Birthstone Friday — Pearls: Go Big, Go Wild

This lustrous rare natural abalone pearl inspired Eve Alfillé to create her “Calla Lily” platinum pendant in the Art nouveau style. The 14.40 carat abalone pearl is studded with emeralds, diamonds and natural alexandrite to echo the color playin the pearl. Photo by Matthew Arden, courtesy Eve J. Alfillé Gallery and Studio Evanston, Illinois.

If you haven’t noticed this month, I can’t get enough of pearls: the shapes, the colors, the sensuality of them. Probably the most romantic gemstone of them all.

Some of the most gorgeous pearls come from one of the most exotic places on Earth: Tahiti. These are some of the most striking pearls, not only for their color, but for their often immense size. The warm waters of the South Pacific means they grow quickly, and the large size of the oysters used to culture them means they can hold a much larger starter bead. They are some of the biggest pearls on the market. If you want to make a statement, go Tahitian!

Probably the best known are the gloriously iridescent black Tahitian pearls. And guys, take note. If you secretly love pearls, these are the gemstones for you! The Tahitian pearl people, many years ago, had a campaign that featured single black pearls on cords or chains for men. I have no idea why it didn’t catch on because oh, my goodness, fellows, let me tell you. That look was sex walking!

But I digress.

There are also subtly colored Tahitians: cream, gray, peach, and even chocolate.

This pin, titled “Orbiting,” features a lovely carved quartz by famed lapidary Dieter Lorenz, as well as a golden South Seas pearl, all accented by a diamond and set in 14 karat gold. Photo by Matthew Arden, courtesy Eve J. Alfillé Gallery and Studio Evanston, Illinois.

But Tahitians aren’t the only heavyweights in the pearl world. South Seas pearls, farmed in Australia, Philippines, and Indonesia, are also big beautiful gems worth salivating over. Some of my favorite are the golden South Seas pearls, yellow being my favorite color. Hmmm. Maybe this is why I love Eve’s “Orbiting” pin.

But for sheer drama and color, look for the abalone pearls. These cultured pearls are usually formed by attaching a half round bead to the abalone shell and letting it do its work. Later, the blister formed can be cut from the shell and used as a half round in jewelry. But more often, the blisters are cut out and an area of the shell is cut with it to create some amazing freeform shapes. They’re like small Rorschach tests for jewelry designers who love working with them.

Indulge your sense of drama. Go big and go wild with pearls.

Birthstone Friday–Pearls: Getting Fresh

This lovely freshwater pearl accented by diamonds and set in a 14k gold pin titled, “In the Cloud,” allows artist Eve Alfillé, to indulge her imagination. Photo by Matthew Arden, courtesy Eve J. Alfillé Gallery and Studio Evanston, Illinois.

Are you a June baby who doesn’t like her birthstone? Do you still think your only choices are your grandmother’s pearls—the Queen’s pearls—round, white and boring?

Nope. Not true anymore. In fact, if you like wild colors and shapes, take another look at pearls.

Pearls have always been found in non-round shapes and colors other than white, cream. In fact, when there were only natural pearls in the world—those made without the encouragement of a human hand—round pearls were the rarities. Natural pearls form when something gets inside a mollusk—say a small parasite bores through the shell—and irritates the animals tender flesh. They begin to cover the invader with nacre, the same material that lines the inside of the mollusks shell, and that we know as “mother-of-pearl.”

The coating process isn’t an exact science, of course, so the pearls formed could come out any color, any shape, highly nacreous, or utterly meh.

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Gemstone Care — Be Gentle With Your Pearls

If June is your birth month, and you love pearls (as I hope you do), treat them gently. Pearls are not as rugged as their crystal mineral counterparts. Made up of layers of tiny crystals of aragonite, they’ll scratch, fracture, discolor, and dissolve if not treated with loving kindness.

“The Nightlife II.” Freshwater pearls, peridot, tourmaline. Photo by Matthew Arden, courtesy Eve J. Alfille Gallery, Evanston, Illinois.

  • Never wear pearls when exercising; perspiration can attack them. They don’t like household chemicals, either. Never wear them swimming in a pool. (If Cleopatra’s pearls dissolved in wine, just think what chlorine can do to them.)
  • Don’t wear them if you’re doing work where they’ll come into sharp contact with hard surfaces. A bracelet constantly thwacking on a desk or filing cabinet can only harm the pearls.
  • Put them on after you’ve applied your makeup and perfume. Wipe them down with a soft cloth after you take them off to remove the pigments and alcohol that can damage them.
  • Store them in a soft cloth bag to protect them from scratching by the other jewelry in your box (drawer, suitcase, steamer trunk).
  • Give them a gentle bath, periodically, if you wear them often, and lay them out to dry thoroughly. Do not hang pearl strands up—the string can stretch.
  • If you wear pearl strands frequently, inspect them regularly, and have them restrung periodically.
  • Knots between the pearls protect them from rubbing against each other at the fragile drill hole. Knotting also prevents loss should the strand break. You’ll only be scrambling around on the airport floor looking for one pearl, not dozens. Because Mrs. Murphy says that if your pearl strand is going to break, it’ll break at the most inconvenient place and time possible.

Birthstone Friday — Pearls: Gemstone of the Senses

The very definition of sensuality. A strand of graduated, round cultured Tahitian chocolate pearls with 18 karat white gold, diamond-set clasp. Photo by Matthew Arden, courtesy Eve J. Alfillé Gallery & Studio, Evanston, Illinois

Pearls. The birthstone for June. The most sensuous, the most glorious, the most feminine gemstone of all. Other gems have to be fashioned in some way, but pearls are perfect just as they are. They’re exquisite water-borne gifts of seas, lakes and rivers.

Pearls are an appropriate choice for one of the most luscious months of the year. Breezes scented with flowers and damp soil. Morning skies delicately colored like pearls. The soft touch of blossoms like the skin of pearls. Pearls, too, gratify all the senses.

Pearls just glow. They’re not flashy, like faceted gemstones. They’re simply quietly commanding. In the white to cream-colored oceanic oyster pearls most of us are familiar with, there is a translucency, a sense that you can almost, but not quite, see into them. This is especially true of natural pearls, the now-exceedingly-rare gems that were found in the mollusks of the Indian Ocean. I’ve only been lucky enough to see these as tiny seed pearls in antique jewelry. And perhaps it was because of their tiny size, but they seemed to hold light inside of them, like the nacre surface was just a shell surrounding tiny candles. Continue reading