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What Are Coin Pearls?
For thousands of years, people have treasured pearls. In many cultures across the world, pearls are surrounded by different myths. Arabs believed pearls were the tears of the gods that fell into the ocean, while the Greeks believed that Aphrodite shed pearls for tears. The Gates of Heaven are described in the Bible to be carved out of pearl, and the Hindu god, Krishna, is said to have given his wife pearls as a wedding gift.
From Cleopatra and Queen Mary to Jackie Kennedy and Michelle Obama, pearls have shown to be a permanent feature in fashion through the ages. With varying types, shapes, colors and quality, pearls are versatile, and with their timeless features it is no wonder that they are referred to as the "Queen of Jewels."
What Are Coin Pearls?
Coin pearls, instead of being the perfectly spherical shape that many people associate pearls with, are flat with a high luster. Luster being the shine factor of the pearl. The name originated when a coin-shaped nucleus was inserted into the mollusk in place of the traditional round core. This flat pearl rests gently against the skin and provides a versatile and asymmetrical look.
Coin pearls are freshwater pearls, and as such are grown in mussels living in rivers and lakes. Saltwater pearls, on the other hand, are formed by oysters in oceans in areas such as Thailand, Australia, Indonesia and Tahiti.
Freshwater vs. Saltwater Pearls
The most significant differences between freshwater and saltwater pearls are the nacre and luster. Freshwater pearls are made mostly of nacre causing the gems to be less lustrous and not as glossy. However, an improvement in farming techniques and technologies in recent years have enabled freshwater pearls to be more comparable to saltwater pearls.
Saltwater pearls have a thinner layer of nacre coating, usually ranging from 0.5 mm to 6 mm, and so the luster is clearer and typically gives off a higher quality sheen.
While saltwater pearls are usually only round in shape, freshwater pearls come in a greater variety of shapes and colors, including the coin pearl.
The longer the cultivation period, the larger the pearl can grow. And while historically saltwater pearls had a more extended cultivation period, freshwater pearl farmers are seeing the value in extending their cultivation periods to produce larger pearls.
Freshwater mussels are capable of producing up to 50 pearls at a time, but most pearl farmers limit the production to 24-32 pearls to produce the highest quality pearls.
Freshwater pearls tend to be cheaper than saltwater pearls, but very high-quality pearls can still be found and are often more durable than saltwater pearls due to the thick layer of nacre.
Where Do Coin Pearls Come from?
Mostly cultured today in China in freshwater mussels, coin pearls offer a casual daytime jewelry option, as well as a sophisticated touch of glamour to an evening outfit.
The ancient Chinese practiced the technique of cultivating pearls, but at a fundamental level. In the 1990s, China revolutionized pearling and now uses rivers, lakes and a low-cost workforce for farming the majority of the world's pearls.
Ninety-nine percent of today’s pearls are cultivated–not natural–including saltwater pearls. Because of the dangers of diving for pearl oysters, trends have shifted towards pearl farming.
How Are Coin Pearls Created?
Coin pearls are a form of cultured pearl, which is made by purposely inserting a nucleus into a mollusk. This nucleus acts as an irritant. The mollusk then produces a layer of nacre around the nucleus.
While the process of creating a coin pearl is similar to any other cultured pearl, the shape of the nucleus is different. A piece of shell material, such as mother-of-pearl, is inserted into the mollusk. The shell material acts as the nucleus and the irritant which naturally leads the mollusk to release the nacre around the foreign substance.
The coin shape is achieved by implanting a coin or disc shape into the mollusk. The process of creating a pearl can take from several months to many years and choosing the exact moment to remove the pearl from the mollusk is crucial to producing the highest quality pearl. Removing the coin pearl too early will result in a thin layer of nacre and a visible nucleus while removing the coin pearl too late can result in the pearl taking on a baroque and non-symmetrical shape.
Qualities to Look for in Coin Pearls
Pearls are the only gemstone to originate from a living species and are a natural and organic product of a living organism. Their uniqueness makes them valuable, but it is essential to know how to look for a quality pearl versus a lower quality pearl.
When selecting pearls in general, the pearl nacre, luster, surface, shape, color and size all influence the quality of the pearl.
Pearl nacre is the natural element the mollusk produces to protect itself from irritants such as shell fragments, sand, parasites or a human implanted nucleus. This mother-of-pearl material coats the foreign material as well as the inner shell of the mollusk. While the saltwater nacre should be a certain thickness to obtain quality, freshwater pearls are composed of solid nacre.
Luster refers to the measure of quantity and quality of light that is reflected off the surface of the pearl. A good quality pearl will have a sharp and bright luster, and you should be able to see your reflection clearly. A dull or chalky luster results in a lower quality pearl.
Similar to the pearl luster, a pearl’s surface should not have any bumps or disfiguring spots or cracks. The cleaner the surface, the more valuable the pearl.
While the traditional round pearl is the most popular, it is very rare to see a perfectly round pearl. Coin pearls and baroque pearls that are not symmetrical are also high quality and appealing but will cost less than a round pearl.
With a variety of colors ranging from black to white to pinks, greens and golds, pearls are versatile and can be matched with any skin tone. Just make sure you are not choosing a dyed pearl, but that the color is naturally occurring.
Pearl size is the last factor to take into account when judging the quality. When all the other attributes are the same, the quality is determined by the size. The larger the pearl, the more valuable the pearl. Depending on the type of pearl, the sizes will vary.
Coin Pearl Selection
Coin pearl quality can vary significantly. Choose a coin pearl where you cannot see the nucleus to ensure the nacre is high quality. If you can see the flat-shaped nucleus inside the pearl, then the pearl was removed too early from the mollusk and then the nacre is too thin. Not only will the nacre diminish in value, but the luster will also be dull and the pearl will be more prone to scratching and damage.
Coin pearls with a thick nacre may not be symmetrical, but with the added character from flame-like tails or small bumps, coin pearls can add a more dynamic touch to jewelry than the traditional round pearl, while still maintaining high quality and value.
Coin Pearls in Jewelry
For thousands of years, women and men have adorned themselves with precious and rare pearls. Julius Caesar even banned lower classes from wearing pearls because he believed they should be reserved for the aristocrats and worn as a symbol of wealth. The status of pearls has not diminished through the years but, luckily, they have become more easily acquired.
In 1896, after nearly two decades of trial and error, Mikimoto Kokichi successfully cultivated the first pearl in his oyster beds. Quoted saying that his dream was to “adorn the necks of all women around the world with pearls,” he opened the doors to a less expensive pearl market.
With continued experimentation, coin pearls, along with other shaped pearls, were developed and introduced into the jewelry market.
Coin pearls today are found on necklaces, bracelets, earrings, pendants, clothing and even men’s cufflinks.
A coin pearl’s flat shape allows them to lie flat and comfortably around the neck or wrist, providing an elegant and relaxing finish to an outfit. They can be set in many ways, as the pearl can be drilled through the middle or on the side.
Pearl Necklace Lengths
Pearl necklaces are a consistent fashion statement and come in an assortment of styles and lengths.
The pearl collar fits snugly on the neck and is only about 12 to 13 inches long. Typically set with multiple strands of pearls, the pearl collar makes a bold statement.
Ranging from 14 to 16 inches in length, the pearl choker sits at the base of the neck and is versatile in that it can be worn at the office as well as at a fancy night out.
Working well with both high and low necklines, the 17- to 19-inch princess necklace is a classic.
Offering the wearer several options, the opera necklace can be worn as a single low-draping strand or it can be looped to form a double-stranded necklace. With between 26 to 36 inches of pearls to work with, it can also be knotted for a unique look.
The luxurious pearl rope, being any pearl necklace longer than 37 inches, can be looped, knotted, tossed over the shoulder and broken down with multiple clasps into other necklaces or bracelets.
A pearl necklace, no matter the length, is a classic statement and continues to stay relevant in any setting.
Matching Coin Pearls to Your Features
When selecting anything to wear, it is essential to factor in your features and which colors match best–and pearls are no exception.
With a vast variety of colors, coin pearls are classy, sophisticated and can complete a look when matched appropriately to your features.
Generally, lighter pearls, such as white, rose, peach and cream work best with fairer skin tones. Darker complexions work best with gold- and cream-colored pearls. Olive skin tones match well with white pearls with silver undertones. But, when in doubt, black or white pearls suit just about everyone and are a safe and timeless option.
Going beyond just skin tones, hair color and eye color can also be taken into account if you are looking for a particular match with your jewelry. Brown skin tones, with black or brown hair, and brown eyes work well with black pearls with silver, gold, bronze and copper overtones.
Olive or tanned skin with black or brown hair and brown eyes looks great with silvery overtones as well as splashes of purple and bronze. Purple tones and gold or bronze overtones suit fair skin with blonde hair and blue eyes, while fair skin with blonde hair and brown eyes works best with bronze and copper pearls.
Fair skin with brown hair and green eyes is accentuated by bronze, gold and dark gray pearls. Auburn hair, fair skin and blue eyes match well with pearl jewelry with silver overtones to highlight the eye and bronze and copper pearls to complement the skin tone.
No matter your skin tone, eye color or hair color, there's a coin pearl shade for you. But when in doubt, go with your gut feeling because feeling your best and most comfortable is most important.
The Bead Traders
Taking pride in providing the best products and services, The Bead Traders is home to an extensive, hand-chosen inventory that is quality checked no matter the value. The lustrous sheen on the coin freshwater pearls pairs quality with low prices, and with a variety of colors and sizes, it is the perfect place to find your next statement piece of jewelry.
A friendly and knowledgeable staff is available to answer any questions or help you through The Bead Traders’ extensive inventory.
Pearls are no longer solely for Julius Caesar and his select aristocrats; however, they still retain their unique and classic elegance that has been seen on royalty for thousands of years.