Pearls June Birthstone
From one of the humblest of life forms, the mollusc, comes the Pearl - a gem of supreme beauty and elegance and the June birthstone. According to South Asian mythology, pearls were dewdrops from heaven that fell into the sea. They are unique as the only gemstones formed from living sea creatures that require no faceting or polishing to reveal natural beauty. Learn where the June birthstone comes from, its history, meaning and different types of pearls.
What are Pearls, the June Birthstone?
A pearl is a hard, glistening object produced within the soft tissue of a living shelled mollusc. June birthstone is the only gemstone in the world that comes from living creatures. The main component of pearls is calcium carbonate (CaCO3) known as aragonite crystals. There are two main categories of pearls: freshwater and saltwater. Each type then can be natural and cultured. Unlike gemstones that are measured by carat, a pearl’s weight is given in grains.
Pearls are ranked 2.5 on the Mohs hardness scale, which means they are very soft and easily scratched. The hardness of the June birthstone is low, however, they are tough due to their microcrystalline structure. This is also partly due to the organic matrix holding the individual crystals together resulting in stronger cohesion making it almost impossible to break pearls into pieces.
How is June Birthstone Formed?
A Pearl is created when a very small fragment of rock, a sand grain or a parasite enters the mollusc’s shell. It irritates the oyster or clam, which reacts by coating the foreign material with layer upon layer of shell material called nacre. Nacre is composed of alternating layers of aragonite platelet and organic materials film. It encases the irritant and protects the mollusc from it. The nacre is also a substance that gives the June birthstone its lustre. Some pearls take six months to form while bigger pearls can take up to four to five years to grow.
The Japanese businessman Kokichi Mikimoto first brought cultured pearls to the market. He had done it by nucleating Akoya oysters with a particle to stimulate nacre production. All of that was done in protected beds where he could monitor the molluscs. This new technique changed the future of pearls, making them accessible to millions of people. Cultivating practices have become more advanced since and today cultured pearls are much more prevalent than natural ones.
Where Does June Birthstone Come From?
Unlike most gemstones that are found on Earth, the June birthstone has an organic origin. Pearls are created inside the shells of certain species of oysters, mussels and clams. Some pearls are found naturally in molluscs that inhabit the sea or freshwater settings such as rivers or ponds. In saltwater settings, pearls are found in oysters, while in freshwater they are produced by mussels. Almost all pearls today are cultured on pearl farms.
Japan and China both produce Akoya cultured pearls. Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines are leading sources of the South Sea saltwater cultured pearls. Tahitian pearls are cultivated primarily around the islands of French Polynesia of which the most familiar is Tahiti. China is the leading source of freshwater cultured pearls.
Natural versus Cultured Pearls
Natural pearls form in the wild without human help of any kind and are extremely rare. They are very scarce to find and also quite challenging to catch. Today, because natural pearls are very rare on the market they can raise extremely high prices. That is the main reason why nearly all of the pearls available on the market are now cultured. Cultured pearls are chemically and physically the same as natural pearls. They require human intervention to grow and care for them. Most of the molluscs used in the culturing process are raised specifically for that purpose.
Types of Cultured Pearls
There are four main types of cultured pearls:
- Akoya cultured pearls
- South Sea cultured pearls
- Tahitian cultured pearls
- Freshwater cultured pearls
Akoya pearls are saltwater cultured pearls from the Akoya oyster. White and cream-coloured pearls with very high lustre as best known. They are mostly used in single-strand necklaces as they are known for being perfectly round.
South Sea Pearls
South Sea cultured pearls are the most valued of all pearl types as it takes a long time for them to grow in limited growing conditions. They are usually bigger and come in white or silver to golden colours. South Sea pearls are known to have the thickest nacre layers of all cultured saltwater pearl types.
Tahitian Cultured Pearls
Tahitian pearls are all about pearl overtones. The pearls’ body colour might be grey, black or brown, with blue, green, purple or pink overtones. These overtones lend them a colourful brilliance that makes them distinctive and highly desired.
Freshwater Cultured Pearls
Freshwater pearls are the most commonly produced pearls with wide commercial availability. They have a wide range of sizes, shapes and colours. Freshwater pearls are very popular in jewellery designs and birthstone jewellery as pearls are known as June birthstones.
June Birthstone Symbolism
Pearl is the result of the creature protecting itself from outside irritations which is why it is considered the gemstone of nourishment and nurturing. Pearl is very soothing and calming in nature and carries maternal, nurturing and supportive vibrations. It represents wisdom gained through experience. It will help you learn the lessons from every life experience, and will make you wiser and stronger for it. Pearls are said to give the wearer a sense of calmness and centeredness and to promote faith, loyalty and truth. Pearls have long been associated with purity, humility and innocence and were traditionally given as a wedding gift.
June Birthstone Colours
The palette of Pearl colours ranges in every hue. To be able to better understand the range of colours, it is important to distinguish the three components of the pearl colour. All pearls have body colour but only some will show overtone or orientation.
- Body colour is the pearl’s dominant overall colour. The main colour of pearls is often modified by additional colours called overtones.
- Overtone is one or more translucent colours that lie over its body colour. It is usually pink, green, purple or blue.
- Orient is a simmer of iridescent rainbow colours on or just below its surface
The most familiar colours of pearls are white and cream with black, grey, and silver equally common.
How to Identify Genuine Pearls?
Fake pearls have been used for a long time. Materials like glass, plastic and shell are used to imitate pearls’ lustre. As pearls are nowadays widely available and accessible there is no reason not to buy real pearls. To test whether your June birthstone is real or fake, there are three methods you can use:
- The “Tooth Test” - rub a pearl across the surface of your teeth. A real pearl will feel slightly gritty or rough. Most imitations will feel smooth as the coating over plastic or glass feels very even.
- Rub two pearls together – they should feel grainy and not smooth. Real pearls have texture to them.
- “Scrape” the pearls with scissors – of course, do it only gently. This shouldn’t damage the lustre as it extends through all the layers of nacre in genuine pearls.
What Makes the June Birthstone Valuable?
Pearls possess a uniquely delicate translucence and lustre that place them among the most highly valued gemstones. Pearls are extremely unique and rare because they are the only gemstone material formed and found within a living creature. Cherished and highly sought after, pearls have become a classic adornment, a statement of fashion and commitment. The most important factor in evaluating pearls is whether they are natural or cultured while being saltwater or freshwater pearls makes little difference to their value. Their colour depends very much on the species of mollusc that produced them and their environment. Pearls that have an even texture and are free of flaws on the surface are preferred. Very often fashion trends, and cultural traditions can influence the preference for certain types of pearls and colours which can also impact their value. Please check the buying guide below to find out which quality characteristics to look for when valuing and buying pearls.
Pearl Buying Guide
When buying Pearls you should consider and pay attention to the following qualities specified by GIA: size, shape, colour, lustre, surface quality, nacre quality and matching for jewellery with two or more pearls.
- Size - larger pearls are rarer and thus more valuable than smaller pearls
- Shape - round is the most difficult and rarest shape in culture and for that reason is the most valuable
- Colour - pearls occur in a wide range of hues. There are warm hues like yellow, orange and pink, and cool hues like blue, green and purple.
- Lustre – is the most important quality of the pearl which gives it beauty and will determine its value. Lustre is graded as excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor
- Surface quality – if surface features are numerous or severe they can impact the value of pearls. They are shown by abrasions that look like a series of scratches, a flattened section or an irregular ridge that looks like a crease or wrinkle.
- Nacre quality – nacre is the material pearls are composed of. Lustre and nacre quality are closely related. If the nucleus is visible under the nacre, or if the pearl has a dull appearance, you can assume that the nacre is thin which affects the quality of lustre.
- Matching – pearls should match all the quality factors mentioned above
History of Pearls
Historically, pearls have been used as an adornment for centuries. A Chinese historian recorded the oldest written mention of natural pearls in 2206 BC. The Ancient Chinese thought that pearls originated from the brains of dragons. In ancient Greece, pearls were believed to be formed when the tears of joy that fell from the eyes of goddess Aphrodite hardened. In India, warriors encrusted their swords with pearls to symbolise the tears and sorrow that a sword brings. Pearls have also been used as medicine as early as 2000 BC in China and were believed to represent wealth, power and longevity. They were one of the favourite gemstones of the Roman Empire. Later in Tudor England, the 1500s were known as the pearl age. The Japanese businessman Kokichi Mikimoto first brought cultured Pearls to the market. Since the 1920s, cultured pearls have almost completely replaced natural pearls in the market.
Famous Pearls through History
The Hope Pearl - was named after its owner Philip Hope. This freshwater natural river famous pearl is baroque-shaped and weighs 3-4 oz. It ranges in colour from white to greenish-gold. You can view the Hope Pearl at the British Museum of Natural History.
La Peregrina "Wanderer" – was once part of the Spanish crown jewels. This pear-shaped white pearl is one and a half inches in length. It was found in 1500 by a slave in the Gulf of Panama who gained his freedom for finding it. The pearl was passed to Mary I of England in the 1800s. The Bonaparte family had possession of it. Actor Richard Burton bought it for his wife Elizabeth Taylor.
The Abernathy Pearl - this natural famous pearl was discovered only recently in 1967. A Scottish pearl diver found it in the River Tay in Scotland. It is a light pink spherical pearl also called "Little Willie”. The combination of all desirable characteristics has made this pearl one of the most perfect freshwater pearls ever to be discovered.
The Imperial Hong Kong Pearl - also known as the “Miracle of the Sea” is a beautiful silvery-white colour, baroque pearl with an irregular drop shape. It is believed to have once been owned by Chinese Empress Dowager Tz'U-Hi. When she died, the large pearl was placed in her mouth, which was believed to preserve the body. The tomb was robbed 20 years later and the pearl resurfaced in Hong Kong where it was purchased by various companies with western ties.
The Pearl of Asia – is one of the largest natural pearls in the world. It is about three inches long and two inches across. During the pearl’s almost 400-year-old history, it had passed through the courts of three of the greatest empires of Asia; the Moghul Empire, the Persian Empire and the Chinese Empire.
The Arco Valley Pearl - is a saltwater baroque pearl with an irregular shape. It is the 3rd largest nacreous pearl in the world. It was once owned by Chinese, Persian and Mongolian emperors. The Pearl was given as a gift to Marco Polo. After his death, it was not very clear who owned it. Eventually, it came into the possession of an aristocratic family of Austria and Bavaria, the Arco-Valleys. It remained in their possession during the 20th century.
The Pearl of Allah - the largest pearl on record of famous pearls, was recovered from a giant clam in 1934 on the coast of the Philippines. The Muslim diver who found the Pearl of Allah said its surface bore the image of a turbaned face, hence the name.
How to Clean and Care For Pearls?
Pearls are a very delicate and soft organic gemstone and require extra special care. Pearls can be harmed by contact with many chemicals found in household cleaners, perfumes, cosmetics and hair care products. Follow these guidelines on how to care for your June birthstone to be able to enjoy it for a long time and maintain its elegant lustre:
- Store your pearl jewellery in a jewellery box separate from other gemstones
- Put on your pearls last when dressing up and take them off first after you come home
- After wear wipe them with a cloth
- Use a damp cloth to occasionally clean your pearls, never submerge them in water
Pearls continue to be viewed as a mark of taste and refinement as well as a symbol of purity and June's birthstone. Pearls are nature's perfect gift, suitable for all ages. They are classic and timeless and will always be relevant no matter the occasion. They can elegantly be worn with everything from jeans to an evening dress and are a staple in every woman’s jewellery collection.