These Pearls Look Nothing Like the Thin Strands You’re Used To
(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- Until the early 1900s, pearls were discovered only by chance in oysters, making any pearl exceedingly rare and valuable, typically reserved for royalty and nobility. Today, most pearls are cultured, which means they are farmed, not found, but they are just as real.
Most cultured pearls are judged by how perfect they are: They must be completely round, smooth, and unblemished, and have just the right color. These kind remain the classic and are the most highly sought after.
But unique shapes like baroque and Melo Melo pearls are gaining popularity. They come in many colors, whether pure white to vivid gold or deep charcoal, and in a wide range of shapes and sizes. Here are the five types to know.
The founder of the Japanese jewelry company K. Mikimoto & Co. created the first cultured pearl in 1893 using Akoya oysters. It took him more than 20 years to perfect the unblemished spheres that made the category accessible to millions. Akoyas have a very high luster and are typically white, with pink overtones that distinguish them from other pearls. They’re also smaller, ranging from 2 millimeters to 11mm. This Lace necklace of 7.5mm-by-3mm cultured Akoya pearls offsets their rosy sheen with 18-karat white gold and 4.05 carats of diamonds. $60,000
Baroque pearls can come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. They were once desirable—any pearl was valuable—but after the invention of perfectly round cultured options, baroques were deemed inferior and destroyed. (In 1932, Mikimoto famously burned 720,000 pearls that didn’t meet his standards.) Now many collectors like the edgy look, and brands are using them again. Mish, a New York designer, made this triple-wrap strand from Tahitian baroque pearls in shades from silver to almost black, with an 18-karat yellow gold clasp. $68,600
First cultured by Mikimoto and found in Japan’s Lake Biwa, these nonsymmetrical pearls are created in mussels, not oysters, giving them a range of unique colors. (At one point, many pearl dealers would refer to any freshwater pearls as Biwa pearls, but the Federal Trade Commission now protects the name, and only ones from Lake Biwa can use it.) This Verdura X bracelet has 7.94 carats of diamond and 10 twisted strands of beaded Biwa pearls in colors that can fluctuate between eggplant and charcoal. $73,500
Golden South Sea Necklace
Harvested from the warmer waters of Indonesia and the Philippines, golden South Sea pearls vary from a pale Champagne color to a rich gold and have a soft luster. Maker Assael is noted for unexpected pairings of its top-quality gems, as in this necklace in 18-karat yellow gold. Its three strands of cultured pearls are joined by a clasp set with 0.85 carat of fancy yellow diamond and turquoise, which has golden veins that highlight the overall warmth. $98,000
Melo Melo Necklace
Unlike most on the market today, Melo Melo pearls can’t be cultured and are found by chance in a southern Asian sea snail, making them the rarest of all. They take decades to grow and can reach rather large sizes because of the unique shape of the snail’s shell—the biggest ever found weighed almost 400 carats. The best versions have a porcelain-like finish and a remarkable flame pattern. This one, set in 18-karat yellow gold from Tiffany & Co.’s Blue Book high-jewelry collection, is more than 95 carats. Price on request
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