The subtle sheen and rich luster of pearls has hypnotized humans for thousands of years. Prized by everyone from the Pre-Columbian Indians to the Roman Empire to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and now Michelle Obama, pearls have found a permanent home among the most highly valued substances in the world.
Now, raise your hand if you were shocked the first time you saw you could buy a strand of pearls for under $10. I currently imagine a sea of raised arms and nodding heads, as well as more than a few questioning glances from those who have not yet perused the pearl selections of their local bead store.
Throughout their long history as objects of adornment, pearls have, until the beginning of the 20th century, been extremely rare and expensive, reserved for nobility and the wealthy. However, in the early 1900’s, Tatsuhei Mise and Tokichi Nishikawa both independently discovered the process of culturing pearls—coaxing an oyster to produce pearls on demand by implanting an irritant into its mantle tissue. Kokichi Mikimoto (yes, that Mikimoto), also working in the field of pearl culturing, ultimately bought Mise’s and Nishikawa’s patents and launched the cultured pearl industry. Thus was the basis for widespread pearl consumption formed.
Pearls are now widely available in an ever-growing number of shapes, sizes, and colors, and while they are certainly more affordable, their beauty and ability to captivate remains undiminished. Saltwater, freshwater, cultured, natural (yes, some are still found in the depths of the ocean rather than farmed), glass (not real pearls at all, but still beautiful); pearls range widely in price, appearance, and quality, but it is often hard to tell the difference at first glance. There are a small range of pearls in colors that are not dyed, including white, cream, light peach, and a very light purple. Pearls found in other colors are usually dyed. The dyes are lasting, however, and will not come off, and add a vibrancy of color.
So, take advantage and revel in the vast array of options available for your beaded creations. Regardless of how much they cost, where the come from, or whether they are even real, pearls add an elegant touch to any piece. Mix them with some Swarovski crystals or pair some teardrop pearls with a bit of amethyst for a spectacular lariat.
What’s the best way to string pearls? In the old days, when pearls were more expensive, and stringing materials were more degradable, knotting pearls was the primary way to string pearls into a necklace. With a knot between each pearl, when the strand eventually broke, the knots kept all the other pearls in place so they wouldn’t be lost. In modern times, with strong stringing materials such as SoftFlex, and proper crimping techniques, the risk of losing your pearls is greatly diminished.
Learn how to make a knotted pearl necklace like your grandmother’s, Jackie O’s, or Michelle O’s. You can even make your own wedding jewelry to rival those in the pages of Modern Bride.
Bead Inspirations offers two different classes with stringing techniques, Knotted Necklace and Basic Necklace/Bracelet. In the Knotted Necklace class (coming up on October 18) students will learn the basics of knotting, and finishing a necklace using silk or nylon and beads of their choice. In the Basic Necklace/Bracelet class (next one is September 20) students learn how to string on SoftFlex and make crimps and add crimp covers.
Both Bead Inspirations’ Alameda store and webstore currently have a large selection of pearls available by the strand and by the bead—seed, coin, potato, rice, teardrop—with prices as low as $4.20/strand.
Even if you’ve never made a necklace before, it is easy with a necklace kit. Instructions are included. You can make a genuine pearl necklace for as little as $9.19!
Lastly, a large number of our bead jewelry design ideas incorporate those gorgeous products of otherwise rather odd-looking creatures to form some fun and elegant pieces. The charm and beauty of pearls is still affordable, even in this economy.