The month of June not only has Pearl as a birthstone, but Moonstone and Alexandrite as well! Today, you’ll learn about these three birthstones and view a selection of pieces from our collection.
Pearls have been cultivated for thousands of years. Pearls were hunted by divers in the Indian Ocean and in the South China Sea in ancient times. Pearls were first written about in 2206 BC by a Chinese historian. Spanish conquistadors found pearl beds near Venezuela and Panama. Pearl hunting (diving) was the most common way to harvest pearls until the 20th century, when the process of making cultured pearls was created.
Cultured pearls are made from oysters that are bred for pearl harvesting and do not occur randomly in the ocean. Pearls are created by something that is inserted into the oyster that damages the outside of the shell. To protect the shell, the mollusk will excrete nacre (sometimes called mother-of-pearl), a material that builds up in layers over the cyst that develops where the shell was damaged.
To create a cultured pearl, a piece of tissue, usually from a donor oyster, will be inserted into the oyster. After a few years, nacre will be built up over the inserted tissue, making a pearl. These pearls will then be extracted from the oyster.
This process dates back to medieval China, when artisans would insert small items into oysters to develop a layer of mother-of-pearl over them. This gave these sculptures and figurines an iridescent multicolored luster.
Types of Pearls
There are many different varieties of pearls, some rarer and more valuable than others.
South Seas pearls are cultured pearls that come from the oyster Pinctada maxima. These pearls are often larger and more iridescent than their original counterparts. These pearls are found in Australia and are the rarest of all cultured pearls. They are found in many colors, including white, pink, and gray.
Tahitian pearls are formed from the black lip oyster. They are primarily cultivated around the Polynesian Islands. The color of Tahitian pearls can range from white to a dark gray, the most valuable being the darker colors.
Baroque pearls are pearls that have an irregular shape. Most are non-spherical. Cultured baroque saltwater pearls mare mostly teardrop shaped, and cultured freshwater baroque pearls are more likely to have an irregular shape because of their unique cultivation method.
Keshi pearls are pearls that do not have a nucleus. These pearls, like baroque pearls, are likely to have irregular shapes. They are made entirely of nacre.
Akoya pearls are the most common variety of cultured pearls. These are beaded pearls that are grown to be round or almost round. Rarely are they irregularly shaped.
Moonstone is another June birthstone.A variation of the mineral feldspar, moonstone is known for its otherworldly glow. The Romans believed moonstone was moonlight solidified. It was very popular during the Art Nouveau period. Its characteristic glow comes from layers of feldspar that scatter light. The stone is now found in Sri Lanka, Armenia, Australia, and Mexico.
Alexandrite is a color-changing stone; its colors range from deep red to lush green. It also may show different colors when viewed from different angles. Its name comes from Czar Alexander of Russia. It was first found in deposits in Russia in the 1830s, and was cherished by the Russians because it matched the country’s military colors, red and green. It is a rare stone, and many alexandrites are man-made. The first discovery of alexandrites yielded the highest quality of this stone, but nowadays the original Russian alexandrites are only found in antique jewelry. It is rare to find natural alexandrite, and small mines can be found in Sri Lanka, Brazil, and East Africa.