Pearl Gemstone Guide

Introduction to Pearl


Pearls have been worn from as early as 3500BC. The Romans, Egyptians, Chinese and Ancient Greeks all prized pearls as a symbol of wealth and power. There are also references to pearls in Hindu, Islamic and Christian traditions, often symbolizing purity. Amongst the oldest of gems, the pearl is unique as the only gem created by a living creature; Pearl hunting traditionally involved diver's manually picking pearls from the sea and river beds. A pearl requires no polishing to reveal its beauty.

Pearls are timeless gems which are often worn by brides on their Wedding day. Although considered a traditional jewellery item, pearls are now available in many styles and designs, making them a popular fashion item. Pearl is the birthstone for June making a great gift for birthdays and is also the traditional gift for a thirtieth Wedding Anniversary. They are thought to represent beauty nobility and peace. The pearl section of this guide offers an insight into how pearls are created and what gives them their value.

Pearl formation

  • A pearl is formed within the soft tissue of a living shelled mollusk, and is made up of calcium carbonate in crystalline form. Pearls are formed as a natural defense against an irritant or parasite. The shellfish produces a substance called nacre to coat the irritant in layers and stop the discomfort. Over years this build up of layers produces a pearl
  • There are two types of natural pearl – saltwater and freshwater.
  • Cultured pearls are still authentic pearls, however humans assist in the process by implanting the 'irritant' (a small bead or a piece of mantle tissue) into the oyster causing the pearl sac to form and eventually a pearl is created.
  • Because natural pearls are expensive, imitation pearls are the most common, especially in costume jewellery. They are often hollow, made of plastic or solid glass and covered in a lacquer to imitate the pearl's lustre.
  • To see if a pearl is real (cultured or natural) or artificial, rub it along your teeth; if it feels gritty its real, if it's smooth it's artificial.


Pearl colour is a combination of overtone and body colour. The body colour is the primary colour of the pearl and is dependant on the species it comes from. Colours of natural pearls include ivory, cream, gold, black, pink, green, blue and brown. The overtone is the translucent surface that tends to alter or add depth to the body colour.

Pearl value

The value of a pearl is measured by factors including size, colour, shape and lustre. All factors are as essential in determining value, however the larger the pearl generally the more valuable. At H.Samuel we offer a premium range of certified authentic cultured pearls called Secrets of the Sea.

Caring for pearls

Pearls are soft and delicate. When storing pearl jewellery, keep it separately wrapped in soft material, away from other metal jewellery to prevent the pearls from being scratched. As pearls are porous they mustn't be immersed in water or cleaning products. Contact with perfume, hairspray and body cream may cause discoloration so always put pearl jewellery on last. Wipe pearls clean with a soft cloth and use special pearl cleaning solutions if necessary.

Sourcing pearls

Today more than 99% of all pearls sold are cultured pearls. In pearl farming there are two types of cultured pearls, beaded and non beaded and each type are grown in separate parts of the mussel or oyster. The perfectly round pearls you see in jewellery are formed by the tissue of the donor shell having been moulded into a sphere before being surgically implanted inside the mollusk.

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