Pearl jewelry adds a classic, feminine, finishing touch to any outfit. Though we often give credit to Coco Chanel and Audrey Hepburn for their iconic strings of pearls, we should really pay tribute to a man named Kokichi Mikimoto. Until Mikimoto figured out a way to “grow” pearls, they were so rare that only ultra-wealthy could afford them. Thanks to Mikimoto, pearls have become an everyday luxury. Here’s a little background on pearls, where to buy them, how to care for them and when to wear them…
What Is A Pearl?
The pearl is the only jewel that comes from a living creature, usually an oyster. (Mussels and clams can also produce pearls). Only one in 10,000 oysters produce a pearl, so natural pearls are rare and expensive. But, in 1893 Kokichi Mikimoto created the cultured pearl by planting a nucleus inside an oyster to stimulate the growth of a pearl. Once he perfected his method, he was able to develop pearl farms, and start his jewelry company Mikimoto.
Cultured Pearls Vs. Manmade Pearls
Each cultured pearl is unique, so if you see perfectly uniform pearls, they are probably made of plastic or glass. Sometimes, you can figure out whether a pearl is an imitation by the price, but not always. At first glance, you might be surprised that Banana Republic’s acrylic Pearl Studs Earrings are more expensive than their Classic Freshwater Pearl Studs. (In this case, the size and the details in the acrylic ones, make them more expensive.)
When you are shopping online, the description “pearly” or “pearlette” will tell you that the pearls are an imitation, like these Kate Spade Pearlette Delicate Stud Earrings. You can these with any outfit, but not in the shower or during a workout! (See my care tips at the end of this post.)
Mother of Pearl can be carved, like this Tous Bear Pendant.
For a night out, dress up a little black dress with Banana Republic’s Mother Of Pearl Statement Earrings.
Pearl Shapes And Colors
Round cultured pearls are probably the most iconic. They come in a variety of sizes and are never perfect spheres.
$ This Macy’s Belle De Mer bracelet combines tiny round pearls with larger ones.
$$ Natasha Schweitzer’s Selene Freshwater Pearl Hoop Earrings have pearls suspended on a delicate chain.
Coin pearls are flat cultured pearls. (Mine are from Banana Republic and currently sold out online).
Baroque Pearls are pearls that are any shape but spherical. This includes seed pearls (that look like little grains of rice), teardrop-shaped pearls, egg-shaped pearls.
$$$ This Ruby and Pearl Petal Ring has the most unusual shaped pearl!
Cultured pearls can be white, gray, blue, green, champagne, lavender, black or pink!
Macy’s Cultured Freshwater Pearl Stud Earrings is a set of gray, white and pink pearls.
$ This Bloomingdales Pink Pearl Bracelet is delicate and feminine.
Where To Buy Pearl Jewelry
If you’re looking for iconic luxury pieces, you’ll find Mikimoto pearls, both on their website as well as authorized retailers. Nordstrom has a range of Mikimoto pearl jewelry from Akoya Pearl Stud Earrings starting at $300 to Diamond Drop Earrings that are over $6,000!
For cultured pearls, I suggest going into a store to pick out just what you want. As much as I love shopping online, I have a hard time trying to imagine the difference between 3mm pearls and 4mm pearls! If you do buy them online, read the descriptions carefully so that you know what you’re actually getting.
I’m always on the lookout for unique handmade jewelry and found these pearl ear crawlers at a craft festival near us. The company, Ear Divine does have a website, but they only have a small sample of their pieces online. Contact them for other options.
Care and Maintenace
With proper care, your cultured pearls will last a lifetime. Here are some basic tips, for preserving your pearl jewelry:
- Put your jewelry on last to avoid spraying them with cosmetic or hair products.
- Pearls are porous, so don’t wear them while you shower, in high humidity or if you’re going to work up a sweat. Wipe them with a soft cloth after you wear them. (Imitation pearls can also be damaged by water, so you’ll have to take those off too.)
- Don’t store cultured pearls in an airtight bag or moisture-free environment (like a safe), as they can dehydrate.
- Store them in their own box, so no other jewelry can scratch them.
If “diamonds are a girl’s best friend”, I think “pearls are like a sister!” What do you think about pearl jewelry? Do you prefer imitation pearls or cultured ones? Leave me a comment and let me know!
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Don’t forget to check out my Pinterest Board Jewelry And Accessories where I’ve pinned several more pearl jewelry options.