Unlike other gems such as precious stones that are cut and polished in order to reveal their hidden beauty, many believe that pearls are harvested and presented in their natural state without any enhancing treatments. In reality, this is not the case. Nearly all pearls harvested and sold today undergo some form of pearl treatment.
One treatment common to most harvested pearls is pearl polishing. Pearl polishing was not commonly used 20 years ago, but today has become standard practice in order to enhance the natural beauty, surface quality and luster of most pearls. The polishing process consists of an initial tumbling and cleaning process that removes various natural deposits and residue that might cause irregularities in the pearl surface as well as sea-borne odors. Then the pearls may be tumbled again with various natural materials such as bamboo slivers to further smooth out imperfections in the pearl's surface.
Though these processes are rather benign and do not decrease the quality of the pearl, some practices which include infusion of oily substances to help increase luster are frowned upon by National Pearl. Such practices only increase luster temporarily, fading with time and wear.
Almost universally frowned upon is the practice of coating lower quality pearls with various luster-increasing epoxy resins. While such materials do increase luster dramatically, they are prone to chipping and cracking over time, eventually revealing the low quality pearl surface. One way to detect such treatments is to use a loupe to closely inspect the pearl’s surface. Often, imperfections in the epoxy coating that are not visible to the naked eye will become visible after magnification. National Pearl does not employ any form of luster-increasing post-treatments such as oily coatings or epoxy resins on any of our pearl products.
Another common practice within the pearl industry is called pearl bleaching. The pearl bleaching process is often employed after the initial cleaning process in order to help even out color irregularities within the top layers of pearl nacre. The forms of bleach used are very mild, allowing gentle lightening of the pearl nacre without damaging pearl nacre quality.
While the vast majority of white pearls on the market today have undergone some form of mild bleaching, the practice is not commonly disclosed and is often denied by pearl farmers and distributors. National Pearl believes that educating our customers is far preferable to deception and hopes to make the full and honest disclosure of pearl industry practices the basis of long-term relationships with our clients.
Pearl Color Enhancements
Some of the most common form of pearl treatments today include color enhancing treatments. Pearl color treatments are employed today in order to help satisfy the variety of requirements from the pearl purchasing public. For example, Akoya pearls harvested from their oysters come in one basic body color: white. The pearls may be naturally accented by a few gentle overtones such as rosé, silver or green.
Customers around the world have different tastes and preferences when it comes to body color and overtones. Then how are these pearl color preferences satisfied? The answer is color enhancement of one form to another.
The most common form of pearl color enhancement is dying. Pearls are dyed after drilling. As such, if pearls are presented to a buyer as “natural color”, an easy way to discover the truth is by examining the drill holes with a loupe. A build-up of the dye is often detectable at the surface of the drill hole revealing which pearls have undergone a dyeing treatment. Another way to detect pearl color enhancements is to simply evaluate the overall matching of a strand. If you are examining a strand of pearls that exhibits an exotic color, the matching and surface seem all too perfect, yet the pearls have an exceptionally low price, the chances are that the pearls have been color enhanced in one form or another.
It is important to note that pearl dyeing is not frowned upon in the pearl industry. On the contrary, it is quite a common practice. What is important is full disclosure of the various treatments a pearl has undergone. Every client has the right to understand what treatments a pearl has undergone from the time it leaves the oyster until the time of their purchase. Unfortunately, the many “middlemen” that participate in the pearl trade may not receive honest disclosure from the pearl farms concerning the various pearl treatments that have been employed on their pearls. As a farm-direct purchaser of pearls, National Pearl has full access to pearl treatment information and freely discloses such information to our customers immediately upon request.