Every Oyster Loving Girl Deserves Some Pearls!

As the “30 Days of Oysters” feature wraps up…I thought the best way to finish up our series of blog articles and Instagram photos that showcased anything and everything oyster related, was to finish the series with something beautiful….PEARLS!  I love them, I own 2 pearl necklaces and a set of earrings and yet…I don’t really know anything about them.  I don’t really know what to ask or what to look for when buying them, I don’t really know the differences to consider and if that’s how I feel, then I’m sure there are some other people that feel the same way!  I decided if I was going to try to find answers to any of those questions then I should probably start with asking the professionals.  In Charleston we are lucky to have several really great jewelry stores!   Many of these stores have good reputations and offer great quality products….but I wanted to ask the people who are: THE BEST.  Which meant I was going to talk to some very special people at a very special place: Croghan’s Jewel Box.  The well-known and highly respected store is over 100 years old and has 4 generations of family that have been involved in working there. I sat down with owner, Mariana Ramsay Hay (who is the loveliest of women and proudly a friend of mine) and asked her to share with me a few things about what we need to know when we go into a store and want to buy pearls.

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So to get started, lets just do a quick overview on the fact that not all oysters produce pearls. The waters are so polluted that its nearly impossible to find natural pearls anymore.  Pearl farming is a huge business and it isn’t by accident that a oyster produces a pearl.  Pearls develop inside of the mollusk (these can be oysters, mussels or snails and a variety of other living sea critters).  Basically what happens is a particle of either food or grit (in natural cases) or glass or tissue in cultured cases (is surgically inserted) by the oyster farmer into the mollusk.  The mollusk then secretes multiple layers of “nacre” which is the shiny outside of the pearl onto the particle, to protect itself against it.  The longer the pearl is in the mollusk, the older, larger and nicer the luster of the pearl will be.  There are two main differences in pearls: REAL PEARLS (freshwater or saltwater pearls) and IMITATION Pearls.  A very easy way to tell the difference (immediately) if a pearl is real or imitation is to rub it on your teeth.  If it’s really smooth and feels so perfect that its hard to believe its real: ITS NOT REAL.  If the pearl feels slightly gritty or slightly uneven: ITS A REAL PEARL.  We aren’t going to spend any time in this article discussing imitation pearls or costume jewelry…I love them just as much as the next girl…but this article is about how to buy the real deal and feel good about the purchase you’re walking away with.

Saltwater Pearls: these include Akoya cultured pearls which are grown in Japanese and Chinese water.  Saltwater pearls are usually white or cream colored.  South Sea Pearls (anything over 10mm and $$$$) are grown in Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines and they are the known as the MACDADDY pearls.  Tahitian pearls are usually black, blue or greyish and are found in Tahiti and several neighboring areas and islands.

Freshwater Pearls: are grown predominately in China but also Europe and North America.  They are grown in freshwater lakes, ponds and rivers and are usually not as expensive as saltwater pearls.

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Walk into the jewelery store with a budget and an idea of what piece of jewelry you are looking for (i.e. earrings, single strand, double strand, color or white pearls, smaller or larger individual pearls, do you want to have something custom-made or pearls mixed with metal-which happens to be the big trend now days).

Pearls are priced depending on: size, luster and perfection.  The better the quality of the pearl, the less imperfection you will see and the less roughness or bumpiness you can feel.  A good quality pearl has been able to stay in the mollusk for at least 5 or 6 years. Then longer its left inside, the nicer the result of the pearl.  The shinier the outside of the pearl, the better the quality.

The first thing to do is ask to see the nicest strand of pearls they have in the store (keep in mind this is going to be a very expensive item and probably not the strand you will be leaving with).  However its really interesting to see what the best quality looks like, because then you can compare everything back to that strand (look at each thing you are considering and lay it next to that highest quality strand and see the differences, its amazing.)  Then lay it against your skin and make sure the pigment and tone of the pearl look good next to your own complexion.  Seeing all of the differences of the pearls next to each other and taking into account your budget should help you to maneuver through the store and help you find your perfect strand!

I asked Mariana if she could help give me a “ballpark” price point of what a woman could expect to spend on a decent set of pearls and what she should know about them, her response:

“A person could expect to spend $600-$1,000 for a decent strand of fresh water pearls.  Thats a necklace that you can buy and really feel proud of.  It’s important to remember that pearls are not made to be worn everyday.  They are porous, and are susceptible to loosing their luster and shine due to the oils in our skin, the hairspray we use etc… Pearls come from living creatures and can’t hold up like gemstones.  They need to be handled with care and taken care of.  They should be the last thing to go on after you are dressed and the first thing to come off when you get home.”

I hope that understanding what some of the differences between pearls are, helps you to set out and find your perfect pearl purchase!  All of this considered, I would highly recommend making a stop by Croghan’s Jewel Box to see their selection.  I am not just saying that because I know the people who own the store, I’m saying it because the people that own the store and that work there-genuinely love helping their customers no matter what your price point or your level of expertise.  They are extremely knowledgeable and love helping people find the perfect item!

Croghan’s Jewel Box is located at: 308 King St. Charleston S.C. 29401 (843) 723-3594

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