Even before I got serious about making jewelry, I loved pearls. Not so much the traditional strand of cultured pearls (although I like those, too), but pearls that are a little different. Back in my 20s, I bought a long silver necklace made with mother of pearl freeform nuggets (I didn’t know what they were back then, but now I do) that I cherished and still remember fondly. The necklace was unusual and special. I’m not sure what ended up happening to it, but I think of it as one of the early inspirations for my work.
People often ask me about the different types of pearls I use in my work, so I decided to write about the properties of the pearls I use, how they’re created, how I use them, and why I love them. Read on to find out more and see examples of how I use these different kinds of pearls.
Properties of Pearls
Pearls are born as the result of irritation to the soft body of a mollusk. The sea animal, trying to soothe the stuck sand or speck, nourishes the irritation with a layer of nacre, followed by another and another until the pearl is formed. This is why pearls are considered to be gems of nurturing and nourishment, as their origin is a result of self-nurturing. Pearls have a centuries-long reputation for their healing properties.
Pearls are also believed to help with calming and centering as well as to nurture faith, loyalty, integrity, and purity. They have been used throughout history to help treat the digestive tract, muscular systems, and skin. Pearl powder is prized as a beauty product to help achieve even-toned skin and build mineral reserves.
Freshwater pearls are the pearls I use most in my work. I love the small imperfections and irregularities in this type of pearl, which make them beautiful and interesting. I also appreciate that no two are alike, so that when you buy a necklace made with freshwater pearls, it’s unique; no one else will have a piece exactly like yours.
Cultured freshwater pearls are grown in freshwater pearl mussels in freshwater lakes and man-made aquaculture ponds that also contain fish, shellfish and rice to support small pearl farmer collectives in China. In addition to near-round shapes, freshwater pearls come in several unusual shapes that I love.
Large and gorgeous, kasumi pearls (also called ripple pearls) are a type of freshwater pearl distinguished by their colors and iridescence. These pearls are baroque in shape (i;e., near round) and usually fairly big; starting at 9 mm, they may reach 16-18 mm. They are available in an array of colors: gold, silver, pink, bronze, copper, purple, peach, with mauve, blue and green overtones.
In addition to the color and shape of these beauties, I love that they are all so different. It’s always so exciting when I order new strands, because I never know exactly what they’re going to look like.
Stick pearls are another freshwater pearl shape that I love and am starting to use more—look for these in my upcoming fall/winter 2018 collection. Stick pearl are non-nucleated pearls of flat, elongated shape. They are made by inserting long strips of active mantle tissue into the outer mantle. This allows an elongated pearl sac to form quickly.
In addition to freshwater pearls, I also use shell pearls frequently in my pieces. Shell pearls are laboratory made from the shell of an oyster. The process of making a shell pearl involves several different stages. The raw material for the base of the pearl is the sea shell, which is coated and polished to achieve the final shape of the pearl. Because of the way they are made, shell pearls are generally a uniform round shape. They come in a variety of colors, including white, champagne, brown, gray, and black.
Much as I love freshwater pearls for their uniqueness, sometimes I want a more regular, uniform look, and that’s where shell pearls come in. I also like mixing shell pearls and freshwater pearls in some of my pieces; the juxtaposition of the irregular freshwater pearl shapes and the perfect roundness of the shell pearls results in an esthetically pleasing look.
If you love pearls as much as I do, visit my online shop and type “pearl,” freshwater pearl,” or “shell pearl” into the search bar to see all the options, and check back regularly for new pieces. I’m always finding new ways to incorporate pearls into my work!