Pearl Jewelry Making and Selling - The Secrets of Pearls

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Pearls Sell!
If you want to make quality, impressive jewelry that everyone appreciates, then go for pearls.

Pearls are expected to be expensive and in short supply.

The reason is that people understand they are natural. However, since the 1950s, natural pearls have been cultivated by man - making them much cheaper to buy. This means including them in jewelry gives you even more profit!

There's no need to sell freshwater pearl necklaces you make cheap. Google search yourself to see sites selling them for over US$400! Every necklace can be different - it's up to your design and marketing skills to determine the selling price.

What are Cultured Pearls?
The least expensive cultured pearls today rival the most expensive natural pearls ever found. Cultured freshwater pearls occur in mussels for the same reason saltwater pearls occur in oysters. Foreign material inside a mussel can't be expelled. To reduce irritation, the mollusk coats the intruder with the same secretion it uses for shell-building, nacre. To cultivate a pearl, farmers slit the mussel and insert small pieces of live tissue from another mussel.

The ancient Chinese practiced this technique, but the first real cultured freshwater pearls originated from Japan in the 1930's. Japanese farmers by Lake Biwa achieved natural colors previously unseen in saltwater pearls. However, water pollution today has virtually destroyed pearl production there. China now has the resources that Japan lacks: many large lakes, rivers, and a low-cost work force.

China has now revolutionized pearling - their shapes, luster, and colors now surpass Biwa quality. Copying the Japanese to improve off-white and mottling, China uses a mild bleach, bright lights, and heat. Natural freshwater pearls are usually odd shapes. However, for more roundness, some are reshaped into spheres, and then nucleate mussels with them.

Color Pearls
Freshwater pearls are popular for their colors: white, silvery-white, pink, red, copper, brown, lavender, purple, green, blue, and yellow. The most desirable are the pastel pinks, roses, lavenders, and purples. Natural color comes from the mussel species and water quality - with pearls taking the color of the shell in which they form. However, permanent dyes are used today for most saturated colors.

The Best Pearls
Good beads have thick overlapping layers of nacre. This can be tested by viewing its "luster". Roll the pearl with a pen in good light - the best will reflect the pen the most. A large pearl is only more valuable if it's the same quality as a smaller one, and the rounder the better. Being an organic gem, grooves, pits, or dents are expected.

What is Mother-of-Pearl?
The shining, playful, reflected light of mother-of-pearl has attracted attention since ancient times. For centuries, different technology has turned mother-of-pearl into many uses, apart from jewelry. Today, it's dyed every color under the sun - creating attractive jewelry at affordable prices.

The mollusk forms mother-of-pearl as a protective shell. Like the pearl it's a secretion of the mantle, composed of alternate layers of calcium carbonate and conchiolin. The chief source, are oysters from the tropical seas.

Matching Pearls
Matching isn't easy, but is important when planning jewelry. It's an art in itself, requiring a sharp eye, excellent judgment, and experience. Try to buy all the pearls for a project at the same time, as later batches may not match your original purchase. When balancing pearls for jewelry, you need to consider:

  • How the pearls blend together in color, shape, luster, size and surface perfection.
  • How central the drill holes.
  • How smooth the size increase is of pearls in graduated strands.
  • If a necklace is part of a set: all of its pearls on earrings, bracelets or whatever must match. However, don't put too much attention perfectly matching against other factors.

How to Tell Real from Fake Pearls

You can identify fakes by what they're called: simulated, faux, glass, plastic, resin, artificial, manmade. Genuine pearls will be called natural, cultured, freshwater, ocean, or sea.

Before you buy, you need to know how they were formed. Natural pearls come from either freshwater or saltwater, and it's very difficult to tell which - both form in a variety of mollusks (not just oysters). However, all grow the same way in baroque shapes as well as round. There are also shell and genuine pearls which have been artificially coated or dyed.

Professional testing
If you want to buy expensive pearls that are perfectly matched, an independent gemologist certificate is essential. It costs about $150 to have pearls tested, as opposed to several-thousands for the type that warrant the test. An x-ray will show variations of density inside, a parasite that might have caused the formation of a natural pearl, and the characteristic shapes of drill holes.

The tooth test
Rub the surface of the pearl over your teeth - a real pearl feels gritty, while a faux pearl feels smooth. Real pearls are made up of layers of nacre that are deposited like sand on a beach. The slight waves in the nacre give a bumpy feeling against the teeth. However, if they are dyed, the dye can fill in natural depressions.

Close inspection
Look at the pearls in bright light. Unless they're very expensive, genuine ones won't look perfectly matched. There will be slight variations in shape, size and color - along with grooves in their nacre, bumps, ridges, or pits. Otherwise, or if any are a perfect sphere or have a grainy smoothness: they're suspect.

Cutting one open will reveal its true nature. Natural pearls are comprised of many layers of nacre. Cultured pearls have a mother-of-pearl shell core covered with a thin layer of nacre. Fakes have a core with one or more layers of coating which tends to flake away on cutting.

Pearl holes
Examine drill holes to see the nacre layers and what lies beneath. Real pearls are usually drilled from both sides to meet in the middle - making the hole appear wider at the outside edge of the pearl. Holes of fakes are usually strait and are more likely to be larger all the way through. The nacre of fake pearls near the drill holes flakes away easier than on a natural ones. And cheap real pearls may not be drilled straight, making a necklace hang badly, unless it's knotted.

Other clues
Sometimes fakes are made to look irregular, and glass pearls often have flattened ends. Genuine pearls warm to the skin faster than glass pearls - while plastic ones tend to feel warm right away. And real pearls are usually heavier for their size than fakes.

Surroundings are a giveaway. Genuine pearl necklaces' are more likely to be knotted with gold, silver, or platinum clasps. You can examine the catch for stamps in the metal or for magnetism (indicating iron as opposed to a precious metal). The clasp should have a safety mechanism, like a fish hook. No one would use insecure clasps on good pearls.

Faux pearls
Faux pearls, although manmade, are not necessarily a cheap substitute to the real thing. They have genuine beauty of their own, looking almost the same as natural pearls costing thousands of dollars.

They're created by coating the outside of glass or plastic beads with essence d'orient or pearl powder. This is then dipped into various solutions of pearl film to simulate the luster of a natural pearl.

Designing Jewelry using Freshwater Pearls
Traditionally, the size and quantity of pearls were a symbol of wealth and power. Very large pearls still sell well, and are much more affordable being cultured, rather than sea-water. However, today simple yet geometrically interesting designs are what the average budget buyer is looking for.

Pearls make great matching jewelry, and it's easy to sell more by offering the option of sets. Make them into matching necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. Even finger rings too. To compete with cheap sellers, keep the quality of design high - original and well made. Enhance your designs using silver spacers and findings, and always knot a pearl necklace.

Knotting a Pearl Necklace
If you look closely, you'll see tiny knots in between each pearl on a good necklace. This prevents the beads rubbing against each other - and if the necklace breaks, they won't go flying. Knotting also makes the necklace drape nicely and adds length so you need fewer pearls.

Pearls should be re-strung every few years, depending on the amount of wear and exposure to hair spray, perfume, body oils, lotions, moisture, and perspiration they receive. These elements can weaken the silk and cause a potential break point.


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