Welcome to Gemstones 101, a series at Takayas Custom Jewelry where we shed a little light on the amazing gemstones we love to feature in our jewelry projects. This week’s entry puts the spotlight on a particular jewel some might argue isn’t technically a gemstone, but can certainly stand with the best of them – June’s birthstone, the elegant pearl!
Although just about every type of shelled mollusk can produce a pearl, only a select few species create the beautifully iridescent concretions we value and wear, Ocean-dwelling pearl oysters obviously tend to be the first that come to mind; these particular bivalves contain a shimmering inner coating on their shells known as nacre, or mother-of-pearl. This coating is composed of hexagonal platelets of calcium carbonate, which, when an irritant is introduced inside the shell, also forms around the culprit to protect the oyster from harm. The resulting ball of nacre is strong, resilient, and shiny, making for a lovely pearl!
The most valuable pearls of all occur in the wild, with a perfectly round shape stunning mirror-like luster. “Natural” pearls like these, however, are also exceedingly rare, and the majority of pearls for sale today are actually “cultured” or “farmed” pearls. The grown akoya pearls of Japan were the first cultured pearls to hit the market in the early 1900s, bringing the formerly astronomical cost of these jewels down to a price your average American socialite could afford… and the rest is history.
While the species and the basic process behind the formation of a pearl in the wild and in captivity are the same, the pearls themselves have a markedly different inner structure. You can even verify this difference with an X-ray examination! Imitation pearls are also out there, created with materials such as mother-of-pearl, coral or conch shell, or glass coated with a solution containing fish scales.
With a reputation long outlasting even diamonds, pearls possess some serious culture capital. Hunters have dived into the Indian Ocean on the search for pearls for thousands of years; Julius Caesar was brought to Britain in part from the lure of pearls; and pearls have occupied a storied place in royal houses and religions around the world. A symbol of beauty, rarity, and elegance, the meaning of pearls even finds its way into our names, such as Margaret!
For you lucky individuals born in the month of June, the possibilities for crafting your own piece of birthstone jewelry can go beyond your standard white pearl necklace. Make a single natural pearl the center of a statement ring, dangle uniquely shaped baroque pearls from a pair of earrings, or string together a selection of multicolored pearls for a playful bracelet! It’s totally up to you.