Pearls of Wisdom

There's nothing like a great strand of pearls! Of all my favorite beads and jewelry-making supplies, I think pearls top the list. There's a reason why these little beauties are so precious: each one is the result of a lengthy natural process, and, just like snowflakes, no two natural pearls are exactly alike. If you have yet to discover the wonderful world of pearls in your beading projects, here's a little information to get you started:

Natural Pearls

There are two types of natural pearls: cultured pearls and freshwater pearls.

Cultured pearls are created in oysters, when an irritant like a grain of sand enters the oyster, but can't be expelled. The layers of nacre secreted by the oyster build up around the tiny irritant until a pearl is created. A cultured pearl means that the process was initiated by a human being and not some other natural event — the oyster is harvested, an irritant is implanted in a lab, and then the mollusk is returned to the sea where the pearl grows over many weeks, months, or even years. The very best cultured pearls come from Japan, and can cost upwards of thousands of dollars for a single pearl.

Freshwater pearls are grown in freshwater mussels in circumstances similar to the cultured pearls. Most of these freshwater pearls come from China, and in the last few years, there has been an explosion of freshwater pearls in pretty much every color, shape, and size that you can imagine. While these pearls used to be relatively low cost compared to their cultured counterparts, you can now find freshwater pearls that retail for several hundred dollars per 16" strand. Freshwater pearls generally have a much more organic look to them than cultured pearls, and can be found readily in every local bead shop, bead show, or craft store where jewelry-making and beading supplies are sold.

Glass or Crystal Pearls

If you love the look of natural pearls but want something with a more uniform shape, color, and size, then crystal or glass pearls are just the thing for you. These beads are made with either a glass or crystal base, and are coated with many layers of a pearly substance which can be a type of glass, a coat paint, and may contain bits of crushed up pearls to give it that characteristic pearl luster.

Glass or crystal pearls are generally much heavier than natural pearls, and while they may have larger bead holes, care should be taken to avoid fraying or even broken threads when using them for bead-weaving.

How Do You Use Your Pearls?

Now that you have a little bit of background on pearls and how they're created, how do you want to use your pearls? Here are three suggestions using some of my favorite projects from the Beading Daily Shop!

Pearls front and center! Let your pearls be the main attraction of your beading projects when you create Saturn of the Sea by Sue Jackson and Wendy Hubick. Substitute the beautiful, dark crystal pearls for a lighter color to personalize this stunning necklace that you'll want to wear again and again.
Pearls in a supporting role. Barbara Falkowitz used these lovely crystal pearls to add glamor to her Runway of Pearls bracelet without making them the focal point of the bracelet. Pearls can be used as a way to soften a silver-lined seed bead or bright metallic beads without overpowering the whole design.
Pearls as extras. Even if you only have a few of these luscious lustered beads in your stash, you can still use them to great effect by playing off their color and shine, like Csilla Csmiraz's Dragon Dance bracelet. Combining crystal pearls with textured bead-weaving creates a visually stunning piece of beaded art for your wrist. Try experimenting with some of the new neon colored crystal pearls and see what kinds of pearly goodness you can design!

Ready to find more great pearl beading projects? Check out all the fabulous projects available for instant download right now in the Beading Daily Shop!

Do you have a favorite type, shape, or color of pearl? What do you think about the new neon crystal pearls? Leave a comment here on the Beading Daily blog and tell us why you love to use pearls in your beading projects!

Bead Happy,

Jennifer

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