Pearl Guide

Pearls are a gift from nature. They are created in the calm, dark depths of the ocean and are then brought up as tiny miracles full of light.

The pearl has been the stuff of legend throughout history.

In Persia, pearls were believed to be the tears of the gods, and it was said that if a woman wore pearls on her wedding day, her life would be tearless. The Chinese, on the other hand, believed that a drop of morning dew filled with moonlight was trapped inside the clam.

Today, we know that it's a small irritation in the mussel or oyster that creates great beauty for us all to enjoy. 

Read on and find answers to your pearl questions in the Dulong Pearl Guide.

Twinkle Pearl earrings with freshwater pearls and 2 brilliants. Gold 18 K

Natural pearls

A natural pearl is created because an irritant in the form of a grain of sand or a small animal finds its way into the mussel or oyster. The animal's natural defence mechanism will then begin to form layer upon layer of nacre to encapsulate the irritation. Many layers later, that reaction becomes a fascinating pearl.

Pearls can occur in different types of mussels and oysters and are found in both freshwater and saltwater. For centuries, people hunted for the "perfect" natural pearl in the deep seas until they learnt how to cultivate pearls in a safer way.

Today, natural pearls are extremely rare, making them very precious.

Ocean bracelet with Tahitian pearls. Gold 18 K

How do you grow pearls?

Before a method of growing pearls was invented, pearl divers had to dive deep to find the precious pearls at the risk of their lives.

After many attempts, the legendary Kokichi Mikimoto succeeded in developing an effective way to grow pearls in Japan in the 1920s. His method was so effective that it is still used today. Mikimoto figured out how to artificially add the irritation that creates the pearl. 

Growing pearls is incredibly difficult because both mussels and oysters are highly sensitive animals that are immediately affected by pollution, storms, disease, lack of oxygen and temperature. In this way, pearl farming helps influence producing countries to maintain a healthy aquatic environment.

Today, there are several different ways to grow pearls. For example, the coveted South Sea pearls can be cultivated by grinding small donor pearls and then grafting the Pinctada Maxima oyster to create a South Sea pearl.

Grand Piccolo Marina bracelet, gold 18 K with freshwater pearls

South Sea pearls

South Sea pearls shine almost like satin and the lustre is soft. South Sea pearls are famous for glowing from deep within, unlike freshwater pearls, for example, which have a more clear and superficial glow.

In terms of colour, South Sea pearls range from blue-white, white, creamy and golden shades with an almost metallic sheen. The price of a South Sea pearl is determined by its size, shape, colour, the thickness of the nacre layer, the purity of the surface and the lustre of the pearl.

South Sea pearls are grown in Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines. The pearls are grown in relatively large oysters called Pinctada Maxima, which means that South Sea pearls can grow to be very large and impressive. 

An oyster must be nurtured and cared for for 18 months before the pearl is ready to be removed. By that time, the oyster has spun more than a thousand layers of nacre around the pearl's spherical centre.

South Sea pearls are among the most beautiful and precious pearls in the world.

Unika Balance pendant, gold 18 K with South Sea pearls and diamonds.

Tahitian pearls

The Tahitian pearl is a saltwater pearl that is cultivated in the waters around Tahiti – as the name suggests. As much as 90% of the world's black pearls are traded from Tahiti.

The Tahitian pearl is derived from the black-lipped oyster, Pinctada Margaritifera, whose nacre gives the pearls a wonderful, unique dark lustre. The beautiful dark colours range from silvery grey to jet black. It is also characteristic that Tahitian pearls have colour variations such as blue and green. These blue-green variants are called Peacock after the peacock's beautiful flashy colours. The blue, green, red, brown shades that can occur in Tahitian pearls are called overtones because they are secondary colours to the underlying black or grey.

You can find baroque, spherical and drop-shaped Tahitian pearls, typically ranging in size from 8-20 millimetres. 

The price of a Tahitian pearl is determined by its size, shape, colour, the thickness of the nacre layer, the purity of the surface and the luster of the pearl. Tahitian pearls are among the most beautiful and exclusive pearls in the world.

Piccolo Moonlight bracelet with Tahitian pearls. Gold 18 K

Freshwater pearls

As the name suggests, freshwater pearls are formed in freshwater mussels.

Freshwater pearls range from shades of white, pink, purple, peach or beige. They are typically smaller than South Sea pearls and Tahitian pearls.

Freshwater pearl mussels used to be found in many parts of the world, especially in Northern Europe, but due to pollution and industrialisation, they became virtually extinct. Today, China is the largest supplier of freshwater pearls. 

The freshwater mussel produces pearls much faster than Pinctada Margaritifera and Pinctada Maxima, which create Tahitian and South Sea pearls respectively.

Freshwater pearls usually don't have a donor pearl and each freshwater mussel can produce up to 20 pearls. Freshwater pearls stay in the water longer than both Tahitian and South Sea pearls, but they require far less care. The price of a freshwater pearl is determined by its size, shape, colour, the thickness of the nacre layer, the purity of the surface and the lustre of the pearl.

Pacific ring with freshwater pearl. Large, gold 18 K

What is a cultured pearl?

Cultured pearls are grown in mussels and oysters on pearl
farms around the world.

A small nucleus or donor pearl is placed very carefully into
the oyster or mussel. The oyster then reacts by forming layers of nacre. About one layer of nacre is formed per day and the pearl is removed from the oyster when it reaches 1000 layers or more. During this period, they are carefully cared for and nurtured, as the oyster is a delicate animal.

Cultured pearls come in many different shapes and the shape can be controlled during cultivation. Popular shapes include teardrops, hearts, ovals and rounds.

What are Japanese pearls?
Japanese pearls are the original cultured pearls and are also known as Akoya pearls. They are saltwater pearls and typically round in shape. In terms of colour, they range from pink, white to golden.

Japanese pearls are smaller in size than Tahitian pearls and range between 6-10 millimetres. The price of an Akoya pearl is determined by its size, shape, colour, the thickness of the nacre layer, the purity of the surface and the lustre of the pearl.

Delphis Pearl earrings with freshwater pearls. Silver

What are baroque pearls?

Baroque pearls have an organic shape and in the past they were often discarded in the context of exclusive jewellery. Today, the beautiful, wild, natural shapes of baroque pearls have been recognised and have become highly sought after. 

The popularity is perhaps due to the fact that the baroque shape allows you to recognise that it is a real pearl, as it would have looked if it was shaped by nature itself.

Ocean Trio earrings with baroque freshwater pearls. Gold 18 K

How is a pearl’s value determined?

The value of a pearl depends on seven factors:

Size – the bigger the better
Shape – the more symmetrical the better
Colour and overtone – the value of colour and overtone depends on demand 
Gloss/reflection – the more reflection of light the better
Surface quality – the fewer inclusions the better
Pearl quality/thickness of the nacre layer – the thicker the better
Match – beads that match each other increase in value.

Myths about pearls

Archaeologists have found pearls in settlements dating back around 6000 years, so pearls have long been valued by humans. And since there was no logical explanation for how something so beautiful could appear out of nowhere, myths have always followed the pearl.

One of the most beautiful myths is that pearls are gifts from the goddess of love, Aphrodite, or Venus as she is called in Roman mythology. The pearls were small pieces of her charms that she distributed to humans. She is said to have been born from the foam of the sea and to have risen from the ocean, completely naked except for a beautiful pearl necklace around her neck.

The pure, beautiful appearance of the pearl has also meant that in many Western cultures it has been associated with innocence and has been given to brides as a wedding gift. In Asia, the pearl has been associated with fertility and has been a gift given to new mothers.

What all myths have in common, however, is that pearls have been coveted for thousands of years.

Pearls in art

Pearls can be seen in many famous paintings because they have played a major role throughout history as a status symbol and myth.

Here you can see Botticelli's famous Venus painting, where Venus herself is the pearl in the clam. The enchanting painting can be seen at Le Gallerie Degli Uffizi in Florence, Italy.

Above is another famous painting that shows the importance of the pearl as a symbol, Johannes Vermeer's 'Girl with a Pearl Earring'.  Here, the large, natural Tahitian pearl is the centre of the painting and the famous painter has managed to capture the pearl's unique brilliance to such an extent that his contemporaries believed he had painted it with crushed mother-of-pearl. The painting by Vermeer is on display in The Hague at the Mauritshuis.

How do you maintain pearls?

Unlike precious stones, pearls are not a mineral but an organic product. In other words, pearls are made of a natural material and therefore require care to maintain their beauty. 

The best way to care for your pearls is to wear them. This is because pearls retain their natural moisture, which gives them their special lustre when worn.

Pearls are born in water, so they do not tolerate being stored in very dry places. They also don't like large temperature fluctuations, which can damage their natural lustre. So think carefully if you're going on a skiing holiday and taking your pearls directly into high heat after a long, cold day on the slopes.

Look after your pearls:

Wear your pearls. It makes them sparkle. Store them softly so they don't get scratched. Beware of big temperature changes. Be careful with perfume and hairspray. Be careful with soap and alcohol. Clean them with lukewarm water and a soft cloth. 

With a little care, your pearls will stay beautiful forever.

Piccolo Marina necklace in gold 18 K with freshwater pearls

Pearl jewelry from Dulong

At Dulong, we love pearls. Pearls of different kinds are often included in our jewelry and collections. Either as the focal point of the jewelry or in interaction with gemstones or diamonds.

See all our jewelry with pearls here. 

Large Globe pendant with freshwater pearls, shown on Kharisma earrings.