& Pearl Terms

Common-pearl-words often used when discussing and describing pearls are listed below.

Any surface defect on a pearl. Blemishes can include spots, bumps, pits, holes, cracks, chips, wrinkles and dull spots.

One of the most important factors in classifying pearls. While pearls traditionally were thought mainly to be white (with some exquisite pinks and blacks also well-known), nowadays pearls come in all colors. The most

common are still white (which are often bleached at source), and there are many shades of natural color pearls (ranging from peach to champagne to rose to purple). Dying techniques have advanced to the point that pearls are now available in any color of the rainbow, some of which are quite dazzling. Normally, the dying process involves soaking the pearls for a day in dye until it permeates the inside of the pearl; then baking the color in so it won’t rub off or fade.

One of the most important common-pearl-words. Pearls that are grown inside a mollusk when a foreign item has been surgically implanted by human means. Cultured pearls are grown on pearl farms where several thousand mollusks can be implanted and cared for over the 2-5 years required for a pearl to develop. Cultured pearls were generally thought of as expensive, high-end pearls, and the word is still used widely with that higher value in mind. But in a sense, all pearls grown on pearl farms are cultured – the word simply refers to those grown with human intervention rather than occurring randomly in nature.

A type of treatment that changes a pearl’s color. It is usually used to create pearls with colors that cannot be made naturally, including dazzling metallic green, bright orange, wine purple, and so on.

Pearls that come from freshwater mollusks (not oysters, which are in salt water only) and cultivated in lakes and rivers, not in the ocean. They are often somewhat less lustrous than their saltwater counterparts. However, they appear in a wide variety of shapes and colors, and they tend to be less expensive than saltwater pearls, making them quite popular. Freshwater pearls are also quite durable, resisting chipping, wear, and degeneration. A single mollusk can produce up to 50 pearls. The quality of freshwater pearls is improving each year, and it is getting more difficult to tell the difference between them and their saltwater cousins. One of the most often used common-pearl-words.

Simulated pearls manufactured entirely by man or machine. They have no real value as a gemstone. They can be made from glass, ceramic, shell, or even plastic. The bead is then coated with varnish and/or other materials in order to produce a pearl-like luster and iridescence. A common test to determine whether a pearl is genuine or imitation consists of scraping the pearl gently across one's teeth. Imitation pearls feel smooth to the tooth, while genuine pearls feel slightly gritty or abrasive. Also, if the pearls are perfectly smooth, round and uniform, they are likely imitation pearls, unless you paid $10,000 for the strand!

One of the most important factors determining the value of a pearl, luster refers to the reflective quality or brilliance of the surface of a pearl. Luster is related to the thickness and quality of the outer layers of nacre which capture and throw back the light, giving pearls their unique and awesome “glow.” The more lustrous the pearl, the more it shines and reflects light and images. The more brilliant and mirror-like the surface of the pearl, the higher its quality and value. Pearls with low luster appear white or chalky, rather than brilliant and shiny. Though luster is not the same as “surface”, the two are related and the luster is usually diminished by surface imperfections. Luster is one of the most important of the common-pearl-words.

A standard metric measurement of length used to determine a pearl's diameter. Often expressed as "mm," whereby one "mm" equals 1/25th of an inch. One of the few objectively measured of the common-pearl words.

The basic substance that is secreted by oysters and mollusks to form the inside of their shells. It is the same substance that also forms pearls. Mother-of-pearl and pearl are two common-pearl-words often mistakenly used to mean the same thing.

pronounced “nayker”) - Also known as mother-of-pearl, it is a combination of calcium carbonate and organic substances secreted by certain species of mollusk. It is used both as a means to smooth the animal’s shell and as a defense against irritation caused by foreign objects. The nacre is the essential material forming the outer layers of pearls, and a pearl’s value is partly determined by the thickness of the nacre.

Pearls that are formed more or less randomly in nature when some sort of irritant becomes lodged in the tissue of an oyster or mollusk. In response to the irritation, the oyster secretes nacre, which gradually builds up in layers around the irritant. Over a period of several years, this build-up of nacre forms a pearl. One of the most misused of the common-pearl-words.

The quality or value of a pearl is measured according to a combination of several different factors: the type of pearl, its luster, the cleanliness and texture of its surface, its shape (the rounder the better), its color, and its size.

A surface quality that consists of concentric indentation or rings that develops on some pearls. This usually brings down the overall quality and value of a pearl. The deeper the rings (they can more accurately be called grooves!), the lower the value. But many creative designers often see special beauty and uniqueness in the rings. The rings are sometimes called “growth rings” or even “love rings.”

One of the important factors determining the quality and value of a pearl. The most valuable pearls are round. However, other shapes of pearls include near-round, drop, oval, button, nugget, rice and baroque. Freshwater cultured pearls are grown in all of these shapes as well as new, creative forms such as stick, angel-wing, cross and coin shapes. Many common-pearl-words are used to describe pearl shape.

One of the important factors determining the quality and value of a pearl. Size descriptions are expressed in millimeter, and typically apply to the diameter of a pearl. Pearls over 8mm are usually considered “big”, and the bigger the pearl, the more valuable it can be. However, it is more difficult to find perfection in bigger pearls.

One of the important factors determining the quality and value of a pearl, referring to the amount of blemishes on the surface. Few pearls are perfect, but the surface should be smooth and clean, without bumps, spots, discolorations, or other disfiguring characteristics. It should also be shiny and reflective, rather than dull and chalky. “Luster” is not the same as “surface” but is nevertheless affected by surface imperfections. "Surface" and "luster" are two very closely related common-pearl-words.

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