is that people understand pearls are natural. However, since the 1950s, natural pearls have been cultivated by man – making them much cheaper to buy. This means that including them in jewelry, you will make you even more profit!
The pearl is the queen of gems and the gem of queens
What are Cultured Pearls?
The least expensive cultured pearls today rival the most expensive natural pearls ever found. Cultured 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 from Japan in the 1930's. Japanese farmers by Lake Biwa achieved natural colors previously 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.
China has now revolutionized pearling - shapes, luster, and colors of 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, they reshape rejected pearls into spheres, and then nucleate mussels with them.
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. Natural color comes from the mussel species and water quality – with pearls taking the color of the shell in which they form. However, permanent dyes are used today for most saturated colors.
The Best Pearls
Good 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 - the rounder the better. Being an organic gem, grooves, pits, or dents are expected. top of page
What is Mother-of-Pearl?
The shining, playful, reflected light of mother-of-pearl has attracted attention since ancient times. From then, different technology has turned mother-of-pearl into many uses, apart from jewelry. Today, it’s dyed every color under the sun - creating attractive jewelry at affordable prices.
The mollusk forms mother-of-pearl as a protective shell. Like the pearl it’s a secretion of the mantle, composed of alternate layers of calcium carbonate and conchiolin. Among the chief sources are pearl oysters from the tropical seas.
Matching pearls isn’t easy, but is important when planning jewelry. It’s an art in itself, requiring a sharp eye, excellent judgment, and experience. Try to buy all the pearls for a project at the same time, as later batches may not match your original purchase. When balancing pearls for jewelry, you need to consider:
Pearls should be restrung every few years, depending on the amount of wear and exposure to hair spray, perfume, body oils, lotions, moisture, and perspiration they receive. These elements can weaken 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 from Fake Pearls
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You can identify fake pearls by what they’re called: simulated, faux, glass, plastic, resin, artificial, manmade. Genuine pearls will be called natural, cultured, freshwater, or sea.
Real pearls may come from either freshwater or saltwater, and it’s very difficult to tell which - both form in a variety of molluscs (not just oysters). However, all grow the same way in baroque shapes as well as round. There are also shell pearls and genuine pearls which have been artificially coated or dyed. Before you deal in pearls, you need to know if they’re natural or not.
If you want to buy expensive pearls that are perfectly matched, a gemologist certificate (from one of your choice) is essential. It costs about $150 to have pearls tested, as opposed to several-thousands for the type that warrant the test. An x-ray will show variations in density the inside of the pearl, a parasite that might have caused the formation of a natural pearl, and the characteristic shapes of drill holes.
The tooth test
Rub the surface of the pearl over your teeth - 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 give a bumpy feeling against the teeth. However, if the pearls are dyed, the dye can fill in natural depressions.
Look at the pearls in bright light. Unless they’re very expensive, genuine pearls won't look perfectly matched. There will be slight variations in shape, size and color - along with grooves in their nacre, bumps, ridges, or pits. Otherwise, or if any are a perfect sphere or have a grainy smoothness: they’re suspect.
Cutting a pearl open will reveal its true nature. Natural pearls are comprised of many layers of nacre. Cultured pearls have a mother-of-pearl shell core covered with a thin layer of nacre. Fake pearls have a core with one or more layers of coating which tends to flake away on cutting.
Examine drill holes to see the nacre layers and what lies beneath. Real pearls are usually drilled from both sides to meet in the middle - making the hole appear wider at the outside edge of the pearl. Holes of fake pearls are usually strait and are more likely to be larger all the way through. The nacre of fake pearls near the drill holes, flakes away easier than on a natural pearls. And cheap real pearls may not be drilled straight, making a necklace hang badly, unless it’s knotted.
Sometimes fakes are made to look irregular, and glass pearls often have flattened ends. Genuine pearls warm to the skin faster than glass pearls - while plastic pearls tend to feel warm right away. And real pearls are usually heavier for their size than any fakes.
Other signs are in the pearl’s surroundings. A genuine pearl necklace is more likely to be knotted and set in gold, silver, or platinum. You can examine clasps for stamps in the metal or for magnetism (indicating iron as opposed to a precious metal). The clasp should have a safety mechanism, like a fish hook. No one would use insecure clasps on good pearls.
Faux pearls, although manmade, are not necessarily a cheap substitute to the real thing. They have genuine beauty of their own, looking “almost” the same as natural pearls costing thousands of dollars. They’re created by coating the outside of glass or plastic beads with essence d’orient or pearl powder. This is then dipped into various solutions of pearl film to simulate the luster of a natural pearl.
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:
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Sunday 2nd June 2013 - Cheshire Bead Fair - Nantwich Civic Hall, CW5 5DG
Sunday 9th June 2013 - Norwich MrBead Bead Show with The Bead Queen - George Hotel, Arlington Lane, Norwich, NR2 2DA
Fri, Sat & Sunday 14th, 15th & 16th June - Middlewich Folk & Boat Fair, Cheshire, CW10 9AS. A fabulous weekend of folk & roots music. We will be in the craft tent, canalside.
We will also be calling at many beading groups. If you would like us to call on your group, please e-mail or tweet or phone Nigel on 07576134264.
For details of all our 2013 bead fairs click here
See a video of our September & October bead fairs here
It just goes to show it can be done in these difficult times! You can make a lot of money selling handcrafted jeweller. There will always be a market for quality, limited-edition creations. The problem facing most crafters is finding paying customers among increasing competition.
However, like any business: some do well, while others fail. And the failure rate of new business is appalling. To succeed you need to carefully plan everything. Work long hours, minimize your costs, maximize your selling price, and market like hell.
Lorraine succeeds because she “lives and breathes” beading to the extent where she’s even making pieces while travelling on a train or watching TV. She never misses the chance to sell - attending all her local fairs as well as organizing her own when no other outlet is available. And potential customers are infected with her beading enthusiasm, resulting in excitement and trust bringing extra sales.
For inspiration and to get an idea of future trends, she studies the fashion magazines and analyzes colors and styles in high street boutiques. This ensures she stays ahead of the game and her designs don’t go out of style before they’re sold.
Lorraine understands that presentation is everything. A neat box adds to the perceived value of her jewelry, and little labels explain what her beads are made from. She also knows that customers prefer sets of a necklace with matching earrings – because these are ideal for them to give away as gifts. Price too is important - she prides herself on competitive charges. Too expensive and sales will slow, too cheap and there’s not enough profit for marketing.
YOU too can be like Lorraine. Don’t hesitate booking a fair or making jewelry – Go For It right away! Offer a wide selection of different priced jewelry to attract the most buyers. The more diverse the range, the better chance you’ll have to sell. However, ensure you have a few very-expensive items that will make your other jewelry look more affordable.
Don’t just lay your designs on a cloth. Use your creativity to arrange differently to other sellers. We have another customer who hangs her jewellery from the branches of a curly hazel tree trunk fixed to a plank of rough wood. She says it “catches people’s eye - and the more unusual the display, the better”. She lives by the sea and also uses large shells and goat horns to show her designs.
A website or online store is a must these days. If you don’t already have one – you’re losing sales. Customers that don’t buy from you right away may go online to purchase at a later date. Lorraine’s son built here a splendid internet shop with an attractive front page that changing display of all here latest designs.
See The Bead Queen in person in Norwich on 9th June - details here.
To see The Bead Queen Shop go to TheBeadQueen.co.uk
Or her US Store at TheBeadQueen.com
No minimum order, but offer only valid until Friday 31st May 2013 only - so act now!
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