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The Allure of Pearl Jewelry
Pearls, and the elegant jewelry that's made from them, just seem to have a quiet class and style that many precious materials can't touch. Maybe it's their color of their iridescent sheen, which is the result of the many layers of calcium carbonate minerals built up over their smooth surfaces. Certainly their origins are unique; these fruits of the sea are found nestled inside bivalve shells, where they accumulate over a number of years.
Chemically, a pearl is made up of crystals of the minerals aragonite or calcite, cemented together around an irritant with a natural material called conchiolin (which also gives rise to the well-named mother-of-pearl). The resulting gem may one of any size and almost any color, though white or cream is most common. Interestingly, the lovely black Tahitian pearls so priced in some pearl jewelry are the product of diseased hosts.
The utmost in elegance
While most pearls come from marine oysters, some freshwater clams also produce highly prized pearls. These days, most pearl jewelry is made from cultured pearls, which come about when an irritant (usually a tiny shell bead) is introduced into the oyster or mussel at a young age. Three to six years worth of irritation later, a fine pearl is the result. The pearls used in pearl jewelry are usually naturally spherical, but some are oblong or even teardrop-shaped; given their shapes, these are often naturals for use as pendants. In general, saltwater pearls have greater luster than their freshwater rivals, though freshwater pearls, especially Biwa pearls from Japan, are also in great demand for pearl jewelry.
The most classic types of pearl jewelry are the ubiquitous necklaces and earrings. For hundreds of years, the string of pearls has been a symbol of glamour, elegance, and style, and it remains so today. You can't go wrong with pearls at ears and throat; they go with jeans, evening gowns, sneakers and pumps, and it's the rare woman indeed who doesn't carry them well.
One of the pearl's most unique features is the fact that it's an organic gem, a distinction it shares only with gem-quality coral and amber. However, it is typically considered to be more valuable than those items, though in fact pearls are more common now than ever before, considering the vast number of cultured pearls on the market. In fact, cultured pearls are more numerous by far than natural ones, and of course tend to cost quite a bit less. This is good news for the lover of pearl jewelry, since it means that you can outfit yourself for much less money than you would have had to spend if you had to depend on natural pearls. No longer are pearls the "queen of gems," limited to royalty and able to provoke wars due to their scarcity and cost. In this era of cultured pearls, just about anyone can afford pearl jewelry; however, it's no less special and beautiful, for all that.