June 1, 2013 Leave a comment
June Birthstone: Pearl
Alternate Birthstone: Alexandrite, Moonstone
Ancient Birthstone: Agate
Mystical Birthstone: Moonstone
Zodiac sign: Gemini May 20-June 21 Quartz Crystal
Those born in June have the lovely pearl as their birthstone. Pearls are available in a vast array of colors and shapes and have been used as adornments since ancient times. In the Ancient Middle East and Persia, pearls were worth their weight in gold. This trend continued through the Roman Empire and spread throughout Africa and into France. The Renaissance period in Europe through the 1600’s saw the popularity of pearls expand with opening of trade routes to India, the Persian Gulf and the new world. Pearls soon moved into the crown jewels the royal families of Europe, as well as being used for religious ornamentation. All shapes and sizes of pearls were used including: baroque, (irregular) round, drops, and seed pearls. Today pearls are still highly treasured as gems in their own right.
Pearls are an unusual ‘stone’ as they are the only non-stone in the birthstone list. Pearls can be set in rings, brooches, pendants and earrings. Pearls occur naturally in both freshwater and saltwater environments. Pearls are relatively soft measuring 2.5-4.5 on the Mohs scale, making them an ideal material to be drilled for beads. Pearls are made of nacreous layers formed over an irritant, foreign substance, or even bacteria, by the mollusk. Pearls are made of carbonate mineral, the same material that makes up the shell of oysters, mussels, and clams. All bivalve (two shelled) mollusks can produce a nacreous (gem) pearl, the type used in jewelry. Gastropods like abalone and conch also produce ‘pearls’ although of a different chemical make up. Wild pearls (naturally occurring) are rare, in the early 1900’s an enterprising Kokochi Mikimoto pioneered the technique of culturing pearls by implanting a base or irritant to be layered in nacreous material by the mollusk. Pearls are grown in farms for several years. After harvest the mollusk may be implanted to grow more pearls or the shell can be used for mother of pearl jewelry, buttons or beads. Some colored pearls are dyed, irradiated, or bleached to obtain a consistent color. Other naturally colored pearls get their colors from the species of mollusk and pollutants in the water.
Pearl farms are in many countries. China and Japan have large freshwater pearl farming operations, saltwater pearls come from the South Pacific Islands, northern Australia, Indonesia and Fiji. There was a small US pearl fishery, in the Mississippi, which now is mostly defunct, it’s primary product was shell used for mother of pearl beads and buttons.
How to evaluate the quality of a pearl
There are several factors that must be taken into account when judging pearls as all intersect in the final evaluation of a pearl.
Nacre- The thickness of the pearls surface layers is an important factor in the durability and longevity as well as the size of a pearl.
Luster- Luster is related to the layers of nacre, laid on the pearl, it should be unbroken by blemishes, iridescent and show a crisp reflection of light sources. Blurry reflections are less desirable and show a lower quality and thickness of nacre.
Size- Larger sizes are created over longer periods of time, with older mollusks. There is more risk involved to the grower, but a larger, older pearl is more rare.
Shape- Round pearls are seen as the ideal and anything less than perfectly round are downgraded. Unique shapes, rings, and irregularities make pearls interesting but less valuable.
Color- Pearls have a set range of colors, white, cream, pink, silver, black and gold. Most desirable is an even color with no blemishes. Undertones may be visible in rose, green or blue when the pearl is rotated. Pearls should glow from within.
The value of a pearl takes into account all of the above factors but also how it is matched with other similar pearls to form a matching strand influences the value greatly.
Alternate birthstones for June are Alexandrite and Moonstone both have lovely colors and many options if pearls are not for you.
Alexandrite is named after Czar Alexander II in 1855. Alexandrite is a color changing stone, depending on the color of the light it may shift from a beautiful green to blueish-brownish shades and under artificial light is can be reddish violet. Alexandrite is a mineral made up of beryllium, aluminum, and oxygen and is part of the chrysoberyl family. Relatively rare, Alexandrite can be expensive, it is found in Sri Lanka, Brazil and Africa.
Moonstone is an alternate birthstone for June with lovely, white with bluish tones and flashes of color. Turn a moonstone in the light and the color ‘beams’ across the stone like moonlight on water. Moonstone is in the feldspar family, a silicate mineral that commonly forms in rocks. The feldspar family also includes labradorite, amazonite and sunstone. With a hardness of 6-7.5 on the Mohs scale, moonstone is cut into beads and cabochons for jewelry. Clear moonstones are of the highest quality, and are mined in Sri Lanka, Brazil, India and the US.