What is Pearl?

Natural pearls are ‘organic’ gems, found in oceans and rivers, and formed inside shellfish such as oysters, mussels or conch by an irritant such as grit which has been coated by the creature with smooth nacre (layers of aragonite) which builds up over thousands of years to form the natural pearl. The light from these layers produces the characteristic iridescent lustre. Natural pearls are found in Burma, South Pacific Islands and Northern Australia.

Since the early 1900s, most new pearls are cultured. This is achieved by artificially stimulating the shellfish. They come from

  • Japan (Akoya pearls which are white, cream or blue in colour
  • Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines (South Sea Pearls which are white, yellow or gold in colour)
  • The Cook Islands (Black Tahitian which are grey to black in colour)

It is thought that the name ‘pearl’ may come from the Latin for a type of shell: perna.

The largest pearl ever found weighs over 90 grams and is called the Hope pearl.


Pearls from the Red Sea were used in Roman times for chandelier type earrings.

In the fifteenth century, pearls were used to decorate heraldic beasts and in the Renaissance women entwined pearls in their hair.


Pearls were once thought to be the tears of the Gods or the tears of angels.

Pearls were considered to be the emblems of nobility and so Julius Caesar banned women below a certain rank from wearing them.

The Koran states that the trees of Paradise are hung with pearls.

In Scotland, pearls were worn near the heart to ensure a faithful lover.

Pearls are associated with vitality, beauty and innocence.

Pearls are the birthstone for June:

Pearls should bring joy to the girls of June,

For youthful beauty is their special boon (source unknown)

Pearl is the gemstone associated with the 30th wedding anniversary.


Pearls should be cleaned after every wearing with a soft, dry or damp cloth. Perfume, cosmetics and hair spray should be applied before wearing pearls. Avoid any contact with alcohol, bleach, chlorine and ammonia and any acids. If pearls get wet, rinse them then pat with a dry cloth and put on a soft towel to dry. Keep away from heat as it can cause the pearls to crack.

Do not use a steamer or ultrasonic cleaner to clean pearls. Warm sudsy water can be used.

Pearls should be restrung every one to two years depending on amount of use.

With good care, the life span of a pearl can be from 100 – 150 years.


Caring for Pearls (Summary)

  • Clean with soft, damp cloth
  • Avoid acids, perfume, any corrosive materials and heat.
  • Restring every one to two years
  • Warm sudsy water can be used


Pearls are of medium hardness, measuring 3 on the Mohs hardness scale.

The specific gravity is 2.71.

The crystal structure is orthorhombic and the composition of pearls is calcium carbonate, conchiolin and water.