About Pearls

South Sea pearls
  • Of all the pearls across the globe, there is one that is rare and revered. In the pristine waters where the temperature is gentle and the atmosphere nurturing, there is a pearl with a strange perfection which bears the fingerprint of forever, the South Sea pearl
  • The South Sea pearl is a labour of love, spending two silent years within the host oyster- the Pinctada maxima or the Pinctada margaritifera. The breathtaking gift that is finally delivered into our world is well worth the wait
  • Each pearl is judged and valued on five specific virtues Shine, Surface, Shade, Shape and Size

Lustre is the result of light reflected from the pearl's surface combined with its deep inner glow. South sea pearls are made up of many fine layers of a crystal like substance called nacre, comprising of organic and inorganic materials secreted from within the living tissue of the oyster. The quality and thickness of nacre gives a pearl both its radiance and its deep glow. The combination of light reflecting on the pearl's surface and light refracting between each layer of nacre within the pearl is what makes the gem unique. Lustre has the magic to minimise other imperfections and is considered the soul of the pearl SHINE

There are five broad categories of lustre

  1. BRILLIANT LUSTRE: producing a mirror reflection
  2. EXCELLENT LUSTRE: producing a very clear reflection
  3. GOOD LUSTRE : producing a good reflection
  4. AVERAGE LUSTRE: producing a opaque reflection
  5. POOR LUSTRE: producing very little reflection

The surface of a pearl is essentially its skin. Because South sea pearls have layers of lustrous nacre built up over time, a flawless surface is extremely rare. As pearls are a gift of nature from a living mollusc, the most beautiful and valuable pearls may still have slight imperfections which appear in the form of small blemishes. These naturally bestowed "beauty marks" characterise each pearl as an individual creation. Blemishes come in many varieties. The most common blemishes are listed below

  1. Spot: the most common type of blemish, which usually appears as a shallow hole, a sunken area or a small indented scar on the pearl's surface
  2. Bump: a blemish resembling a raised scar or blister. Bumps are uneven and sometimes discoloured areas of the pearl's surface
  3. Chip: an area of the pearl's surface which appears to be cut out or chipped off
  4. Scratch: a mark resembling a line produced by scratching
  5. Wrinkle: small creases on the pearl's outer layer producing a crumpled or shrunken appearance
Pearl Grain
  • The pearl grain refers to the composition of the pearl's skin and its structure. The tighter the structure of the pearl ,the less evident is its grain. The grain will appear as slight ripples on the pearl's surface
  • In cases where the grain is only just visible , it will give the pearl a slightly fractured appearance. As these fractures become larger and more evident, they will appear as cracks within the structure of the pearl
  • CL (CLEAR) No pearl grain visible
  • VSL (VERY SLIGHT) Very slight pearl grain visible
  • SL (SLIGHT) Slight pearl grain visible on 305 of the pearl's surface
  • MD) MEDIUM) Medium pearl grain visible on 50% or more of the pearl surface
  • HY (HEAVY) Heavy pearl grain on entire pearl surface

The species of oyster and the environment in which they grow are the main factors behind determining pearl's colour and complexion. South Sea pearls are highly coveted for their rich varied colours. Pearls from the Pinctada maxima oyster come in shades of white, ivory, silver, blue, yellow and rich gold. Pearls from the Pinctada margaritifera oyster come in shades of aubergine, blue, green, and grey, all with various hues. Every pearl reflects colour in a different way -boldly on the surface or hinting at hues from within layers of nacre.

Colour Depth/Variations

All of the base colours come in dark and light forms. Some South sea pearls may be labeled as intense when their colour is extremely deep or light when there is a soft hint of colour. Variations of these colours occur often and in some cases two colours can be combined

    • South Sea pearls often show beautiful iridescent overtones, especially pinks and greens. These hues come from the layered structure of nacre and the behaviour of light as it reflects from both the upper and lower layers of the pearl's surface.
    • In some cases, more than one hue is visible. To categorise this, the dominant hue will be listed first followed by the more subtle hue, this is classified as Slight
    • Colour is a highly subjective quality and current market demands may result in higher prices for some colours other others.
    • However it is important to remember that although colour adds to the beauty of a pearl, it does not solely determine its allure. Shine, Surface, Shade, Shape and Size combine to make each South Sea pearl unique
    • Examples of colours
    • South Sea pearls come in a variety of shapes, making them an incredibly difficult gem to classify without a professionally trained eye. A product of nature, each pearl is individual and unique . The major categories of south Sean pearl shapes are round, near round, drop, button, baroque and circle
    • Pearls are formed in oysters seeded with a spherical bead( nucleus) made from fresh water mussel shell. Only a small percentage of harvested pearls are perfectly round. As a broad principle, a pearl is considered Round when the variation in its diameter is less than 2.5%. Therefore, a pearl measuring lOmm can up to a 0.025mm variance and a pearl measuring 20mm can have up to 0.05mm variance
Near Round
  • A pearl is classified Near Round rather than Round when its variance in its diameter is roughly more than 2.5%. The percentage may vary when there are lumps or slight variations to the pearl's shape. Near round pearls are ideal for jewellery and strand making as they appear round once set
  • There are several types of pearls that fall within the Drop shape category. They include , Teardrop, Oval and Egg shape pearls, as well as the more unusual Semi Drop and Cone shape pearls. While variations in the category can be quite dramatic, the one basic principle is that the vertical axis of a drop pearl must always be longer than its horizontal axis. Short Oval shaped pearls can be similar to Near Round pearls in appearance. The greater the difference in size between the vertical axis and the horizontal axis, the more unusual and rare the pearl is
  • As with the Drop category, Buttons can also vary dramatically in appearance. However, in direct contrast to a Drop pearl, the vertical axis of a button pearl must be shorter than its horizontal axis. High button pearls can be similar to Near Round pearls in appearance
  • The Baroque pearl is the most individual South Sea pearl produced by the Pinctada maxima oyster.
  • Generally speaking, a Baroque pearl is irregular or free form in shape. If the Baroque pearl is relatively symmetrical, it can be used in a number of different ways in jewellery and strands
  • Occasionally, Baroque pearls will have what are called Fish Tails. In some circumstances, one side of a Baroque pearl will be symmetrical or round, these are classified as Semi Baroque

A pearl that has one or more parallel grooves etched around its circumference is called a Circle. All shapes can be classified as Circle pearls if these rings or grooves are present. The only exception is when a Drop pearl has a ring around its apex, in which case the pearl is classified ass Semi Drop and not a Circle

    • Circle category
    • 1= One to two grooves
    • 2=Three or more grooves but still good reflection
    • 3= multiple grooves distorting reflection
  • Thank you to Autore Pty Ltd for the use of their material