June Birthstone Pearl

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The pearl is not a stone but a gem that is naturally made by clams, scallops, and other mollusks. Pearls are prized in jewelry for their luster and elegance.

Pearls are famous the world over for their distinctive elegance and beauty. Once prized for their rarity and the work it took to search out these organic gems in nature, cultured or farmed pearls have mostly taken the place of wild pearls in modern jewelry. Yet the pearl, birthstone for the month of June, remains a popular gem in bridal jewelry and for Mother’s day gifts. Bracelets, earrings, rings, and necklaces of strands of pearls have a classic and timeless appeal.

The Pearl, an Organic Gem

Pearls are hard, round, lustrous gems produced by certain species of mollusks. Almost any shelled mollusk can make some kind of pearl, but only certain clams, scallops, bailer shells, pen shells, and abalones make pearls that are beautiful enough to be used in jewelry.

These pearls run the gamut from tiny seed pearls to large, oval pearls and they may be a range of colors. White or creamy off-white colors are the most common, but black, pink, gold, grey, and violet-hued pearls are also highly valued.

Pearls in History and Culture

The ancient Greeks believed that pearls would bless the marriage and keep a bride from crying. In medieval times, knights presented their chosen ladies with gifts of pearls. In the 14th and 15th centuries AD, guests at a wedding adorned themselves with pearls in honor of the sacredness of marriage.

In areas where natural pearls were common, the gems were used as a means of financial exchange and were highly valued. This is reflected in modern English, where a pearl has come to mean something precious, as in the expressions “pearls of wisdom” and “casting pearls before swine.” Just to confuse the issue, though, the word for pearl in some languages is the same as the word for “bead.”

In the modern era, pearls have been popularized by public figures of such class and taste as Queen Elizabeth II, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and Elizabeth Taylor.

Natural versus Cultured Pearls

Natural pearls occur in fresh- or salt-water mollusks when a tiny piece of foreign material enters a living mollusk. The irritant is moved around inside the mollusk’s shell, being coated over time with layers upon layers of a substance called nacre.

In nature, pearls are rare and divers would search hundreds of clams, oysters, and other shellfish to find relatively few pearls. Cultured pearls ease the process by introducing a bead or other artificial irritant into the shell, creating real pearls on demand. Most cultured pearls are produced in Japan, but many are also made in China and in the warmer waters of the South Pacific.

Cultured pearls can be just as beautiful as natural pearls and are available in a variety of colors, sizes, and shapes. The most popular types of cultured pearls include:

  • Akoya pearls
  • Tahitian pearls (especially black Tahitian pearls)
  • South Sea pearls

Pearls in Fine Jewelry

Pearls can be found in engagement rings, fashion rings, earrings, bracelets, and necklaces, in strands of similarly-sized pearls. Pearls lend an air of class and maturity to any piece of fine jewelry. The natural gems are very popular for bridal parties.

Synthetic pearls offer inexpensive, pearl replicas, but these can be easily told apart from the real thing by their artificial smoothness and glossiness.


  • ICA Gem Bureau, “Pearls: Very Cultured,” Gemstone.org, 2009
  • Jewelry Central, “Pearls,” JewelryCentral.com, 2009

See also: Moonstone and Alexandrite, alternate birthstones for June.

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