Pearls have been a symbol of beauty and purity for thousands of years. Today, they are regarded as both classic and modern, and have made a major comeback in fine and fashion jewelry as of late. With proper care and knowledge these precious jewels can be passed down for generations to come.
Pearls form when a mollusk produces layers of nacre (NAY-kur) around an irritant, like a grain of sand, inside its shell. In natural pearls, the irritant may be another organism from the water. In cultured pearls, a mother-of-pearl bead or a piece of tissue is physically inserted into the mollusk to start the process.
The quality of the nacre dictates the quality of the luster, or shine of the pearl, which is very important to its beauty and its value. The surface of the pearl should be smooth and free of marks while the shape can be round, oval, pear-shaped, or even misshapen. Misshapen pearls are called baroque pearls.