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The Wisdom of Pearls

March 27, 1997|CINDY LaFAVRE YORKS

Real or fake, pearls pose a purchasing dilemma. Here's a crib sheet.

Natural: Very rare; they're a fluke of nature.

Cultured: The industry standard. Technicians insert a tiny bead into the oyster, planting the "seed" where a pearl will grow.

Imitation: Glass, ceramic, shell or plastic beads coated with a veneer of ground fish scales.

The luster, color, size, shape and surface of a cultured or natural pearl determine its quality. The more brilliant, smooth, round and big it is, the higher the price.

The type of water in which the pearl is nurtured affects its shape; freshwater tends to produce more irregularities than saltwater.

This season, many designers are working with colorful pearls: rose, gold, silver and even semi-green / black pearls. Although Mother Nature generally dictates a pearl's hue, some cultured varieties are dyed.

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