Nacre v faker

Seawater v freshwater - Mussels v Oysters

Natural colour v dyed

Good v bad pearls

Caring for your pearls

When describing pearls there is often some confusion over the terms

real, natural and cultured.

Natural pearls are created by the mollusc alone, with no intervention from man –

they are extremely rare and very expensive.

Nowadays the vast majority of the world’s pearls are cultured – where something has been implanted into the mollusc stimulating it to produce nacre – and thus, a pearl.

Whether seawater or freshwater, cultured pearls are the pearls most readily available today.

Natural and Cultured pearls are both real in the sense that they grow inside a mollusc –

imitation pearls do not.

All the pearls used in my jewellery are real cultured pearls, mostly freshwater.

They are available in an infinite variety of colours, both dyed and natural,

and many fascinating and inspiring shapes and sizes.

Nacre v faker

A real pearl is made up of Calcium Carbonate (91.5%), water, and organic substances.

More specifically there is Conchiolin - a protein, Calcite crystals and Aragonite platelets, and traces of minerals - eg strontium, magnesium, barium, copper, zinc, manganese, etc.

These trace elements are an indication of the water where the pearl was grown.


The substance found on the shell that we call 'Mother of Pearl'

is called Nacre when it is on the pearl itself.

There are thousands of layers of 'nacre' within a pearl and it is this build up of layers

 that give the pearl a good lustre - its unique and characteristic deep glow.


A fake, or simulated, or beware of 'semi-cultured' pearl could be made of anything and has never seen the inside of a mollusc.

Fakes have been around since Roman times, made of shells, teeth, fish eyes, spar, alabaster and glass.

'Pearlessence' - crushed fish scales mixed with a kind of glue is often used to coat glass beads.


With seawater cultured pearls there are two elements implanted into an oyster in order to produce a pearl. A minute section of oyster tissue - usually from the mantle - and a shell bead.

With freshwater cultured pearls there is only one element implanted into an oyster - a tiny piece of mantle tissue.

A freshwater pearl is nearer to a natural pearl, as there is no shell bead involved, and therefore, the nacre is much thicker.



Seawater v freshwater - Mussels v Oysters

In seawater, oysters are used for growing pearls.

The ubiquitous Akoya pearl - round and white, is grown in the oyster Pinctada Martensii.

The very large South Sea pearl is grown in the largest of all oysters Pinctada Maxima, (silver-lipped) which can grow to 12" across.

The Black Tahitian pearl is grown in Pintada Margaritifera, an oyster with a black lip,

allowing it to produce dark nacre.


There is also the Golden Philippine pearl which is grown in Pinctada Maxima, (gold-lipped).

The range of colours available in seawater pearls has always been less interesting to the designer than the wonderful colours available in freshwater pearls, with the exception, of course, of the naturally dark, Black Tahitian pearls.

Freshwater, or Mussel pearls (a different species from the ones that you eat),

were originally grown in Cristaria Plicata, which produced the wrinkly rice pearls popular in the 70s. Nowadays, they are grown mostly in two different mussels,

Hyriopsis Schlegelii, and Hyriopsis Cumingii.

Natural colour v dyed

The word natural has two different meanings in the pearl world.

There are natural pearls as already described, and there are natural colour pearls,

which are pearls that have not been dyed.


In real cultured freshwater pearls natural colours vary from white, through cream, gold, pink, apricot, lavender and a deep purple.

There are no natural colour black pearls in freshwater pearls - these have always been dyed.


In seawater pearls there are natural black pearls - called Black Tahitian pearls.

These vary in colour from silvery grey, through blue, green, aubergine and a deep black.

Good v bad pearls

LUSTRE - This means the 'deep glow' that comes from the centre of a pearl.

Compare the 'shine' on a gold bead to the depth of the glow in a pearl.

A good lustre implies many layers of nacre, and therefore a pearl that will last a long time.

A chalky area on a pearl implies that there is very thin nacre.


ORIENT - This means the play of colours and light across the surface of the pearl.

A pearl can be described as 'white/rose'.

This means that the base colour is white, but the play of colour across the surface is pink.


SURFACE - A pearl may have flaws and still be very beautiful, or the flaws may ruin the look.

The longer a pearl remains in the mollusc, the more likely it is that it will develop flaws.


COLOUR - This is really a matter of choice, but be careful when you are offered black pearls.

And DON'T buy pearls on the beach… unless they don't cost much.


SHAPE - Pearls come in all shapes and sizes, and this is also a matter of preference.

Baroque, or misshapen pearls, can be very interesting, and often produce very special pieces of jewellery.


SIZE - In the pearl world, size does matter.

The larger the pearl, the more expensive it is likely to be. BUT a small, very lustrous, natural pearl, would always cost more than a very large, indifferent cultured pearl.



Caring for your pearls

1. Keep your pearls in a soft pouch on their own, not with other jewellery, as they can easily be scratched by gemstones.


2. Put your make-up, hairspray and perfume on first, and put your pearls on just before you go out. Do not spray perfume onto your pearls. Beware of vinegar in salad dressings. Beware of chlorine in swimming-pools.


3. Do not keep pearls in a hot, dry place. Remember where they come from.


4. It is a good idea to wipe your pearls with a soft, damp cloth before putting them away, to remove the sweat and dirt that will accumulate over time.


5. Have your pearls re-strung once a year.


6. Pearls like to be worn.  



Unusual 'Cross' pearl necklace with freshwater pearls and 9ct gold by Maxine Symons Maxine Symons - Silver hammered leaf with white freshwater baroque pearls Necklace with 'cross' pearl and silver Marquise drop by Maxine Symons Natural coloured freshwater pearls  in a necklace made by Maxine Symons Triple-strand 'Cornflake' pearl necklace with Spinel rondelles by Maxine Symons Lovely natural coloured freshwater pearls in a necklace made by Maxine Symons Dyed black freshwater pearls and white drop pearl in a bracelet by Maxine Symons Maxine Symons - Necklace and earrings with dyed black freshwater pearls and white pearl drops Silver leaf earrings with white pearls by Maxine Symons Handmade silver earring hooks with white baroque pearls by Maxine Symons Silver earring hooks with Celtic patterned drops and white pearls by Maxine Symons Unusual 'cross' pearl earrings in natural colours by Maxine Symons 9ct gold earrings with white pear-shaped pearls by Maxine Symons Beautiful natural coloured large freshwater pearls in a necklace by Maxine Symons Freshwater 'cornflake' pearls with Spinel rondelles by Maxine Symons Wonderful lustre on very light peach pearls in a necklace by Maxine Symons 'Cornflake' pearls in natural-coloured oranges and apricots in a necklace by Maxine Symons Maxine Symons - necklace of flat white baroque pearls maxine Symons - sterling silver ring with Black Tahitian seawater pearl Natural coloured peach pearls in a double strand necklace made by Maxine Symons Maxine Symons - Lovely, unusual-coloured Black Tahitian pearl with 18ct gold textured with Cornish Granite Maxine Symons - necklace with Light pink freshwater pearls with ribbons of 9ct gold and large baroque pearl Silver moon pendant with dyed black freshwater pearl by Maxine Symons Maxine Symons - unusual sterling silver triangle necklace with Celtic patterns & purple freshwater pearl Maxine Symons necklace with Black Tahitian pearl and silver Marquise drop Mxine Symons - Mistletoe necklace with textured sterling silver & white round freshwater pearls  Dyed black freshwater pearls with silvery-grey Black Tahitian pearl and  
18ct gold necklace by Maxine Symons Textured silver leaf with white pearls in a necklace by Maxine Symons 9ct gold necklace with 'Bud' pendant and freshwater pearls by Maxine Symons Purple coin pearl with textured silver ribbons by Maxine Symons Necklace with unusual dyed copper-coloured freshwater pearls and 9ct gold by Maxine Symons Bracelet with porcelain beads by Jane Suchodolski, pearls and gemstones
by Maxine Symons Necklace made with four strands of tiny white pearls and polished Bog Oak from Samvado - designed by Maxine Symons Maxine - Large silver leaf earrings with black pearls and 9ct gold 'pins'  Earrings made by Maxine Symons with porcelain shapes by Jane Suchodolski