Monday, June 20, 2005
On Monday June 20th DCGIA was privileged to hear Ms. Gina Latendresse. She talked about natural pearls with the emphasis on American pearls and the advent of the American pearl industry with its subsequent impact on world pearl production. She is the daughter of the renowned John Latendresse, who was founder of the American Pearl Company of Nashville, Tennessee, and was his protege and his heir. She is a well established pearl authority in her own right.
Diane Grimes and Gina
Ms Latendresse spoke briefly about the history of pearls as gemstone adornments. Historically they may have been the first gem. In 1299 Venice, only brides wore pearls: in 1599 only women married more than a decade were permitted pearls. Until recent history pearls were owned only by royalty and the very rich.
Lisa Carp, Etta Saunders, Russ Shew, Cathy Gaber and Gina
The acquisition of natural pearls declined with the advent of successful culturing in the late 1800s and, as a result, this cultured gem became available to the middle class at an affordable price. In 1906 only 1/10,000 marketed pearls were natural, in 2005 only 1/50,000 or perhaps 1/100,000. Most natural pearls are odd or baroque shapes because the actual nucleation is caused by any shell or parasitic intruder or any foreign epithelial cell. Therefore, the subsequent pearl is shaped accordingly. The price of natural pearls can be astronomical due to the very limited supply. At a recent auction a three-strand natural Akoya pearl necklace sold for three million dollars.
Davia Kramer and Mary Ehlers
The American pearls harvested from the Mississippi and Tennesee rivers are natural and come in baroque shapes designated as “feather, bird, turtleback, rose bud, and wings.” They lend themselves to fantastic, imaginative jewelry. Five percent of these pearls have natural hues of pink, blue and gold along with various shades of white. These natural pearls are not enhanced in any way. Very few natural pearls are derived from other sources today.
Mary Ehlers, Bob Davis, Ann Escobar and Gina
The pearling industry started as a by-product of related industries such as seafood harvesting, restaurant preparation, mother-of-pearl buttons, utensil manufacturing, and many others.
The major part of today’s pearls are cultured with the introduction of a shell bead nucleus and foreign mantle cells around which the nacre grows for a specified period of time, and is then harvested. The longer the time in the water, the thicker the nacre and the more costly the pearl. The resultant pearl is priced according to many factors: nacre thickness, luster, color, size, shape, and surface perfection. Sixty percent of the shell beads used for nucleation are derived from American fresh water mollusks. Currently China is experimenting with different sources of nucleation material but with limited success. Today almost all pearls are cultured and enhanced.
Lois Berger, Russ and Helen Shew
Mollusk pearls come from many sources around the world and are derived from several different species that give their own genetic characteristics to the resultant pearls. These include size, color, and shape such as golden pearls from the gold-lipped oyster. Some unusual pearls presently being found are natural black pearls from Mexico and Venezuela, abalone with baroque shapes and mabes from California, rare gastropod flame-patterned conch “pearls” from the Caribbean, and its even rarer Vietnamese relative, the “melo melo.” Other mollusks or gastropods can also produce a protectively coated inclusion or “pearls”.
The evening flew too quickly. The audience was given a rich palette of information, descriptions, and history and left it looking for more, hopefully not too far in the future.
Written by Lisa Carp
Photos by Bill Scherlag