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From Audrey Hepburn to Michelle Obama, pearls have earned an enduring place among icons of style. Accessorizing a worn-in pair of jeans as nicely as an exquisite wedding gown, as the old saying goes, "pearls like to be worn." At Gump’s, we've always found this to be true. In fact, it's driven our practice of hand-selecting only the finest pearls and hand-stringing them right in our San Francisco store.

Our in-house gem curator has been sourcing our pearls since 1960. Yes, she has a good job, travelling the world and developing relationships with the most discriminating dealers and the most choosy farmers. With an expert eye, she selects pearls of exceptional quality and rare beauty, assessing them for size, shape, color, luster and complexion. Back at home, our jewelry team begins working on unique styles and settings--everything from elaborately twisted and layered strands to classic pearl earrings. The designs are constantly changing. And we're excited about that. What hasn't changed is the way we continue to carefully hand knot every pearl on silk thread, pearl by carefully chosen pearl. Shop the Collection.

All pearls can be divided into two types, saltwater and freshwater. Saltwater pearls are created by oysters and include the Akoya, South Sea, and Tahitian. Akoya pearls are the classic round and white pearl originating in Japan. South Sea pearls are often larger and can have a rich golden hue, and Tahitian pearls—or “black pearls”—are found in the waters of French Polynesia and appear in interesting color combinations of silver, deep gray, blue or pink. Freshwater pearls, on the other hand, are created by mussels and occur in a variety of beautiful shapes and unique colors.

When a pearl is assessed for value, experts consider things like size, color, luster, shape and complexion. Generally speaking, the larger the pearl and the more regularly it's shaped, the higher its value. That one's simple. As far as color is concerned, pearls come in a wide range of colors ranging from white to black. Body color, overtones, and iridescence are important considerations when checking for value. With luster, radiance and glow are major considerations--both caused by light reflecting off the outer layers of nacre on the pearl. And as far as  complexion is concerned,  smoothness rules. A high quality pearl will be free of discoloration, scratches, and ripples or bumps.

The most highly valued pearl shape is round although both saltwater and freshwater pearls occur in a variety of beautiful shapes. In addition to round pearls, keep an eye out for drop-shaped, oval, button and coin-shaped pearls. You may also find pearls that are more dome-shaped on one side and flat on the other ("mabe") or more free-form or "keshi" shaped from a saltwater pearl forming without a nucleus.

Storing: Between wearings, wrap your pearls loosely in a soft cloth (or slip them into a jewelry pouch) and store them away from sunlight or heat. Store them in a box that's secure but not airtight. Your pearls can dry out and lose their luster if they’re not exposed to a little air. Even safe-deposit boxes can often be too dry of an environment.

 

Wearing: Hairspray, perfume, deodorant and other chemicals can damage the exterior of your pearls, so apply each prior to putting on your jewelry. If possible, dab your perfume where the pearls won’t rest. Perspiration can also dull pearls over time, so it’s best not to wear them when you’ll be exercising vigorously. And don’t wear them while swimming—even in the ocean!

 

Cleaning: After each wearing, you should wipe your pearls with a soft cloth before putting them away. If they’ve gotten a little dingy, make a water and baking soda solution (in a x to x ratio), immerse them for a minute or so, and then do a thorough rinsing in clear water. This will brighten them and the moisture will also temporarily tighten the silk on which they’re strung. Lay flat to dry; don’t hang.

 

Professional Cleaning and Restringing: At least once a year, your pearls should be cleaned by a professional and inspected to see if they need to be restrung.