Pearls 101: A crash course in nature’s prized precious orbs |

Pearls 101: A crash course in nature’s prized precious orbs

Daily staff report

Want to know more about pearls?

Attend Kawamoto’s free seminar at La Tour restaurant at 1 p.m. Wednesday, July 31 or stop by Karats in Vail for Kawamoto’s pearl show through Aug. 4. To attend the seminar, please RSVP at 970-476-4760.

There are many kinds of prized jewels out there, most wrought from the earth’s own creation. But beyond gems, stones and precious metals, one of the world’s most fascinating natural treasures is that which is originally found inside a living underwater creature.

The intricate process of how a pearl comes to be — not to mention the astounding variety that exists, what distinguishes them, how to identify fake pearls — are all pressing questions to which a rare few have the answer.

Conveniently, pearl expert Koji Kawamoto, whose newest line of pearl jewelry will be featured at Karats of Vail Friday through Sunday, is offering a free seminar — complete with wine and snacks — at La Tour at 1 p.m. on Wednesday.

To get a little jumpstart on your pearl education, Kawamoto, who hails from the small village in Japan where the process of culturing pearls was first discovered in 1893, sat down to answer a few FAQs about the precious gems.

1. Vail Daily: What are the top three questions people ask you when shopping for pearls?

Koji Kawamoto: What color is good? What size is good? What shape is good? Most women already have a small white pearl necklace. In most cases, those necklaces are Japanese Akoya pearls. White is usually a body color and then pearls have overtone, generally white with pinkish overtone is the most desirable color, however it depends on personal preference. If you don’t know the best color for you I will assist in making a customized selection. If you don’t have a pearl necklace, round Akoya pearl is the first one to get and then move onto other varieties.

2. VD: What are the biggest misconceptions about pearls? Myths vs. reality?

KK: Some people think that pearls should not have any blemishes, but actually blemishes are a beauty of nature. Luster is the most important factor and luster overcomes blemish. Pearls are organic gems, so they require very special care. Avoiding any contacts with chemicals is crucial in preserving the pearl’s beauty.

3. VD: How do you determine if a pearl is fake or real?

KK: Fake pearls can be made to look like more expensive pearls, but they are made up of glass, ceramic, shell or plastic. This bead or fragment is then coated with a varnish or some other material that simulates a pearl-like luster and false iridescence. They are manufactured by humans to fool the human eye. Real pearls, on the other hand, are a valuable commodity made by mollusks, either oysters, mussels or various other bi-valve species. Rare ones are formed spontaneously in the wild and found by happenstance. These natural pearls are the most valuable, and probably not in the typical price range of those shopping for pearls. Occasionally vintage jewelry might be found in this category. Most real pearls today are cultured or farmed, by inserting material into each mollusk, after which nacre is layered in concentric layers over time, producing the iridescent nacre … the hallmark of a real pearl.

4. VD: Describe the differences between fresh and saltwater varieties:

KK: Saltwater pearls occur in oysters and freshwater pearls occur in mussels.

Akoya pearls come from Japanese Akoya oysters. South Sea pearls are from Australia, Indonesia and the islands of the South Pacific with colors ranging from silvery white, golden, champagne. Tahitian Black pearls are from French Polynesia and are black, gray, green, peacock, aubergine and pistachio.

5. VD: How is the value of a strand or individual pearl determined?

KK: Luster, color, size, shape and cleanliness are the factors that determine value. For Akoya pearls, pinkish white is generally the most desirable color. White South Sea with pinkish overtone and richness in color such as gold, champagne, peacock, pistachio, blue, silver and aubergine are also valuable. However, value depends on personal preference, atmosphere, color of your eyes, skin tone, etc.

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