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Birthstones for June -- Pearl

Pearl, jewelry making birthstone for JuneThe birthstone for June is the pearl.  Unlike the other birthstones, the pearl is not technically a stone.  Pearls are produced by certain animals, primarily oysters and mussels.  Saltwater pearls are formed by oysters that live in the ocean.  Freshwater pearls are formed by mussels living in lakes, rivers and other bodies of fresh water.  Pearls are formed as a result of an irritant inside the shell of the oyster or mussel.  Pearls are built up as layers composed of a combination of the calcium carbonate from the shell of the animal held together by a organic compound similar to a finger nail made by the animal.  The combination of calcium carbonate with the organic binding compound is called nacre.  A pearl is made of many layers of this nacre created over a long period of time. 

Because it takes many years to make a complete pearl, a process has been developed to "culture" pearls.  In this process a rather large "seed" is inserted into the shell of the oyster and the oyster is then allowed to cover the seed as it would a normal pearl.  The seed is itself essentially a bead made of pieces of the shells of oysters formed together in a round shape.  Because the seed is rather large, a cultured pearl can be produced in about 6 months.  Cultured pearls can be distinguished from naturally occurring pearls by taking an x-ray of the pearl.  In a naturally occurring pearl, the pearl nacre will be consistent for the entire diameter of the pearl.  In a cultured pearl, the x-ray will reveal that the pearl nacre is only a thin coating on the pre-formed seed.  The seed will show on an x-ray as a different composition than the outer nacre layers. 

Natural pearls take a very long time to make and are very rare.  Most natural pearls aren't used in jewelry but are sold to collectors for the simple reason that they are so rare.  Currently, natural pearls are only produced in the waters off Bahrain and in the Indian Ocean near Australia.  These pearls are produced by "wild," not farmed oysters.  The largest natural pearl ever found came from the Philippines in 1934.  This pearl weighed 14lbs and was originally owned by a Palawan chieftain.  That pearl was given by the chieftain to Wilbur Dowell Cobb in 1936 as a gift for saving the life of the chieftain's son.  That pearl is now called the Pearl of Lao-Tzu and has a rather sordid history.

The value of a pearl is determined by a combination of luster, color, size, symmetry and lack of surface flaws, with luster being the most important.

Pearls have a hardness of 3 on the Mohs hardness scale and for this reason are probably not suitable for everyday wear.  Pearls are an excellent choice for necklaces and earrings that do not receive a lot of abrasion, but probably not as good a choice for rings or bracelets that tend to get more wear and tear. 

Currently many simulated pearls are made by mechanically coating a glass bead with a pearl like coating.  The Swarovski Crystal Pearls are not pearls at all, but simulate a pearl at a very reasonable price. 

For more information on pearls, visit Wikipedia here.

Please select the picture above-right, or select here to view our selection of Glass PearlsTo view our selection of freshwater pearls please select here.

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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Pearl"
Last updated 3/30/2007

This WigJig web page is provided as part of WigJig University - College of Jewelry Making Techniques.  We try to provide interesting jewelry making techniques using beads, jewelry wire and other jewelry supplies.  We hope that the jewelry making skills taught on these web pages will provide you enough information for you to incorporate these techniques in your own jewelry making projects.  For beginners, we suggest that you start with a visit to our Beginners Jewelry Making pages. These pages discuss the skills necessary for making jewelry in the detail that beginners need. We also suggest that beginners to jewelry making might need to visit the WigJig University College of Jewelry Making Designs for jewelry making projects using the skills and techniques shown here. 

 Most, but not all of the jewelry supplies shown here can be purchased in our WigJig store.  We try to have a complete selection of jewelry supplies in our store including chain, wire, glass beads, findings, watches, tools, etc. 

The jewelry making projects shown here do not use Sterling Silver.  The reason for this is simple, it is harder to get good pictures of Sterling Silver wire components than with colored wire including gold-filled, copper, or brass wire.  Any project shown in colored wire can be made in Sterling Silver wire.