June Birthstone

Lucky ladies born in June have Pearls as their birthstone.  Actually, they have two as Alexandrite is also a birthstone for the month of June, but according to the American Gem Society, "Alexandrite is more valuable than most gems, even rubies and diamonds" so let's focus on the more affordable, but no less gorgeous pearl.

June's birthstone poem focuses on the Pearl.

The concept of birthstones has long existed in Eastern and Western cultures, attributing various characteristics to gemstones and matching them to individuals born at certain times.

This poem is one of a set of twelve, which represent the months of the year in the Gregorian calendar. Each poem features the birthstone recommended for that month and describes the characteristics of the gem. They are collectively known as the Gregorian Birthstone Poems.

Nobody knows who penned them, but they were first published in a leaflet as part of an advertising campaign by Tiffany and Co. in 1870. They encouraged people to buy gemstones for birthday and anniversary gifts.

'The Stone of Sincerity'

Pearls were associated with the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, and the ancient Greeks believed that pearls were the her hardened tears of joy. 

Pearls are said to be a symbol of purity and believed to promote loyalty and fidelity.  As such, a pearl used to be given at the start of a courtship.

Pearl jewellery is truly classic and makes a lovely gift and the list of modern anniversary gifts lists pearls for 30th wedding anniversary gift ideas. 

Keep reading to learn more about pearls!

Where Do Pearls Come From?

 Pearls were formed from teardrops of the moon that fell into the sea.  - Myth of unknown origin

Many people (myself included until recently) believe pearls come from oysters…which is true in saltwater, but freshwater mussels also produce them.

First of all, a pearl is considered an organic gem, meaning that it comes from a living source, the same as coral. The process of forming a pearl starts when an ‘intruder’ (a piece of shell, coral, or bone) gets inside the mollusk and, in self-defence, the oyster or mussel produces a mother-of-pearl type substance called nacre which, over time, builds up around the foreign object and creates a pearl. The longer the pearl stays inside the mollusk, the more nacre builds up, and the larger the pearl becomes.

So, if the process is the same, are freshwater and saltwater pearls the same?

Not really. Freshwater pearls tend to develop thicker nacre, which means there is more lustre (the gorgeous shimmer) and they are more durable (important as nacre can wear away over time or even get chipped off). Freshwater mussels also tend to produce a wider range of colours, with no indication what they might be until the mollusk is opened. If you’re like me and think there’s only one pearl inside, a freshwater mussel can actually produce up to 50 pearls at a time! Rare…but it does happen.

Saltwater pearls have historically been more sought-after. They include three main varieties: Akoya Pearls known for their lustre, South Sea Pearls considered to be the largest, and Tahitian Pearls which are arguably the most well-known for their gorgeous iridescent colours as well as thick nacre.

Natural vs. Cultured Pearls

Confused about the difference between natural and cultured pearls?

Don’t be. Basically, the only difference is how the pearl starts developing. 

Natural pearls are created when an intruder enters the mollusk. This is commonly thought to be a grain of sand but, in reality, both freshwater mussels and saltwater oysters are constantly getting sand in their shells. Most of the time the sand is just ‘spat’ back out into the water. So, the ‘intruder’ could be a broken bit of shell or bone…something that would annoy or irritate the mollusk to the point where its self-defence kicks in and it starts covering it with nacre.

Cultured pearls, on the other hand, involve human intervention to insert a piece of mantle tissue from a donor mollusk. Although most pearl farmers simply use a small bead instead, or wrap a bit of mantle tissue around a bead. Why a bead? This gives a larger base to start the process and helps the pearl develop the sought-after round shape. After the initial ‘help’ from humans, the pearls are left to evolve naturally…for the most part. A pearl farmer should also keep an eye on the temperature of the water, any signs of pollution or parasites, and on the quality & quantity of food available to the mollusks. Apart from all that, it’s just a waiting game. The size of the pearl will depend on climate conditions and how long it is left to grow.

This all makes it sound very easy. But, before you decide to head off to tropical waters and set up your own pearl farm, you should watch this video on everything that goes on behind the scenes. If you’ve got time to relax with a cuppa, The Pearl Girls have some great videos on their YouTube channel of all different types of pearls and how they are farmed/collected.

It’s ‘Quiz Time’! Can you tell the difference between natural & cultured pearls?

Nope? That’s ok – neither can experts!

Sometimes x-rays are used to try and determine what’s at the centre of the nacre, but this isn’t always conclusive. Oh, and I’m a meanie…both pics are of cultured pearls; the keshi pearls on the left are the result of the implanted mantle tissue falling off the bead that it was wrapped around and forming a ‘warped’ shape, and the perfectly round ones on the right are great examples of the successful products of pearl farming.

99.9% of the most sought-after pearls are actually cultured, not natural – wow!

To keep our promise of offering affordable jewellery, Quiddity Gifts has sourced high-quality imitation pearl beads in a rainbow of colours (and more coming soon!), offering the pearl look at a fraction of the price.  These are also easier to take care of than true pearls.  Click to read how to take care of handmade jewellery.

Visit our shop to see what is available to purchase, or contact us if you would like a custom order featuring your choice of imitation pearl beads. Morse Code necklacestrendy charm jewellery  and even natural lava rock aromatherapy jewellery can all be customised to include your choice of pearl beads.

Did you miss last month's gemstone feature?  Click here to read all about Emeralds, the birthstone for the month of May.

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