Pearls are hard objects grown within the soft tissue of bivalve mollusks. A pearl is formed when a microscopic foreign object (usually a parasite) becomes lodged in the soft mantle tissue of the host animal. In response, the mollusk secretes nacre, made from the same calcium carbonate that makes up the ordinary shell of a mollusk, in concentric layers around the irritation, forming a pearl.
Although almost all of the 8000 different species of bivalve mollusks can produce some kind of pearl, only two groups generate gem quality material. Pearls from the sea come from a range of species collectively known as pearl oysters (Family Pteriidae), while the less valuable freshwater pearls are obtained from a few species of the freshwater pearl mussel (Order Unionida).
A natural pearl by definition is one that forms in the wild without any human intervention and appears only very rarely, with approximately one occurrence per ten thousand oysters. Because the layers of nacre tend to maintain their irregular shape around the original irritant, natural pearls that are spherical in shape are even more rare. As a result, pearls have been highly valued as gemstones for millennia and the very word "pearl" has become synonymous with any object considered rare, fine and valuable.
During the early part of the 20th century, a technique was developed for artificially culturing pearls which revolutionised the pearling industry. A foreign substance called a nucleus is inserted into the soft tissue of the bivalve, which is then returned to the water to grow. This technique can be applied to both freshwater and marine varieties and is now the primary means of obtaining pearls all over the world. Since the advent and development of the cultured pearl industry, pearls have become much more affordable. However, a set of matched natural peals can still command hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The perfect pearl is perfectly round and smooth, but many other shapes of pearls (called baroque) occur, some of which are today considered more desirable as fashions and perceptions of fashion change. Natural or cultured, pearls from the sea are traditionally valued more highly than freshwater pearls. The value of the pearls in jewellery is determined by a combination of luster, colour, size, lack of surface flaw and symmetry. All factors being equal, however, the larger and rounder the pearl the more valuable it is. Luster is also an important differentiator of pearl value: the more numerous the layers of nacre, the finer the lustre. Pearls can also occur naturally in many colours. Black pearls in particular are highly valued because of their rarity; the specific culturing process for them means they can never be mass-produced. However today pearls, especially the cultured freshwater variety, can be dyed any colour desired.
The fabulous Canning Jewel. Crafted from solid gold, diamonds, rubies and pearls and thought to have been made during the Renaissance, it was gifted to Lord Canning in India for his services to the country. The Victoria & Albert Museum in London purchased the jewel in 1935 for the then princely sum of $26,000
Cultured pearls can only be distinguished from natural pearls by x-ray examination, although it is safe to say that all pearls currently for sale on the market are cultured. Imitation or fake pearls are also widely sold today for use in inexpensive jewellery, but the quality of their lustre is generally poor and they may easily be distinguished from genuine pearls, cultured or natural. Imitation pearls are generally made of mother-of-pearl, coral or conch shell, while others are made from glass and are coated with a solution containing fish scales called essence d'Orient. They lack the weight of real pearls, and they also deteriorate in appearance with time. An easy way to distinguish a real pearl from a fake is to rub it gently backwards and forwards against the teeth. If the result is smooth, the pearl is artificial. If the pearl feels rough and gritty, the pearl is genuine.
Mary Queen of Scotts'famous rope of black pearls,stolen from her
when she fled to England
Historically pearls have been used not only for jewellery making but were also used to enhance buildings, clothing, headwear and other personal items, and were also crushed for use in cosmetics, medicines and paint formulations. The pearl is perhaps unique in being named in the sacred texts of all the worlds major religions: the Hindu, Hebrew, Islamic and Christian scriptures all make mention of pearls in metaphor, parable and as a promise of just rewards to the devout. Many famous pearls exist in history. Mary Queen of Scotts owned a famous rope string of black pearls, stolen from her when she fled to England and subsequently purchased by Elizabeth I from the courtier responsible for the theft. One of the largest ever known pearls was famously dissolved in wine and drunk by Cleopatra to impress Mark Anthony, although this was a common practice at the time amongst wealthy Romans wishing to entertain their friends. The Canning jewel is a famous piece of jewellery from the 16th century containing a large baroque pearl used as the sea god Triton's torso. The largest pearl ever found is the Pearl of Allah, taken from a giant clam in 1934 off the coast of the Philippines. Weighing almost 7 kg, the pearl is valued at US$40 million. The Hope Pearl, named for it's owner Henry Philip Hope (also the owner of the Hope Diamond) is thought to be thelargest natural saltwater pearl ever discovered. Weighing 450 carats, the Hope is a white drop-shaped blister pearl, measuring approximately 2 x 4 inches. It currently resides in the British Museum of Natural History.
Officially the largest pearl in the world, the Pearl of Allah is porcelain-like
without iridescence or nacre
As organic gems, pearls should be treated with particular care. They should never be washed or immersed in water, left in sunlight, exposed to strong perfumes or exposed to household chemicals - all of these can wear away the nacre and cause color change. As a rule of thumb, pearls should be restrung once every couple of years or as soon as the stringing thread shows signs of fraying or a build-up of grime. Wipe your string of pearls with a soft dry cloth after every outing and then store safely away until next time. Because pearls are very soft they are best stored in soft cotton or chamois pouches - never in plastic bags. Each piece of pearl jewellery that you own should be stored separately and away from other kinds of jewellery that may scratch and abrade your pearls even within their pouches.
References and Further Reading
Pearl. Wikipendia. Accessed on 10th June 2010
PearlGuide.com. Accessed on 11th June 2010
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Kashgar began through a love of travel.
In 1989 my father Bernard packed in his house painting business and set off for two years on a backpacking trek to the remotest corners of the world. When he finally arrived in the oasis city of Kashgar, China, he was so impressed with its history that he decided to start a new life collecting and selling exotic goods from all over the world. For 2000 years the legendary city of Kashgar was a melting pot of ideas and a key trading post on the historic Silk Road. It was this unique combination of philosophy and trade that my father wanted to recreate at home.
Starting in markets in 1991, he opened his first store in the Sydney suburb of Newtown in 1994. I gave up my own career as a government scientist to join him in 2000 and soon convinced my partner Ian to join us in what was to become the Family Business.
Today our version of Kashgar stocks a hugely diverse range of furniture, rugs, textiles, antiques, handicrafts and jewellery sourced from over twenty different countries including India, Nepal, Tibet, China, Thailand, Burma, Laos, the Philippines, Vietnam, Mexico, Peru, Turkey, Palestine, Syria, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. Our collection includes contemporary and tribal silver and gold jewellery, a unique range of headhunting curios, antique Buddhist relics and a collection of one-off necklaces, earrings and bracelets that I design and create myself using the beads and jewellery making techniques of ethnic minorities from around the globe.
Kashgar is a philosophy as well as a store. We are committed to supporting traditional artisans and small village communities by selling authentic handcrafted goods which are personally collected by us. By supporting traditional methods of design and production we hope to encourage local cottage industries which have a low impact on the environment and help ethnic minorities maintain their self-sufficiency into the 21st Century. We are particularly committed to assisting women around the world and to this end have worked with several organisations including the Hua Bin Women's Union of Vietnam, the East Timorese Women's Association and Tikondane in Zambia. Time honoured means of craftsmanship and traditional ways of life are disappearing as people all over the world give up their identity in favour of jeans and T-shirts. We see our trade as a means of staving off the inevitable encroachment of the 21st century, assisting communities to decide for themselves which parts of the western world they wish to incorporate (medicine, education) and which they wish to reject (prostitution, drug production, begging and servitude to warlords). We encourage our customers to think of the handicrafts and artifacts they buy from us as an investment: a piece of history and a way of life that may soon be gone forever.
Kashgar has recently closed its retail outlet and gone completely online.
In the past our pieces appeared in many movies including The Hobbit, Mission Impossible 2, Queen of the Damned, Scooby Doo, Moulin Rouge and Wolverine, and in many televisions series, as well as in plays, commercials and exhibitions. We've found special pieces for individual customers as well as for film sets, event management companies, hotels, businesses, consulates and embassies. The uniqueness of our stock means that we are also very appealing to interior and fashion designers with a taste for the exotic.
There is something for everyone at Kashgar - collectors, the curious, those looking for a special present or for something unique to adorn the home. Most of our items are one-off specialties; other pieces we only stock in small quantities so as to continuously offer a wide and ever-changing range of interesting products. We are also packed with ideas for decorating home and work premises that will challenge your established concepts of design and storage.
Please enjoy - Linda Heaphy
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