a pearl is one of the few types of jewelry which is organic in nature. it is not a metal or combination of chemicals which are fused deep inside the earth to form gemstonesbut is formed within the body of an oyster or mussel. when a foreign object (eg a grain of sand) is trapped in an oyster or mussel, it is coated with layers of a smooth, crystalline substance known as nacre. over time, this natural process produces the pearl.
natural sea water pearls are the most exclusive and are preferred above all other types. but these are now among the rarest of gems to be found. almost all trade of natural sea pearls is reselling of old strands as new sea water pearls are almost impossible to obtain now. the best of these are from the persian gulf and are even known as 'basra' pearls. a single fine quality basra pearl can often be valued more than a full strand of cultured pearls.
nearly all pearls sold today are cultured. each one is created by deliberately inserting an irritant into the oyster's tissue. however, the quality of cultured pearls varies widely. these are not rated by an industry-wide grading system but there are specific characteristics that do affect cultured pearl quality.
size, shape, colour, imperfections, all are factors which affect the quality and hence price. usually the most important factor is the size of the cultured pearls that determines the price of a strand. larger cultured pearls are rarer and far more difficult to match than smaller ones.
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