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Pearl fact file

Pearls are associated with virtue, chastity, wisdom and purity which is why brides often select a strand or two as appropriate jewellery for that special day. There are three types of pearls used in jewellery:

1. Natural pearls
Natural pearls are formed by the random intrusion of a natural irritant - possibly a grain of sand - into a natural shell such as an oyster or a clam, without the intervention of man. Due to the difficulty in finding these pearls plus the unfortunate effects of water pollution and economic pressures, they are rare and very few natural pearls are found in the jewellery market today.

2. Cultured pearls
Cultured pearls are also grown by nature, but with the assistance of man. This patented process used since the 1920s involves the insertion of a 'nucleus' into the shell - most often a small, round piece of clam-shell. The creature then secretes a substance called nacre, which covers the irritant and creates the pearl, just as it would have done had the irritant (frequently a grain of sand) occurred naturally. Nacre gives pearls the rainbow of colours and lustre that makes these gemstones so treasured, but its delicacy also makes pearls particularly susceptible to damage. For this reason you should be extra careful with your cultured pearl jewellery.

Cultured and natural pearls can come in various different forms such as Mabe, South Sea, South Sea Keshi and Akoya. Freshwater pearls, as the name implies, are produced by a mollusc that inhabits rivers rather than the sea and are generally 'baroque' (unevenly shaped) in appearance rather than smooth and spherical.

Because cultured pearls are far more widely available than natural pearls, we can create matching strands using evenly shaped, sized and coloured cultured pearls. Any transition from one size to another should be subtle and gentle.

3. Imitation or Simulated pearls
Imitation pearls are manufactured from products composed of materials that simulate natural or cultured pearls in appearance. These are seen usually in fashion jewellery and are a cost effective alternative to cultured pearls, and many can't tell the difference by appearance alone.

What to look for

The quality of cultured pearls varies and is most commonly judged by their lustre, surface, shape, colour, orient and size:

Lustre - this is the reflection of light from the surface of a pearl. There is an interesting way to see this effect: stand with your back to a window with the light shining on your back. The pearls will reflect the light - the brighter the light, the better the quality.

Surface - because a pearl is the product of a natural process, it might have slight imperfections such as pits or marks on its surface.

Shape - a perfectly round pearl is truly a thing of beauty, but only approximately 1% are truly, perfectly round. However the remaining 99% of round pearls are certainly spherical - to check, roll it on a flat, smooth surface.

Colour - although we mainly think of a pearl as creamy white, they can come in a wide range of colours; white, pink, silver, cream, gold and black, with pinkish white or white rose colouring as the most greatly appreciated.

Orient - this is the image of a subtle rainbow hue that moves over the surface of a pearl. It is very rare and seen only occasionally in round Mabe and Baroque pearls. If you have noticed that effect emanating from your pearls, treasure them for always.

Size - this depends on the thickness of the nacre or the size of the originally inserted bead irritant. Consequently, a large pearl with little nacre thickness can be of lesser quality as the pearl might discolour or even crack.

There is no international scale for grading pearls, unlike diamonds or precious metals, but rest assured that at F.Hinds we have sourced pearl jewellery of the best quality for the price you are paying - we wouldn't be selling it otherwise.

Pearl jewellery

Traditionally a 'string of pearls' is the most worn; first made famous in the tune by big band leader Glen Miller. Strands are usually available in 16", 18", 24" and 30" lengths, from one to five strands at a time - catwalk models and fashion designers have recently been seen wearing up to six strands as a bracelet. Pearl drop earrings are timeless and are as popular now as they were when F.Hinds was established in 1856.

If you are buying pearls, check that the clasp is secure and strong. Pearls are traditionally finished with a screw-in barrel type clasp, but other styles can be just as effective. Make sure you close the clasp firmly when putting on your pearls.

After care

Please follow these after-care instructions carefully to ensure that you get many years of pleasure from your pearls and they remain a beautiful heirloom for many generations.

- Put pearls on last when dressing and take them off first at the end of the day.

- Check your pearls regularly and bring them back to F.Hinds to be restrung if necessary. We will be happy to advise you if you are unsure or would like us to check.

- If a strand unfortunately breaks, gather up as many pearls as you possibly can (often a hands and knees job - don't vacuum for a few days and you might well spot some more in a different light, under furniture or between cushions), and remember to check your clothing as they can even fall into underwear - undress very carefully. Put them all in a safe container and bring them to your local branch of F.Hinds to restring. If you have lost one or two, your necklace might well be fine, or we will try to replace pearls for you.

- Make sure your pearls do not come into contact with perfumes, cosmetics, hair spray, solvents, perspiration, dirt or certain cosmetics (unfortunately we cannot accept responsibility for pearls damaged in this way).

- Avoid twisting or knotting your string of pearls. We often see long knotted strings, which makes us feel really quite sad and apprehensive.

- Try to avoid situations where your string of pearls could be tugged by children, or it could get hooked on clothes or other protrusions.