Pearls: Stunning Jewelry and Strange Terminology

Image of various necklaces and strands of pearls

Despite our love of Pearls, not many people who stop by our store are all that interested in them. Is it because they’re not as shiny as other gemstones? Or maybe they’re not perfectly uniform like our strands of round or faceted beads? Or is it they aren’t in that exact shade or size or shape needed for a specific project? Whatever the reason, they are consistently over looked in our store and we’re going to fix that. This month, our strands of Pearls are all on sale and we’ve got Pearl events on the way to show just how beautiful these overlooked gemstones are.

Especially because the way they’re made is kind of hilarious.

Imagine a pebble in your shoe. It’s annoying, you can’t get it out of your shoe because it’s stuck in that edge between the lining and the side and it’s just driving you bonkers. You finally decide you’re going to teach that pebble a lesson. You shove that pebble to the side, stick it in the lining, cover it with moleskin, and make it almost completely unnoticeable. That almost is important, because that pebble never goes away, so you keep putting more and more moleskin forever.

That is how a Pearl is formed. Freshwater Pearls are grown in mussels and saltwater Pearls are grown in clams, but the process is largely the same. The shell’s mantle, think of it as the moleskin, grows as the critter does, so the shellfish is constantly layering more and more of it over the pebble. This process takes years to decades, depending on how large of a Pearl you’re looking for, but all Pearls start with that tiny irritation. It definitely changes the meaning of giving a loved one a strand of Pearls, doesn’t it?

Pearls as Jewelry

Pearls have a longstanding history as a gemstone of the great and glorious. This long history has led to a few quirks in how jewelry featuring Pearls are classified. Instead of being measured by length, pearl necklaces are measured by how low they hang on the body. A collar necklace doesn’t actually hang from the neck at all, it sits against the throat much like a collar would. Today, collars generally don’t do this unless worn with a tie in more formal settings, so the nomenclature may seem a little strange. The next category is the choker, which sits right at the base of the throat. Then there’s the princess, sitting just below the collar bones; the matinee, sitting just above the bust; the opera, hanging to the base of the breastbone; and the rope, a catch-all term for Pearl necklaces longer than the opera.

That isn’t to say that’s the only quirk of Pearls. There are two types of necklaces: graduated and uniform. Graduated is rather obvious; it’s a strand of pearls with the largest Pearl in the center of the strand that tapers out to smaller and smaller pearls. However, because of the varying sizes of Pearls, there must be a sizable difference between the largest and the smallest. This is because uniform pearl necklaces actually aren’t that uniform. Finding Pearls the exact same size and shape is almost impossible to do, so most Pearl strands have a little wiggle room in what’s considered “uniform”. Usually, they need to be within 1mm to be considered uniform, but that’s only the size. If the strand is a mix of round and semi-round Pearls, the differences can be even greater.

Click here to learn more about pearl colors, or here to learn more about different pearl shapes.