Sapphires – Birthstone of September – Part 2

Blue sapphire

Teardrop-shaped blue sapphire

Gemstone color can be described in terms of hue, saturation, and tone. Hue is commonly understood as the “color” of the gemstone. Saturation refers to the vividness or brightness of the hue, and tone is the lightness to darkness of the hue. Blue sapphire exists in various mixtures of its primary (blue) and secondary hues, various tonal levels (shades) and at various levels of saturation (vividness).

Blue sapphires are evaluated based upon the purity of their primary hue. Purple, violet, and green are the most common secondary hues found in blue sapphires. Violet and purple can contribute to the overall beauty of the color, while green is considered to be distinctly negative. Blue sapphires with up to 15% violet or purple are generally said to be of fine quality. Gray is the normal saturation modifier or mask found in blue sapphires. Gray reduces the saturation or brightness of the hue, and therefore has a distinctly negative effect.

The color of fine blue sapphires may be described as a vivid medium dark violet to purplish blue where the primary blue hue is at least 85% and the secondary hue no more than 15%, without the least admixture of a green secondary hue or a gray mask.

The 423-carat (84.6 g) Logan sapphire in the National Museum of Natural History, in Washington, D.C., is one of the largest faceted gem-quality blue sapphires in existence.

Sapphires of other colors

Sapphires in colors other than blue are called “fancy” or “parti colored” (multi-colored) sapphires.

Fancy sapphires are often found in yellow, orange, green, brown, purple and violet hues.

Multi-colored sapphires are those stones which exhibit two or more colors within a single stone. Australia is the largest source of multi-colored sapphires; they are not commonly used in mainstream jewelry and remain relatively unknown. Multi-colored sapphires cannot be created synthetically and only occur naturally.

Colorless sapphires have historically been used as diamond substitutes in jewelry.

Pink sapphires

Pink sapphire

Pink sapphires occur in shades from light to dark pink, and deepen in color as the quantity of chromium increases. The deeper the pink color, the higher their monetary value. In the United States, a minimum color saturation must be met to be called a ruby, otherwise the stone is referred to as a pink sapphire.

More about Sapphires in Part 3.

(Information from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Sapphire – The Birthstone of September – Part 1

Sapphire is the birthstone for September and the gem of the 45th anniversary. A sapphire jubilee occurs after 65 years.

Sapphire is a precious gemstone, a variety of the mineral corundum, consisting of aluminum oxide (α-Al2O3) with trace amounts of elements such as iron, titanium, chromium, copper, or magnesium. It is typically blue, but natural “fancy” sapphires also occur in yellow, purple, orange, and green colors; “parti sapphires” show two or more colors. The only color corundum stone that the term sapphire is not used for is red, which is called a ruby. Pink colored corundum may be either classified as ruby or sapphire depending on locale. Commonly, natural sapphires are cut and polished into gemstones and worn in jewelry. They also may be created synthetically in laboratories for industrial or decorative purposes in large crystal boules. Because of the remarkable hardness of sapphires – 9 on the Mohs scale (the third hardest mineral, after diamond at 10 and moissanite at 9.5) – sapphires are also used in some non-ornamental applications, such as infrared optical components, high-durability windows, wristwatch crystals and movement bearings, and very thin electronic wafers, which are used as the insulating substrates of special-purpose solid-state electronics such as integrated circuits and GaN-based blue LEDs.

Natural sapphires

Sapphire is one of the two gem-varieties of corundum, the other being ruby (defined as corundum in a shade of red). Although blue is the best-known sapphire color, they occur in other colors, including gray and black, and they can be colorless. A pinkish orange variety of sapphire is called padparadscha.

Significant sapphire deposits are found in Eastern Australia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, China (Shandong), Madagascar, East Africa, and in North America in a few locations, mostly in Montana. Sapphire and rubies are often found in the same geological setting.

Every sapphire mine produces a wide range of quality, and origin is not a guarantee of quality. For sapphire, Kashmir receives the highest premium, although Burma, Sri Lanka, and Madagascar also produce large quantities of fine quality gems.

The cost of natural sapphires varies depending on their color, clarity, size, cut, and overall quality. For gems of exceptional quality, an independent determination from a respected laboratory such as the GIA, AGL or Gubelin of origin often adds to value.

(Information from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

More about Sapphires in Part 2 of this series.

Ruby – The Birthstone of July – Part 4

Synthetic and imitation rubies

In 1837, Gaudin made the first synthetic rubies by fusing potash alum at a high temperature with a little chromium as a pigment. In 1847, Ebelmen made white sapphire by fusing alumina in boric acid. In 1877, Frenic and Freil made crystal corundum from which small stones could be cut. Frimy and Auguste Verneuil manufactured artificial ruby by fusing BaF2 and Al2O3 with a little chromium at red heat. In 1903, Verneuil announced he could produce synthetic rubies on a commercial scale using this flame fusion process. By 1910, Verneuil’s laboratory had expanded into a 30 furnace production facility, with annual gemstone production having reached 1,000 kilograms (2,000 lb) in 1907.

Other processes in which synthetic rubies can be produced are through Czochralski’s pulling process, flux process, and the hydrothermal process. Most synthetic rubies originate from flame fusion, due to the low costs involved. Synthetic rubies may have no imperfections visible to the naked eye but magnification may reveal curves, striae and gas bubbles. The fewer the number and the less obvious the imperfections, the more valuable the ruby is; unless there are no imperfections (i.e., a perfect ruby), in which case it will be suspected of being artificial. Dopants are added to some manufactured rubies so they can be identified as synthetic, but most need gemological testing to determine their origin.

Synthetic rubies have technological uses as well as gemological ones. Rods of synthetic ruby are used to make ruby lasers and masers. The first working laser was made by Theodore H. Maiman in 1960.  Maiman used a solid-state light-pumped synthetic ruby to produce red laser light at a wavelength of 694 nanometers (nm). Ruby lasers are still in use. Rubies are also used in applications where high hardness is required such as at wear exposed locations in modern mechanical clockworks, or as scanning probe tips in a coordinate measuring machine.

Imitation rubies are also marketed. Red spinels, red garnets, and colored glass have been falsely claimed to be rubies. Imitations go back to Roman times and already in the 17th century techniques were developed to color foil red—by burning scarlet wool in the bottom part of the furnace—which was then placed under the imitation stone. Trade terms such as balas ruby for red spinel and rubellite for red tourmaline can mislead unsuspecting buyers. Such terms are therefore discouraged from use by many gemological associations such as the Laboratory Manual Harmonisation Committee (LMHC).

Records and famous rubies

Rubies at the National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C., USA

  • The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. has some of the world’s largest and finest ruby gemstones. The 23.1 carats (4.62 g) Burmese ruby, set in a platinum ring with diamonds, was donated by businessman and philanthropist Peter Buck in memory of his late wife Carmen Lúcia. This gemstone displays a richly saturated red color combined with an exceptional transparency. The finely proportioned cut provides vivid red reflections. The stone was mined from the Mogok region of Burma (now Myanmar) in the 1930s.
  • In 2007 the London jeweler Garrard & Co featured on their website a heart-shaped 40.63-carat ruby.
  • On December 13/14, 2011 Elizabeth Taylor’s complete jewellery collection was auctioned by Christie’s. Several ruby-set pieces were included in the sale, notably a ring set with an 8.24 ct gem that broke the ‘price-per-carat’ record for rubies ($512,925 per carat, i.e. over $4.2 million in total), and a necklace that sold for over $3.7 million.
  • The Liberty Bell Ruby is the largest mined ruby in the world. It was stolen in a heist in 2011.
  • The Sunrise Ruby is the world’s most expensive ruby, most expensive colored gemstone, and most expensive gemstone other than a diamond. In May 2015, it sold at auction in Switzerland to an anonymous buyer for US$30 million.
  • A synthetic ruby crystal became the gain medium in the world’s first optical laser, conceived, designed and constructed by Theodore H. “Ted” Maiman, on the 16th of May, 1961 at Hughes Research Laboratories. The concept of electromagnetic radiation amplification through the mechanism of stimulated emission had already been successfully demonstrated in the laboratory by way of the Maser, using other materials such as ammonia and, later, ruby, but the ruby laser was the first device to work at optical (694.3 nm) wavelengths. Maiman’s prototype laser is still in working order.

Historical and cultural references

  • An early recorded transport and trading of rubies arises in the literature on the North Silk Road of China, wherein about 200 BC rubies were carried along this ancient track way moving westward from China.
  • Rubies have always been held in high esteem in Asian countries. They were used to ornament armor, scabbards, and harnesses of noblemen in India and China. Rubies were laid beneath the foundation of buildings to secure good fortune to the structure.

(Information from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Ruby – The Birthstone of July – Part 3

Treatments and enhancements

Corundum-winza-17d.jpg
Natural ruby crystals from WinzaTanzania

Improving the quality of gemstones by treating them is common practice. Some treatments are used in almost all cases and are therefore considered acceptable. During the late 1990s, a large supply of low-cost materials caused a sudden surge in supply of heat-treated rubies, leading to a downward pressure on ruby prices.

Improvements used include color alteration, improving transparency by dissolving rutile inclusions, healing of fractures (cracks) or even completely filling them.

The most common treatment is the application of heat. Most rubies at the lower end of the market are heat treated to improve color, remove purple tinge, blue patches, and silk. These heat treatments typically occur around temperatures of 1800 °C (3300 °F). Some rubies undergo a process of low tube heat, when the stone is heated over charcoal of a temperature of about 1300 °C (2400 °F) for 20 to 30 minutes. The silk is partially broken, and the color is improved.

Another treatment, which has become more frequent in recent years, is lead glass filling. Filling the fractures inside the ruby with lead glass (or a similar material) dramatically improves the transparency of the stone, making previously unsuitable rubies fit for applications in jewelry. The process is done in four steps:

  1. The rough stones are pre-polished to eradicate all surface impurities that may affect the process.
  2. The rough is cleaned with hydrogen fluoride.
  3. The first heating process during which no fillers are added. The heating process eradicates impurities inside the fractures. Although this can be done at temperatures up to 1400 °C (2500 °F) it most likely occurs at a temperature of around 900 °C (1600 °F) since the rutile silk is still intact.
  4. The second heating process in an electrical oven with different chemical additives. Different solutions and mixes have shown to be successful, however mostly lead-containing glass-powder is used at present. The ruby is dipped into oils, then covered with powder, embedded on a tile and placed in the oven where it is heated at around 900 °C (1600 °F) for one hour in an oxidizing atmosphere. The orange colored powder transforms upon heating into a transparent to yellow-colored paste, which fills all fractures. After cooling the color of the paste is fully transparent and dramatically improves the overall transparency of the ruby.

If a color needs to be added, the glass powder can be “enhanced” with copper or other metal oxides as well as elements such as sodium, calcium, potassium etc.

The second heating process can be repeated three to four times, even applying different mixtures. When jewelry containing rubies is heated (for repairs) it should not be coated with boracic acid or any other substance, as this can etch the surface; it does not have to be “protected” like a diamond.

The treatment can identified by noting bubbles in cavities and fractures using a 10x loupe.

More about this beautiful gemstone, the birthstone of July – Ruby in Part 4.

(Information from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Ruby – The Birthstone of July – Part 2

Ruby vs. pink sapphire

Generally, gemstone-quality corundum in all shades of red, including pink, are called rubies. However, in the United States, a minimum color saturation must be met to be called a ruby; otherwise, the stone will be called a pink sapphire. Drawing a distinction between rubies and pink sapphires is relatively new, having arisen sometime in the 20th century. Often, the distinction between ruby and pink sapphire is not clear and can be debated. As a result of the difficulty and subjectiveness of such distinctions, trade organizations such as the International Colored Gemstone Association (ICGA) have adopted the broader definition for ruby which encompasses its lighter shades, including pink.

Occurrence and mining

Historically, rubies have also been mined in Thailand, in the Pailin and Samlout District of Cambodia, as well as in Afghanistan, Australia, Brazil, Colombia, India, Namibia, Japan, and Scotland; after the Second World War ruby deposits were found in Madagascar, Nepal, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, and Vietnam.

The Republic of Macedonia is the only country in mainland Europe to have naturally occurring rubies. They can mainly be found around the city of Prilep. Macedonian rubies have a unique raspberry color. The ruby is also included on the Macedonian coat of arms. A few rubies have been found in the U.S. states of Montana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Wyoming.

Spinel, another red gemstone, is sometimes found along with rubies in the same gem gravel or marble. Red spinels may be mistaken for rubies by those lacking experience with gems. However, the finest red spinels can have values approaching that of an average ruby.

South Asia

The Mogok Valley in Upper Myanmar (Burma) was for centuries the world’s main source for rubies. That region has produced some exceptional rubies, however in recent years few good rubies have been found. In central Myanmar, the area of Mong Hsu began producing rubies during the 1990s and rapidly became the world’s main ruby mining area. The most recently found ruby deposit in Myanmar is in Namya (Namyazeik) located in the northern state of Kachin.

Rubies are also mined in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Pakistani Kashmir there are vast proven reserves of millions of rubies, worth up to half a billion dollars. However, as of 2017 there was only one mine (at Chitta Katha) due to lack of investment. In Afghanistan, rubies are mined at Jegdalek.

In Sri Lanka, lighter shades of rubies (often “pink sapphires”) are more commonly found.

Factors affecting value

Rubies, as with other gemstones, are graded using criteria known as the four Cs, namely color, cut, clarity and carat weight. Rubies are also evaluated on the basis of their geographic origin.

Color: In the evaluation of colored gemstones, color is the most important factor. Color divides into three components: huesaturation and tone. Hue refers to color as we normally use the term. Transparent gemstones occur in the pure spectral hues of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet. In nature, there are rarely pure hues, so when speaking of the hue of a gemstone, we speak of primary and secondary and sometimes tertiary hues. Ruby is defined to be red. All other hues of the gem species corundum are called sapphire. Ruby may exhibit a range of secondary hues, including orange, purple, violet, and pink.

Stay tuned for Part 3 about Rubies, the July Birthstone!

(Information from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Ruby – The Birthstone of July

ruby is a pink to blood-red colored gemstone, a variety of the mineral corundum (aluminium oxide). Other varieties of gem-quality corundum are called sapphires. Ruby is one of the traditional cardinal gems, together with amethyst, sapphire, emerald, and diamond. The word ruby comes from ruber, Latin for red. The color of a ruby is due to the element chromium.

Some gemstones that are popularly or historically called rubies, such as the Black Prince’s Ruby in the British Imperial State Crown, are actually spinels. These were once known as “Balas rubies”.

The quality of a ruby is determined by its color, cut, and clarity, which, along with carat weight, affect its value. The brightest and most valuable shade of red called blood-red or pigeon blood, commands a large premium over other rubies of similar quality. After color follows clarity: similar to diamonds, a clear stone will command a premium, but a ruby without any needle-like rutile inclusions may indicate that the stone has been treated. Ruby is the traditional birthstone for July and is usually pinker than garnet, although some rhodolite garnets have a similar pinkish hue to most rubies. The world’s most valuable ruby is the Sunrise Ruby.

All natural rubies have imperfections in them, including color impurities and inclusions of rutile needles known as “silk”. Gemologists use these needle inclusions found in natural rubies to distinguish them from synthetics, simulants, or substitutes. Usually, the rough stone is heated before cutting. These days, almost all rubies are treated in some form, with heat treatment being the most common practice. Untreated rubies of high quality command a large premium.

Some rubies show a three-point or six-point asterism or “star”. These rubies are cut into cabochons to display the effect properly. Asterisms are best visible with a single-light source and move across the stone as the light moves or the stone is rotated. Such effects occur when light is reflected off the “silk” (the structurally oriented rutile needle inclusions) in a certain way. This is one example where inclusions increase the value of a gemstone. Furthermore, rubies can show color changes—though this occurs very rarely—as well as chatoyancy or the “cat’s eye” effect.

More about these beautiful gemstones in Part 2 about Rubies!

(Information from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Pearls – The Birthstone of June – Part 9

In Jewelry

The value of the pearls in jewelry is determined by a combination of the luster, color, size, lack of surface flaw and symmetry that are appropriate for the type of pearl under consideration. Among those attributes, luster is the most important differentiator of pearl quality according to jewelers.

All factors being equal, however, the larger the pearl the more valuable it is. Large, perfectly round pearls are rare and highly valued. Teardrop-shaped pearls are often used in pendants.

Shapes

Pearls come in eight basic shapes: round, semi-round, button, drop, pear, oval, baroque, circled and double bouldered. Perfectly round pearls are the rarest and most valuable shape. Semi-rounds are also used in necklaces or in pieces where the shape of the pearl can be disguised to look like it is a perfectly round pearl. Button pearls are like a slightly flattened round pearl and can also make a necklace, but are more often used in single pendants or earrings where the back half of the pearl is covered, making it look like a larger, rounder pearl.

Drop and pear shaped pearls are sometimes referred to as teardrop pearls and are most often seen in earrings, pendants, or as a center pearl in a necklace. Baroque pearls have a different appeal; they are often highly irregular with unique and interesting shapes. They are also commonly seen in necklaces. Circled pearls are characterized by concentric ridges, or rings, around the body of the pearl.

In general, cultured pearls are less valuable than natural pearls, whereas imitation pearls have almost no value. One way that jewelers can determine whether a pearl is cultured or natural is to have a gemlab perform an X-ray examination of the pearl. If X-rays reveals a nucleus, the pearl is likely a bead-nucleated saltwater pearl. If no nucleus is present, but irregular and small dark inner spots indicating a cavity are visible, combined with concentric rings of organic substance, the pearl is likely a cultured freshwater. Cultured freshwater pearls can often be confused for natural pearls which present as homogeneous pictures which continuously darken toward the surface of the pearl. Natural pearls will often show larger cavities where organic matter has dried out and decomposed.

Lengths of Pearl Necklaces

There is a special vocabulary used to describe the length of pearl necklaces. While most other necklaces are simply referred to by their physical measurement, pearl necklaces are named by how low they hang when worn around the neck. A collar, measuring 10 to 13 inches or 25 to 33 cm in length, sits directly against the throat and does not hang down the neck at all; collars are often made up of multiple strands of pearls. Pearl chokers, measuring 14 to 16 inches or 35 to 41 cm in length, nestle just at the base of the neck. A strand called a princess length, measuring 17 to 19 inches or 43 to 48 cm in length, comes down to or just below the collarbone. A matinee length, measuring 20 to 24 inches or 50 to 60 cm in length, falls just above the breasts. An opera length, measuring 28 to 35 inches or 70 to 90 cm in length, will be long enough to reach the breastbone or sternum of the wearer; and longer still, a pearl rope, measuring more than 45 inches or 115 cm in length, is any length that falls down farther than an opera.

Necklaces can also be classified as uniform, or graduated. In a uniform strand of pearls, all pearls are classified as the same size, but actually fall in a range. A uniform strand of akoya pearls, for example, will measure within 0.5 mm. So a strand will never be 7 mm, but will be 6.5–7 mm. Freshwater pearls, Tahitian pearls, and South Sea pearls all measure to a full millimeter when considered uniform.

A graduated strand of pearls most often has at least 3 mm of differentiation from the ends to the center of the necklace. Popularized in the United States during the 1950s by the GIs bringing strands of cultured akoya pearls home from Japan, a 3.5 momme, 3 mm to 7 mm graduated strand was much more affordable than a uniform strand because most of the pearls were small.

Colors

Earrings and necklaces can also be classified on the grade of the color of the pearl: saltwater and freshwater pearls come in many different colors. While white, and more recently black, saltwater pearls are by far the most popular, other color tints can be found on pearls from the oceans. Pink, blue, champagne, green, and even purple saltwater pearls can be encountered, but to collect enough of these rare colors to form a complete string of the same size and same shade can take years.

Whatever color or style chosen, wouldn’t you agree that Pearls are classic? Pearls can dress up an outfit but are also compatible with casual outfits.

(Information from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Pearls – The Birthstone of June – Part 8

Timeline of Pearl Production

Mitsubishi commenced pearl culture with the South Sea pearl oyster in 1916, as soon as the technology patent was commercialized. By 1931 this project was showing signs of success, but was upset by the death of Tatsuhei Mise. Although the project was recommenced after Tatsuhei’s death, the project was discontinued at the beginning of WWII before significant productions of pearls were achieved.

After WWII, new south sea pearl projects were commenced in the early 1950s at Kuri Bay and Port Essington in Australia, and Burma. Japanese companies were involved in all projects using technicians from the original Mitsubishi South Sea pre-war projects. Kuri Bay is now the location of one of the largest and most well-known pearl farms owned by Paspaley, the biggest producer of South Sea pearls in the world.

In 2010, China overtook Japan in akoya pearl production. Japan has all but ceased its production of akoya pearls smaller than 8 mm. Japan maintains its status as a pearl processing center, however, and imports the majority of Chinese akoya pearl production. These pearls are then processed (often simply matched and sorted), relabeled as product of Japan, and exported.

In the past two decades, cultured pearls have been produced using larger oysters in the south Pacific and Indian Ocean. The largest pearl oyster is the Pinctada maxima, which is roughly the size of a dinner plate. South Sea pearls are characterized by their large size and warm luster. Sizes up to 14 mm in diameter are not uncommon. In 2013, Indonesia Pearl supplied 43 percent of South Sea Pearls international market. The other significant producers are Australia, Philippines, Myanmar and Malaysia.

Freshwater Pearl Farming

In 1914, pearl farmers began growing cultured freshwater pearls using the pearl mussels native to Lake Biwa. This lake, the largest and most ancient in Japan, lies near the city of Kyoto. The extensive and successful use of the Biwa Pearl Mussel is reflected in the name Biwa pearls, a phrase which was at one time nearly synonymous with freshwater pearls in general. Since the time of peak production in 1971, when Biwa pearl farmers produced six tons of cultured pearls, pollution has caused the virtual extinction of the industry. Japanese pearl farmers recently cultured a hybrid pearl mussel – a cross between Biwa Pearl Mussels and a closely related species from China, Hyriopsis cumingi, in Lake Kasumigaura. This industry has also nearly ceased production, due to pollution. Currently, the Belpearl company based out of Kobe, Japan continues to purchase the remaining Kasumiga-ura pearls.

Japanese pearl producers also invested in producing cultured pearls with freshwater mussels in the region of Shanghai, China. China has since become the world’s largest producer of freshwater pearls, producing more than 1,500 metric tons per year (in addition to metric measurements, Japanese units of measurement such as the kan and momme are sometimes encountered in the pearl industry).

Led by pearl pioneer John Latendresse and his wife Chessy, the United States began farming cultured freshwater pearls in the mid-1960s. National Geographic magazine introduced the American cultured pearl as a commercial product in their August 1985 issue. The Tennessee pearl farm has emerged as a tourist destination in recent years, but commercial production of freshwater pearls has ceased.

Momme Weight

For many cultured pearl dealers and wholesalers, the preferred weight measure used for loose pearls and pearl strands is the momme. Momme is a weight measure used by the Japanese for centuries. Today, momme weight is still the standard unit of measure used by most pearl dealers to communicate with pearl producers and wholesalers. One momme corresponds to 1/1000 kan. Reluctant to give up tradition, the Japanese government formalized the kan measure in 1891 as being exactly 3.75 kilograms or 8.28 pounds. Hence, 1 momme = 3.75 grams or 3750 milligrams.

In the United States, during the 19th and 20th centuries, through trade with Japan in silk cloth the momme became a unit indicating the quality of silk cloth.

Though millimeter size range is typically the first factor in determining a cultured pearl necklace’s value, the momme weight of pearl necklace will allow the buyer to quickly determine if the necklace is properly proportioned. This is especially true when comparing the larger south sea and Tahitian pearl necklaces.

More information about Pearls in Part 9 of this series!

(Information from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Pearls – The Birthstone of June – Part 7

History

Pearl hunting

A 14th-century piece of clothing used by Kuwaiti divers searching for pearls in the Persian Gulf

The ancient chronicle Mahavamsa mentions the thriving pearl industry in the port of Oruwella in the Gulf of Mannar in Sri Lanka. It also records that eight varieties of pearls accompanied Prince Vijaya’s embassy to the Pandyan king as well as king Devanampiya Tissa’s embassy to Emperor Ashoka.  Pliny the Elder (23–79AD) praised the pearl fishery of the Gulf as most productive in the world.

For thousands of years, seawater pearls were retrieved by divers in the Indian Ocean in areas such as the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Mannar. Evidence also suggest a prehistoric origin to pearl diving in these regions. Starting in the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD), the Chinese hunted extensively for seawater pearls in the South China Sea. Tanka pearl divers of twelfth century China attached ropes to their waists in order to be safely brought back up to the surface.

When Spanish conquistadors arrived in the Western Hemisphere, they discovered that around the islands of Cubagua and Margarita, some 200 km north of the Venezuelan coast, was an extensive pearl bed (a bed of pearl oysters). One discovered and named pearl, La Peregrina pearl, was offered to Philip II of Spain and then gifted to his wife Mary I of England. According to Garcilasso de la Vega, who says that he saw La Peregrina at Seville in 1607, this was found at Panama in 1560 by a slave worker who was rewarded with his liberty, and his owner with the office of alcalde of Panama.

Margarita pearls are extremely difficult to find today and are known for their unique yellowish color. The most famous Margarita necklace that anyone can see today is the one that then Venezuelan President Romulo Betancourt gave to Jacqueline Kennedy when she and her husband, President John F. Kennedy paid an official visit to Venezuela.

Before the beginning of the 20th century, pearl hunting was the most common way of harvesting pearls. Divers manually pulled oysters from ocean floors and river bottoms and checked them individually for pearls. Not all mussels and oysters produce pearls. In a haul of three tons, only three or four oysters will produce perfect pearls.

British Isles

Pearls were one of the attractions which drew Julius Caesar to Britain. They are, for the most part, freshwater pearls from mussels. Pearling was banned in the U.K. in 1998 due to the endangered status of river mussels. Discovery and publicity about the sale for a substantial sum of the Abernethy pearl in the River Tay had resulted in heavy exploitation of mussel colonies during the 1970s and 80s by weekend warriors. When it was permitted it was carried on mainly by Scottish Travellers who found pearls varied from river to river with the River Oykel in the Highlands being noted for the finest rose-pink pearls. There are two firms in Scotland that are licensed to sell pre-1998 freshwater pearls.

Pearl farming

A pearl being extracted from an akoya pearl oyster. See also: Oyster farming

Today, the cultured pearls on the market can be divided into two categories. The first category covers the beaded cultured pearls, including akoya, South Sea and Tahiti. These pearls are gonad grown, and usually one pearl is grown at a time. This limits the number of pearls at a harvest period. The pearls are usually harvested after one year for akoya, 2–4 years for Tahitian and South Sea, and 2–7 years for freshwater. This perliculture process was first developed by the British biologist William Saville-Kent who passed the information along to Tatsuhei Mise and Tokichi Nishikawa from Japan. The second category includes the non-beaded freshwater cultured pearls, like the Biwa or Chinese pearls. As they grow in the mantle, where on each wing up to 25 grafts can be implanted, these pearls are much more frequent and saturate the market completely. An impressive improvement in quality has taken place in the last ten years when the former rice-grain-shaped pebbles are compared with the near round pearls of today. In the last two years large near perfect round bead nucleated pearls up to 15mm in diameter have been produced with metallic luster.

The nucleus bead in a beaded cultured pearl is generally a polished sphere made from freshwater mussel shell. Along with a small piece of mantle tissue from another mollusk (donor shell) to serve as a catalyst for the pearl sac, it is surgically implanted into the gonad (reproductive organ) of a saltwater mollusk. In freshwater perliculture, only the piece of tissue is used in most cases, and is inserted into the fleshy mantle of the host mussel. South Sea and Tahitian pearl oysters, also known as Pinctada maxima and Pinctada margaritifera, which survive the subsequent surgery to remove the finished pearl, are often implanted with a new, larger beads as part of the same procedure and then returned to the water for another 2–3 years of growth.

Despite the common misperception, Mikimoto did not discover the process of pearl culture. The accepted process of pearl culture was developed by the British Biologist William Saville-Kent in Australia and brought to Japan by Tokichi Nishikawa and Tatsuhei Mise. Nishikawa was granted the patent in 1916, and married the daughter of Mikimoto. Mikimoto was able to use Nishikawa’s technology. After the patent was granted in 1916, the technology was immediately commercially applied to akoya pearl oysters in Japan in 1916. Mise’s brother was the first to produce a commercial crop of pearls in the akoya oyster. Mitsubishi’s Baron Iwasaki immediately applied the technology to the south sea pearl oyster in 1917 in the Philippines, and later in Buton, and Palau. Mitsubishi was the first to produce a cultured south sea pearl – although it was not until 1928 that the first small commercial crop of pearls was successfully produced.

The original Japanese cultured pearls, known as akoya pearls, are produced by a species of small pearl oyster, Pinctada fucata martensii, which is no bigger than 6 to 8 cm (2.4 to 3.1 in) in size, hence akoya pearls larger than 10 mm in diameter are extremely rare and highly priced. Today, a hybrid mollusk is used in both Japan and China in the production of akoya pearls.

Cultured Pearls were sold in cans for the export market. These were packed in Japan by the I.C.P. Canning Factory (International Pearl Company L.T.D.) in Nagasaki Pref. Japan.

(Information from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Pearls – The Birthstone of June – Part 6

From other species

A shell of the Indian volute, Melo melo, surrounded by a number of pearls from this species

Conch pearl pendant

Biologically speaking, under the right set of circumstances, almost any shelled mollusk can produce some kind of pearl. However, most of these molluskan pearls have no luster or iridescence. The great majority of mollusk species produce pearls which are not attractive, and are sometimes not even very durable, such that they usually have no value at all, except perhaps to a scientist or collector, or as a curiosity. These objects used to be referred to as “calcareous concretions” by some gemologists, even though a malacologist would still consider them to be pearls. Valueless pearls of this type are sometimes found in edible mussels, edible oysters, escargot snails, and so on. The GIA and CIBJO now simply use the term ‘pearl’ (or, where appropriate, the more descriptive term ‘non-nacreous pearl’) when referring to such items and, under Federal Trade Commission rules, various mollusk pearls may be referred to as ‘pearls’, without qualification.

A few species produce pearls that can be of interest as gemstones. These species include the bailer shell Melo, the giant clam Tridacna, various scallop species, Pen shells Pinna, and the Haliotis iris species of abalone. Pearls of abalone, or paua, are mabe pearls, or blister pearls, unique to New Zealand waters and are commonly referred to as ‘blue pearls’. They are admired for their incredible luster and naturally bright vibrant colors that are often compared to opal. Another example is the conch pearl (sometimes referred to simply as the ‘pink pearl’), which is found very rarely growing between the mantle and the shell of the queen conch or pink conch, Strombus gigas, a large sea snail or marine gastropod from the Caribbean Sea. These pearls, which are often pink in color, are a by-product of the conch fishing industry, and the best of them display a shimmering optical effect related to chatoyance known as ‘flame structure’.

Somewhat similar gastropod pearls, this time more orange in hue, are (again very rarely) found in the horse conch Triplofusus papillosus.

The second largest pearl known was found in the Philippines in 1934 and is known as the Pearl of Lao Tzu. It is a naturally occurring, non-nacreous, calcareous concretion (pearl) from a giant clam. Because it did not grow in a pearl oyster it is not pearly; instead the surface is glossy like porcelain. Other pearls from giant clams are known to exist, but this is a particularly large one weighing 14 lb (6.4 kg).

The largest known pearl (also from a giant clam) is the Pearl of Puerto, also found in the Philippines by a fisherman from Puerto Princesa, Palawan Island. The enormous pearl is 30 cm wide (1 ft), 67 cm long (2.2 ft) and weighs 75 lb.

More about Pearls in Part 7.

(Information from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)