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Pearls: So Many Choices

Cultured pearls were first produced in Japan toward the end of the 19th century. They have proven a boon to women who love fine pearls, and to those who appreciate the availability and affordable quality made possible by cultured pearls.

Whether natural or cultured, the oyster still does the work of producing a lovely, lustrous pearl. The only difference between a natural and a cultured pearl is that man inserts the nucleus (often mother-of-pearl) around which the pearl is grown, then provides optimal conditions for pearl growth.

Man also assists the growth of cultured pearls by cultivating and protecting beds of the oysters that produce such beauties as South Sea pearls and Tahitian black pearls.

By regulating water temperatures and eliminating predators, the pearls farmers ensure excellent growth of these relatively rare oysters and their cherished treasures.The difference between freshwater and saltwater pearls is often exactly that - the salinity of the water in which they are grown supports different species of oysters, from which the cultured pearls can be harvested.

The most prized pearls have traditionally been the round, deeply lustrous, unblemished specimens with an iridescense that seem to glow in the light.

In recent years, fashion has also embraced the off-rounds and interesting long or irregular shapes provided by baroque, keshi and Biwa pearls, to name a few.

Mabé pearls are grown like other cultured pearls, except that the nucleus is attached inside the shell, rather than inserted into the body of the oyster.