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All About Pearls

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Native Americans of the Atlantic Coastal areas and the Mississippi River Basin were the first to collect and use U.S. freshwater mussel pearls and shells. Pearl pendants and ear pendants were worn by both sexes and both pearl and shell were used for decorative purposes on articles of clothing. Some of the tribes used pearls as tributes, reportedly Powhattan (Pocahontas’ father) had large stores of pearls received as tribute. Additionally, armlets, pendants, and gaming pieces were made from mussel shell.

Natural freshwater pearls are seldom perfectly round or even nearly round, more often than not they are baroque, slugs, or wings. Many pearls, both natural and cultured, have beautiful color and luster. Freshwater pearls are noted for their wide range of color, they can be found in white, silvery white, pink, salmon, red, copper, bronze, brown, lavender, purple, green, blue, cream, and yellow. Although white is the most common color, the most desirable are the pastel pinks, roses, lavenders, and purples. The different colors are a function of the mussel species, genetics, water quality, and the position of the pearl in the shell. Generally, pearls assume the color of the shell in which they form. Problems can arise in putting together matched strands because of the wide range of pastel colors.

The shape of the nucleus and its position in the mussel determines the shape of the cultured pearl. The shapes recovered include rounds, pears, eggs, drops, buttons, domme, and baroques. In turn, the baroques include many recognized shapes such as, nuggets, dog tooths, wings, hammers, twins, barrels round-a-circle, and rosebuds. The baroques are becoming popular for use in the manufacture of rings, earrings, and pendants. Cultured pearls come in all of the same colors as natural pearls.

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