No-Nonsense Fashion– Pearls

No-Nonsense Fashion -Pearls Real, cultured or fake,  pearls flatter women of any age, shape size or coloring.  Glowing with light , they  can be worn with equal ease  with casual sportswear, tailored business  suits, and  revealing evening wear. Pearls are generous, sharing their  luminous glow with your skin and  hair.  They are the ultimate team players of accessories generously complementing rather than demanding attention.

How Pearls are Made

Pearls  are created when a  tiny  foreign object ( like  grain of sand) drifts into the shell of an oyster or mussel. To ease the discomfort of the  intruder, the mollusk secretes a white crystalline substance called nacre to coat the irritant.  The layers of this material on the grain of sand eventually  produces a pearl.  In real pearls, the irritants sweep into the shell from the ocean floor.  In clutured pearls, a  tiny bead is inserted  into the oyster and allowed to mature.  After 2-3 years the oysters are harvested  and the pearls are removed.  Only x-rays can tell the difference between cultured and natural pearl– which are more than ten times more expensive than their  man-made cousins.

Shades and Shapes of Pearls

Both natural and cultured pearls come in a range of colors from silvery white to glowing dark charcoal.  The most desireable ( and costly) color  for the classic  string of pearls is the pink-hued white called roseate which is valued for its ability to warm up pale or yellow skin tones.  Silvery  or creamy white  pearls cool down and soften ruddy, rough complexions.

Its  proably not much of a surprise to  learn that as pearls get bigger, their cost grows too.   The average pearl ranges from the size of a peppercorn ( 4mm) to  the diameter of  a mature green pea ( 9mm).  Over 10 mm, the price soars  for both cultured and natural pearls.  In a necklace, the pearls are usually graduated slightly in size to drape better around the neck.



Using a technique  developed by   Mikimoto in the 1930’s, cultured pearls are produced  in the Akoya oysters that live in the shallow waters off the coast of Japan.   They are seen in a range of greys and whites, but always ask if the color is natural ( good) or  treated (less good). The best   are formed  around very tiny grains that allow many layers of ntural nacre to develop.  The less expensive cultured pearls  start with small glass balls, which need  far fewer layers of nacre to make a nice  size pearl.

* REAL PEARLSpearls in a shell

Always rare and expensive, they can only truely be distinguished from cultured pearls by an X-ray.


Mabe  pearls are  formed  on the shell of an oyster.  Round or shaped like a tear drop, they are smooth on one side and irregular on the other.  Grown on mabe  oysters, they are usually used in earrings.


Big, beautiful and rare, South Sea pearls are produced in an oyster that can be as large as a dinner plate.  Ranging from 10mm ( the size of  fresh pea) to 20mm ( think small olive) the finest South Sea pearls are perfectly round, silvery white and completely smooth. The newest South Sea pearls  are a luminous yellow and were born to be worn by blondes.


Harvested from the black-lipped oyster that lives only in the waters of Polynesia, Tahitian black pearls  range in color from medium grey to charcoal black. About the same size as South Sea pearls, they are found in round and teardrop  shapes.  Tahitian  Pearls are  used in solitaire rings, and earrings and often combined with diamonds.


These pearls have  never seen the ocean.  They are created by  dipping little glass balls into an irridescent solution  that includes  fish scales  and oyster fluids.  Althought they are  the least  expensive  type of pearls, it takes a magnifying glass  to differentiate good quality fakes from cultured  or real pearls.


Small  and irregularly  shaped, they are found naturally in Oriental freshwater mussels.  Also called Japanese freshwater pearls, they come in many shades  of white, pink and grey in square, round and oval shapes.


Irregularly shaped white and grey pearls, they are the byproducts of cultured pearl production.   They are attached to the  sides of the oyster shell and make  dynamic modern  jewelry.


Grown in American freshwater mussels these oval  and lumpy pearls are used mainly in Native American jewelry.


This is the term  given to  real, cultured or fake pearls  with a lumpy shape and  bumpy surface.  They look much better than they sound and  are beautiful in earrings, necklaces, bracelets and rings.


These gorgeous pearls have never seen the inside of an oyster. The Cadillac  of imitation pearls, they are composed of small handblown glass beds dipped 28 times in a patented ( and secret) mixture of fish scales and oyster saliva.   They are sold in a variety of sizes and colors.  As a brand names,  Majorca pearls can be more expensive than  poor quality cultured pearls.

Styling With Pearls

While holiday activities  seem to be  created to showcase your pearls,  these glowing beauties  can be worn  year round  from morning  to night.  Today I  am wearing small   white pearl stud earrings with  grey  cashmere  sweater, grey flannel   and black patant loafers as I try to complete my holiday shopping.  Tomorrow  I am wearing  my  fake pearl and diamond earrings and black velvet  shift to a  clients   birthday party at the Plaza.  When the  weather turns a bit  warmer, I love to wear a  short simple  string  of pearls with skinny black pants, white tee and a jean jacket.   In the summer  I love to  slip on a big faux pearl cuff bracelet with a  long pale linen  shift, black and  bone chanel  style flats and a black  straw tote bag.

For more  about  different types of  pearls  and their role in history  go to this terriffic  guide from  the Museum of Natural History. They  had a  glorious exhibit on pearls which is now closed, but the guide remains with  accurate  and fascinating  information.



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  1. Pingback: Rubies- The Gem that Shared Its beautyNo Nonsense Beauty Blog

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