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Pearls of Wisdom: A Guide

What do these five classic icons; Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Princess Diana, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, and Angelina Jolie have in common? They are all part of  the “Mother-of-Pearl” legacy.



Princess Lady Diana wore this pearl-encrusted long strapless evening dress and jacket at the British Fashion Awards in 1989.


Audrey Hepburn wore a multi layered pearl necklace with one of the original Givenchy dresses created for Breakfast at Tiffany’s.


Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis convinced millions of other women worldwide that pearls are a lady’s best friend.


Angelina Jolie is inspiring to millions.  Following the latest trend, she wears a pearl necklace.


Elizabeth Taylor’s love for pearls was as deep as her love for Richard Burton (and only second to diamonds!).



Pearls are formed inside the sea-water oysters and freshwater mussels. Both of these molluscs build their own homes by secreting layers of the substance known as “mother-of-pearl” on the inside of their shell.


The value and quality of the pearls is determined by a combination of the Luster (luster is a measure of the brightness of the pearl in terms of how much light it reflects from its surface) , Color (color depends on the type of mollusc host and the mineral content of the water it grows in), Shape (The ideal shape for a pearl is a perfect sphere, while flattened shapes known as button and highly irregular or baroque shapes are less desirable), and Surface condition (The exterior of a pearl should be smooth or clean, free from any pits, scratches, holes or imperfections). Luster is considered the most important quality factor in pearls, where surface is the second most important quality factor in pearl evaluation.  The larger the pearl the more valuable it is. Large, perfectly round pearls are rare and highly valued.



Photo Courtesy of © Kari Anderson of Kari Pearls.

Akoya – The traditional term for saltwater nucleated cultured pearls first grown in Japan.

Biwa – Freshwater pearls initially cultivated in Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest lake, though currently production is increasingly taking place in the Shangai Lake District of China.

Blister – If a natural pearl starts to form near the edge of a mollusk rather than near its centre, the nacre layers can become attached to the inside of the shell, producing a dome-shaped half or blister pearl.

Conch – Pearls produced by large marine snails, whose surfaces do not display the usual lustre and orient, having instead a porcelain-like exterior. The rarest and most valuable are pink varieties.

Cultured – The term used to describe a pearl whose formation was initiated by the manual insertion of an artificial nucleus, usually in the form of a shell bead, into the mussel or oyster.

Keshi – These special pearls, which tend to be baroque-shaped, are not considered natural pearls. These pearls are quite small: typically a few millimeters in size.

Mabe – The cultured equivalent of blister pearls. Instead of inserting a round shell bead, several plastic domes are glued onto the inside of the host’s shell. This pearl is popular for use in earrings.

Oriental – The collective term of natural saltwater pearls, produced by oysters in the historic sources of the Persian Gulf, off Bahrain, and the coastal waters of India, Ceylon and the Red Sea.

Seed – Small natural pearls which measure 2mm in diameter or less.

Black Pearl – Any cultured saltwater pearl over 10mm in diameter produced in the warm waters of an area extending from Indonesia to Australia and across to French Polynesia and Tahiti. Black pearls are very rarely black: they are usually shades of green, purple, aubegine, blue, grey, silver or peacock. These pearls are usually referred to as “black pearls’, because this pearl comes from the black oyster. South Sea pearls are the largest and rarest of the cultured pearls – making them most valuable.



Pearls are delicate organic products that come in eight basic shapes: round, semi-round, oval, baroque, drop, button, and circled. To maintain regular care of pearls avoid hair sprays, perfume, cosmetics, as well as heat and swimming pool. Store them in boxes or separately in soft cloth bags. Restringing is advisable approximately every five or six years.

About the author: Vera Djonovic
Vera Djonovic is an Entrepreneur, Philanthropist, Designer, Fashion Stylist, Branding and Lifestyle Expert, Editor, Photographer

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