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November 1999

Gemstones & Pearls: News

Finishing Touch on Pearls

New advances in pearl culturing invite creative carving

A new product – a carved cultured pearl – is on the market from Michael Randall of Gem Reflections, San Anselmo, CA. Traditionally, pearls have been considered "finished" as they emerge from a mollusk. Cultured pearls generally have only a thin outer layer called nacre, making carving or faceting impossible. This thin layer of nacre could flake or peel off entirely, revealing the less-attractive rounded shell nucleus.

However, the Chinese freshwater cultured pearls now available in quantity are almost all nacre. Cutters and carvers look at these pearls with a special kind of creativity in mind. The pearls are relatively inexpensive, making experimentation possible, even with the finest qualities.

Because they are practically all nacre, carving or faceting can grind away at these pearls' composition of conchiolin and nacre, almost to the core. (Conchiolin is a substance the oyster secretes that helps bind together the calcite and aragonite crystals that form the nacreous layers of the pearl.)

"Since when have we been able to modify the shape of a pearl on a three-dimensional basis to conform exactly to a shape designed by man?" Randall asks. He showed the pictured pearl at the Gemological Institute of America's International Gemological Symposium in San Diego in June and says designers immediately saw the potential. "They started drawing jewelry designs immediately," he says. Randall says carved freshwater pearls will be available in greater quantities at the Tucson gem and mineral shows in February.

  • Gem Reflections, San Anselmo CA; (800) 453-4367.

by Robert Weldon, G.G.

This Chinese freshwater cultured pearl was carved by Bart Curren of Seattle, WA.

Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.


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