How pearls are prepared
After carefully tending their pearl farms for months, or even years, things don’t get any easier for pearl producers when they harvest their crops. As few as half of the molluscs they have been looking after will have produced a pearl, and even if they do, many will not be good enough to sell.
Those that are still have a long way to go before they appear on one of the pearl necklaces at Absolute Pearls. Pearl preparation takes several stages:
- Finishing – unlike rough diamonds, pearls emerge from their shell fully formed and beautiful. However like a new baby, they need cleaning up. New pearls are gently bleached to remove any tissue or residue from the mollusc and lightly polished to enhance their natural sheen.
- Sorting – pearls are then sorted, or graded, by their size, shape, colour, lustre and quality to assess their value and to help with the matching process which comes later. Since the qualities of pearls are so subjective most sorting is done by hand.
- Drilling – before they can be used in our jewellery, pearls need to be drilled by highly skilled craftsmen. Pearls for strands, such as necklaces and bracelets are fully drilled, while pearls for earrings and other jewellery are only half drilled. A pearl drill is more like a lathe, and the pearl is drilled from both sides with great precision. Unlike a gemstone, it cannot be re-cut if you get it wrong, so precision is everything.
- Matching – with so much variation in the different qualities of a pearl, finding matching sets can be extremely time consuming. Skilled pearl matchers may need to look through as many as 10,000 pearls to find the 60 or so closely matching pearls needed for a 16 inch string.
- Threading – once the pearls have been finished, sorted, drilled and matched, they are threaded onto strands ready for sale to the pearl jewellery industry.
- Stringing – jewellers take a strand of pearls and thread them using silk thread to create a necklace or other jewellery. The thread is knotted between each pearl to prevent losing more than one pearl if the string breaks. Knots also reduce wear from pearls rubbing together and add length to the string. It is quite a skill to get the right spacing and tension for a truly attractive string of pearls.