Pearl Processing and Treatments, Then and Now

Pearl Processing and Treatments, Then and Now - Spey

Unlike diamonds, sapphires, rubies and other precious stones, pearls are not chiseled from rocks and faceted into brilliant shapes for jewelry. A pearl of good quality set in jewelry looks just as it did when it emerged from the depths of the ocean. The pearl spent years silently turning within an oyster or other mollusk, forming a lustrous sphere that is ready to wear. Well, almost. There are a few pearl processing steps between mollusk and market.

All pearls are prepared for market in some way. Exceptional quality pearls, like those in the Spey fine jewelry collection, are very rare. That’s because the majority of pearls that are harvested are misshapen or dull. Some merchants amass these pearls of dubious character at low cost and then subject them to various bleaching, tinting and buffing techniques that may improve their value. However, in the now infamous words of the 2008 presidential election: you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.

Attempts to improve the luster, roundness or appearance of pearls go back thousands of years. Everyone wants pearls of impeccable quality – even, it seems, if that quality is “enhanced.” Historians report early pearl processing techniques like soaking a pearl in vinegar to increase the satiny sheen, or setting them in jewelry lined with silver foil to make pearls more refractive. Other spurious (and highly not recommended) treatments over the last 2,000 years included baking pearls in a loaf of bread, or allowing them to pass through a chicken’s digestive tract (and yes, the chicken was mortally harmed during extraction).

At Spey, we don’t employ chickens. We design jewelry in DC with pearls of excellent original quality, those that constitute less than 2-3 percent of the total harvest. Pearls from Spey are simply washed and dried. A tumbling of pearls in a solution of water and salt gently removes any residue or tissue that might cling to a pearl’s surface. A pearl is an organic gem, after all. Anything that goes beyond these basic pearl processing steps is considered a treatment and is not condoned by Spey. We then sort pearls by size, shape, color and luster, and fashion them into truly refreshing pieces of fine pearl jewelry for the Washington woman of discerning taste.