Wednesday, June 20, 2012

South Sea's "The Queen of Pearls"

South Sea pearls are produced by the Pinctada maxima mollusk native to the seas between the northern coast of Australia and the southern coast of China. Currently cultured in areas throughout the Indian and Pacific Oceans, primarily in Indonesia, Australia, the Philippines and Myanmar. Because they grow up to 12 inches in Diameter they can be nucleated with a much larger bead than other salt water oysters such as the akoya.  They range in size from 9mm to 20mm with the average size being 13mm, the largest on record being 24mm.  They are among the largest commercially harvested pearls in the world.

Golden South Sea Pearl on 
Leather Cord with Gold Beads
by Susan Drake
The color of the pearls vary depending on which oyster the pearl comes from.  They are distinguished by the distinct coloration of the outer edge of the interior.   Also known as mother-of-pearl, these shells are responsible for the coloration of the pearls they produce.  There are two varieties of the Pinctada maxima mollusk: the silver-lipped from Northern Australia which tends to produce white pearls with silver overtones and the gold-lipped which is commonly found in the sea area of south-east Asia which produces golden or creamy colored pearls.

Golden South Sea Pearls 
with Sapphires by Susan Drake

There are four reasons that the South Sea pearls grow to such large sizes: the large size Pinctada maxima mollusk, the size of the implanted bead, the length of time the pearl is left to grow in the oyster and the pyster's environment.  Due to the size of the oyster it can accept a larger bead, the gonad of the Pinctada maxima is larger enabling the oyster to deposit nacre around the nucleus at a much quicker rate, especially in warmer water which speeds the oysters metabolism.  South Sea's are extremely clean, filled with plankton - the Pinctada maxima's favorite food source.  The clean waters and abundant food supply also speeds nacre production.  South Sea pearls are harvested for a minimum of two years.  The nacre is unusually thick from 2-6mm, compared to the 0.35-0.7mm of an akoya pearl.  Their unique, satiny luster comes from the rapidly deposited nacre and warm waters of the South Seas.  They come in a subtle array of colors; typically white, silver and golden, that are rare in other pearl types. 

White South Sea Pearls

Culturing a good pearl is a difficult and ambivalent process.  If the pearl stays in the oyster too long it will grow to be irregular, but if the pearl doesn't stay in long enough the nacre will be too thin compromising the quality of the pearl.  Because South Seas pearls stay in the oyster for a long time the shape is not always perfectly round.  There are few South Sea Pearls without any blemish.  This makes a strand of round South Sea's pearls without blemish and with thick nacre and good luster very expensive. 

Perfectly graduated round South Sea Pearl 
Strand at Spectrum Art & Jewelry

Monday, June 4, 2012

June's Birthstone: Not Your Mother's Pearls

For all you June babies and pearl lovers I have a new take on an old classic...

Along with Alexandrite and Moonstone, Pearl is the June birthstone.  It is also the recognized wedding gift for the 3rd and 30th wedding anniversary.  

I once heard that pearls, one of the most beautiful and precious creations in nature, are born out of pain and frustration.  To me pearls are a reminder that the harder experiences in life are what most often produces things of true value, things that are worth treasuring, that if we embrace hardship and grow from it the result can be beautiful.  I have never looked at pearls or life the same way since.
Conni Mainne Diamond 
and Freshwater Pearl Earrings, 18k

According to ancient Chinese legend, the moon holds the power to create pearls, instilling them with its celestial glow and mystery.  Pearls have long been treasured for their lustrous, creamy texture and subtle iridescent reflections. Historically, they have were believed to possess mystical and healing powers.  Roman women slept with them under their pillows to sweeten their dreams.  Ancient Asian cultures used them for medicinal purposes.  The early Hindu's revered them as a symbol of purity in marriage. 

Tana Acton Coin Pearl Bracelet, SS
Pearls are most commonly thought of as round and white but they come in many shapes (baroque, oval, teardrop, etc.) and colors (pink, gold, peach, yellow, lavender, gray, black, etc.).  Pearls are available in both saltwater and freshwater varieties.  Five factors determine the value of a pearl: luster, orient, surface-cleanliness, shape and size (as well as availability with saltwater production being far less than freshwater).  Pearls are often bleached to achieve uniform color. 

 Round White Akoya Pearls

You probably have a strand that was given to you for your 16th birthday or your confirmation at church.  Maybe a coveted strand is tucked away in your jewelry box that has been passed down through your family for years.  It's something that most of us have, but few of us really seem to wear them regularly. 
Susan Drake Gold South Sea Pearl 
and Sapphire Pendant

We LOVE pearls at Spectrum, in all colors and price ranges.  Our inventory ranges from round white freshwater, to funky baroque, to luscious Tahitians and golden south seas.  Pearls can always be found  at Spectrum sprinkled throughout our cases and beaded gemstone Starsong collection. 

For some, pearls have developed a stigma, appropriate only for work and special occasions.  This couldn't be farther from the truth!  At Spectrum pearls are in abundance, but you won't find your "mother's pearls" here.

One of Susan Drake's latest designs incorporating a Tahitian Pearl is a perfect example (pictured below). 

Tahitian Pearl, Black Coral, Peridot, 
Fire Opal and Diamond, 18k

For those of you who know and love us, you know that we strive to create versatile and unique jewelry. One necklace can be perfect for throwing on with shorts to head to lunch and a cocktail dress later that evening.  
Susan Drake Gold South Sea Pearl 
with 18k Beads

Pearls become especially versatile because we live at the beach.  As a product of the ocean we love so much, pearls can easily have a nautical and laid back feel.  There smooth cool surface and lightweight feel make them comfortable to wear year round, even in our warm and humid climate. 

At Spectrum in addition to our Starsong collection, we restring pearl jewelry and can put a contemporary new twist on old pieces.
Susan Drake Tahitian Pearl 
and Diamond Earrings, 18k


Do you have questions about the care of your pearl jewelry? Call the gallery at 910-256-2323 or email us at

Spectrum Art & Jewelry

Custom Designs by Spectrum