Cultured Freshwater Pearl Meaning and Properties

Cultured Freshwater Pearls History

Pearls are one of the earliest gemstones found by prehistoric peoples, most likely along the coastline of India. They've been used for personal adornment and coveted by humans throughout the globe for hundreds of thousands of years.

Ancient myths tell of pearls being formed when oysters opened their shells, rose to the water's surface and were seeded by the early morning rays of sunlight and drops of dew. Legends tell of Cleopatra dissolving a pearl in wine or vinegar, and then drinking it, to flaunt her wealth. Western cultures speak of "pearls of great price" and that "the acquisition of wisdom is above that of pearls." In India, the god Krishna plucked the first pearl from the sea for his daughter's wedding jewelry.

The Roman Emperor Vitellius financed an entire military campaign by selling his mother's earrings (hopefully with her permission). Pearls were found clutched in the hands, or hanging from the ears and necks, of the dead at Pompeii and Herculaneum. In Japan, traditional Ama pearl hunters dive 30 feet without breathing equipment--as they have for the past 2,000 years!

Pearls are the gemstone for the western Zodiac sign Cancer, the month of June, and the third wedding anniversary.

Explore the timeless beauty of cultured freshwater pearls, known as June's birthstone. Delve into their fascinating world, including information on grading, proper care and cleaning techniques, and even learn how to create a stunning pair of pearl drop earrings.

Cultured Freshwater Pearls Metaphysical Properties

Some healers use pearls to help balance body rhythms and hormone levels with lunar cycles, and to harmonize human beings with the natural world. The inner glow (orient) of pearls is thought to tap inner wisdom and nurture love. Pearls are also believed to signify innocence and faith.

Practitioners use pearls to enhance personal integrity, bring truth forward, grow sincerity, inhibit immodest behavior and advance in wisdom.

Natural pearls are still ground up and used in medicine and beauty treatments, as they are a source of pharamaceutical calcium and natural iridescence. They are thought to relieve bloating, increase fertility and ease childbirth.

Cultured Freshwater Pearls Geological Properties

Pearls are one of a few natural or organic gemstones (others include coral, amber, jet and mother-of-pearl). Produced by the pearl oyster and the freshwater pearl mussel, natural pearls are a small irritant within the oyster or mussel which has been coated with nacre to reduce that irritation. Concentric layers of nacre (composed mostly of the mineral aragonite) create the subtle iridescence and illusion of visual depth in pearls (called "pearlescence").

Natural or "wild" pearls are rare and valuable so most pearls today are cultured. Saltwater and freshwater mollusks are collected and a small shell bead placed inside. Saltwater oysters can usually only generate a single cultured pearl at a time, while the much larger freshwater mussels can produce up to 20--which is why freshwater pearls are much less expensive. The mollusks are then returned to the water where they make the pearl. Layers of calcium carbonate are secreted, coating the piece of shell, to form a spherical, oblong or irregular-shaped (or "baroque") pearl. It takes roughly 3 to 7 years for mollusks to produce a single pearl. The color of the pearl varies depending on the type of mollusk. (The oysters and mussels that make the pearls are not related to the edible varieties of oysters and mussels.)

Most natural and cultured freshwater pearls are found in the waters of Japan, China and the South Seas; however, many are harvested along the coasts of Australia and the rivers of Austria, France, Scotland and Ireland. Cultured freshwater pearls are also grown along the Mississippi River in the United States.

Chemical Composition Calcium Carbonate (CaCO3), organic substances, water
Appearance White, pink, silver, cream, gold, green, blue, black; translucent to opaque
Hardness 2-1/2 to 4 (Mohs)
Specific Gravity 2.61 - 2.85 (saltwater)
Refractive Index 1.52 - 1.66
Color Varies depending on type of mollusk

Proper Care of Cultured Freshwater Pearls

Pearls are soft and should be treated delicately. Never use ultrasonic cleaners or steamers. Wipe gently with a soft cloth after each wearing or, for more thorough cleanings, use mild soap and water. If knotted, make sure cord is completely dry before wearing.

Human skin oils are one of the best things for pearls. Pearl owners should wear theirs often enough to keep them looking lustrous. Take care to not use perfumes, colognes or lotions where pearls will be touching the skin as the gems will absorb what they come into contact with. Avoid lotions and skin care products which contain citrus oils, as even mild acids can dull the surface of pearls. Always remove pearls before engaging in exercise, as perspiration can also negatively affect the surface.

To learn more about cultured freshwater pearl and other gemstones, order your copy of Walter Schumann's revised and expanded edition of Gemstones of the World.

Designing with Cultured Freshwater Pearls

So many varieties, so many design possibilities! From classic knotted strands to long, colorful layers of 1920s-inspired loops, cultured freshwater pearl designs run the gamut. Contrast multiple strands of pink pearls with black onyx or, for a more subtle emphasis, mix warm-toned pearls with carnelian beads. White and cream-colored pearls are radiant against pastel gems such as lavender amethyst, aquamarine or peach moonstone and pop next to gold. They're elegantly timeless when mixed with marcasite-set sterling silver and historically fascinating when used with metal clay.

Why limit this gem to jewelry?

Pearls are the perfect embellishment for shrugs, sweaters, scarves and wraps, especially for the bride! They can either blend with the color of the material or contrast with the fabric to bring out their color. Teardrop pearls and Delica® seed beads are idea for fringe and pearls work gorgeously with the sparkle of crystal beads and components.

Protect your cultured freshwater pearls and other gemstones by knotting between beads with a bead-knotting tool. Knotting also adds length and drape, so you can use fewer pearls and have greater movement between each gem.

View design inspirations featuring cultured freshwater pearls in the Gallery of Designs

Shop for Cultured Freshwater Pearls Items

**Please note that all metaphysical or healing properties listed are collected from various sources. This information is offered as a service and not meant to treat medical conditions. Fire Mountain Gems and Beads® does not guarantee the validity of any of these statements.

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