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The Science of Pearls

May 22, 2011

The Pearl Girls jewelry… sometimes the most important thing to know is that it is beautiful and it makes us feel like the gorgeous women we are. However, wee are also so fascinated with pearls and, today we wanted to share a bit of the science of these organic gems with you.

As you know, pearls come from mollusks, the soft-bodied invertebrate species that encompasses oysters (in salt water), mussels (in freshwater), sea snails and even other species that do not have a shell! Squid are mollusks too! We are, of course, concerned with the mollusks that produce pearls. These mollusks have cells in their soft tissue mantle that excrete a hardening liquid that forms their mollusk shells. When these shells form they have various layers. The innermost layer is made of nacre. Nacre is another word for Mother-of-pearl.

Nacre is made mostly of conchiolin, which acts as a glue to hold together calcium carbonite platelets. The calcium carbonite can be made of either aragonite or calcite. What is the difference? Both are composed of calcium, carbon and oxygen, but they have different crystal structures causing them to interact with light differently.

The quality of a pearl’s appearance in reflected light is known as luster. Aragonite crystals and light interact to create a complex luster. Calcite crystals and light create a simple shine similar to porcelain. Conch pearls are made of calcite. The Pearl Girls pearls are made of aragonite. Even within the pearls made of aragonite crystals, though, luster can vary. Other factors that effect luster are the depth of the nacre, the quality of the nacre, the temperature of the water, the type of foods the mollusk eats and more!

Nacre has extremely thin layers making light travel through it at different speeds and angles. This causes light to break up into its component spectral colors, creating an iridescent effect. This effect is known as Orient. Typically pearls with irregular shapes display Orient. In our current collection, the Everyday Necklace with the coin pearl is a perfect display of Orient.

For the most part, though, pearls are best known for their luster. Of the 7 different qualifying factors of pearls most people agree that the luster, or shine, is the most important. The Pearl Girls value this factor in their pearls, and we hope you notice the beautiful luster of The Pearl Girls pearls!

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