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            Information  About Us -- Pearl Culture -- Pearl Care -- Birthstones --  Shipping

 About Us


Barb Auten, a former elementary Special Ed teacher, shopped at this store for over 14 years, before finally buying it fifteen years ago with her husband. Barb now makes beautiful pearl jewelry including tied necklaces and bracelets and is our main pearl buyer.

Terry Auten, a retired business educator and military training consultant, makes many different styles of jewelry. He enjoys answering questions about pearls and teaching jewelry making techniques, and is an enthusiastic story teller for school groups on field trips.
 
 

Barb and Terry vacationed in St. Augustine for 14 years, and the old "Pick A Pearl" store was usually their first stop. When long-time friend Harry Erb decided to concentrate solely on his art gallery, he called and offered to sell them the shop. Barb and Terry flew down from Michigan and closed the deal. After a rebuilding of the store, addition of jewelry showcases, new carpet, and paint, (and after taking several jewelry making classes), they reopened as "The Pearl Shop" in October, 2001.

Whether browsing, making jewelry at our bench, getting answers to your pearl and gemstone questions, or just hanging out in the air-conditioning, you are always welcome. Email us with questions about pearls, the shop, or St. Augustine. We really hope to see you and hear from you.

Also, thanks over the years to Joe and Alissa Degregorio, Sally and Jim Carmen, Cindy Tzenis-Perdue, and especially to Jack and Kathy Ackerman.

                 While you are in St. Augustine, please visit our neighbors
                     in the Arcade of Professional Artisans and Craftsmen:

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
  • Aloha Jewelry Specialists (Hand-made Hawaiian Silver Jewelry)
  • Lei's Linens (Hand-embroidered Linens)
  • Victoria's Vintage Photos (Old-time photos)
  • Old City Art & More (Oil paintings and framing)
  • Grover's Gallery (Wood carvings)
  • Anatol's Studio (Custom photo-art in wood)
and if you need life support, try Burger Buckets (a wonderful Mom and Pop cafe) and Likit, Soft Serve Ice Cream Shop
 

 

 

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Pearl Culture

Long known as the "Queen of Gems," pearls possess a history and allure far beyond what today's wearer may recognize. Throughout much of recorded history, a natural pearl necklace comprised of matched spheres was a treasure of almost incomparable value, in fact the most expensive jewelry in the world. Now we see pearls almost as accessories, relatively inexpensive decorations to accompany more costly gemstones.

Before the creation of cultured pearls in the early 1900s, natural pearls were so rare and expensive that they were reserved almost exclusively for the noble and very rich. A jewelry item that today's working women might take for granted, a 16-inch strand of perhaps 50 pearls, often costs between $500 and $5,000. At the height of the Roman Empire, when pearl fever reached its peak, the historian Suetonius wrote that the Roman general Vitellius financed an entire military campaign by selling just one of his mother's pearl earrings.

No one will ever know who were the earliest people to collect and wear pearls, but no matter the origin, a reverence for pearls spread throughout the world over the ensuing millennia. India's sacred books and epic tales abound with pearl references. One legend has the Hindu god Krishna discovering pearls when he plucks the first one from the sea and presents it to his daughter Pandaïa on her wedding day. China's long recorded history also provides ample evidence of the importance of pearls. In the Shu King, a 23rd-century B.C. book, the scribe sniffs that as tribute, a lesser king sent "strings of pearls not quite round." In Egypt, decorative mother-of-pearl was used at least as far back as 4200 B.C., but the use of pearls themselves seems to have been later, perhaps related to the Persian conquest in the fifth century B.C. Rome's pearl craze reached its zenith during the first century B.C. Roman women upholstered couches with pearls and sewed so many into their gowns that they actually walked on their pearl-encrusted hems. Caligula, having made his horse a consul, decorated it with a pearl necklace.

Pearls, in fact, played the pivotal role at the most celebrated banquet in literature. To convince Rome that Egypt possessed a heritage and wealth that put it above conquest, Cleopatra wagered Marc Antony she could give the most expensive dinner in history. The Roman reclined as the queen sat with an empty plate and a goblet of wine (or vinegar). She crushed one large pearl of a pair of earrings, dissolved it in the liquid, then drank it down. Astonished, Antony declined his dinner -- the matching pearl -- and admitted she had won. Pliny, the world's first gemologist, writes in his famous Natural History that the two pearls were worth an estimated 60 million sesterces, or 1,875,000 ounces of fine silver ($9,375,000 with silver at $5/ounce).

The Arabs have shown the greatest love for pearls. The depth of their affection for pearls is enshrined in the Koran, especially within its description of Paradise, which says: "The stones are pearls and jacinths; the fruits of the trees are pearls and emeralds; and each person admitted to the delights of the celestial kingdom is provided with a tent of pearls, jacinths, and emeralds; is crowned with pearls of incomparable luster, and is attended by beautiful maidens resembling hidden pearls."

Modern Pearl Culturing

Kokichi Mikimoto, the son of a noodle maker, had a dream and a hard-working wife, Ume. Together they set about to do what no one else had done -- entice oysters to produce round pearls on demand. Mikimoto did not know that government biologist Tokichi Nishikawa and carpenter Tatsuhei Mise had each independently discovered the secret of pearl culturing -- inserting a piece of oyster epithelial membrane (the lip of mantle tissue) with a nucleus of shell or metal into an oyster's body or mantle causes the tissue to form a pearl sack. That sack then secretes nacre to coat the nucleus, thus creating a pearl.

Mise received a 1907 patent for his grafting needle. When Nishikawa applied for a patent for nucleating, he realized that he and Mise had discovered the same thing. In a compromise, the pair signed an agreement uniting their common discovery as the Mise-Nishikawa method, which remains the heart of pearl culturing. Mikimoto had received an 1896 patent for producing hemispherical pearls, or Mabes, and a 1908 patent for culturing in mantle tissue. But he could not use the Mise-Nishikawa method without invalidating his own patents. So he altered the patent application to cover a technique to make round pearls in mantle tissue, which was granted in 1916. With this technicality, Mikimoto began an unprecedented expansion, buying rights to the Mise-Niskikawa method and eclipsing those originators of cultured pearls, leaving their names only for history books.

Largely by trial and error over a number of years, Mikimoto did contribute one crucial discovery. Whereas Nishikawa nucleated with silver and gold beads, Mikimoto experimented with everything from glass to lead to clay to wood. He found he had the highest success rates when he inserted round nuclei cut from U.S. mussel shells. Although some countries continue to test other nuclei, U.S. mussel shells have been the basis for virtually all cultured saltwater pearls for 90 years.

Even though third with his patents and his secrets, Mikimoto revolutionized pearling. Ever the flamboyant showman and promoter, he badgered jewelers and governments to accept his cultured products as pearls. His workers created massive pearl structures, which he displayed at every major international exposition. By mastering the techniques, Mikimoto, then hundreds of other Japanese firms, made pearls available to virtually everyone in the world.

Freshwater Pearls

A great irony of pearl history is that the least expensive cultured pearl product in the market today rivals the quality of the most expensive natural pearls ever found. Indeed, pearls from freshwater mussels lie at the center of the liveliest activity in pearling today.

Natural freshwater pearls occur in mussels for the same reason that saltwater pearls occur in oysters. Foreign material, usually a sharp object or parasite, enters a mussel and cannot be expelled. To reduce irritation, the mollusk coats the intruder with the same secretion it uses for shell-building, nacre. To culture freshwater mussels, workers slightly open their shells, cut small slits into the mantle tissue inside both shells, and insert small pieces of live mantle tissue from another mussel into those slits. In freshwater mussels that insertion alone is sufficient to start nacre production. Most cultured freshwater pearls are composed entirely of nacre, just like their natural freshwater and natural saltwater counterparts.

The Chinese were the first to culture a product from freshwater mussels, though the first cultured freshwater pearls originated in Japan.

As Japanese freshwater pearl production diminished after WWII, China filled the vacuum. China has all the resources that Japan lacks: a huge land mass; countless available lakes, rivers, and irrigation ditches; a limitless and pliable work force that earns less than a dollar a day; and an almost desperate need for hard currency. In 1968, with no recent history in pearling, China startled the gem world with prodigious amounts of inexpensive pearls.

Starting in the 1990s, China surprised the market with products that are revolutionizing pearling. The shapes, luster, and colors of the new Chinese production often match original Japanese Biwa quality and sometime even surpass it; certainly the new orange and peach-colored pearls are unique. As testimony to China's achievement, their freshwater pearls are round enough and good enough to pass as Japanese Akoya China already sells round white pearls up to 7mm for perhaps a tenth the price of Japanese cultured saltwater pearls.

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Caring for Pearls

Your pearls are a wonderful investment. Take care of tem.

Pearls can keep their beautiful luster for many, many years, if the generations of owners remember how these jewels of the sea differ from other precious gem materials.

Proper care of pearls is not difficult, and it is merely a matter of remembering that these gems are organic by nature, grown in water from living cells of a living creature. Like the oysters which formed them, they require moisture, but because they usually are worn on a silk string which will deteriorate when wet, the pearls will need to be re-strung more frequently if they are taken for a swim in salt or fresh water. Never expose to chlorinated water. Like their "organic" owners, pearls are prone to damage from pollution and injury.

Taking care of your pearls:

  1. STORE PEARLS SEPARATELY from other jewelry, in a cloth bag or jewelry pouch. Storage in slightly damp linen will help prevent pearls from drying out in low-humidity atmospheres including central heating.
  2. APPLY COSMETICS, PERFUME AND SPRAY PRODUCTS FIRST, before putting pearl jeweler on. (Remember although sun creams and insect repellents are good for you, pearls need to be protected from these protectors.)
  3. REMOVE SPILLS IMMEDIATELY if pearls come in contact with food acids. Use a soft cloth moistened in fresh water, and then dry pearls with another soft cloth.
  4. WIPE PEARLS AFTER WEARING, using a soft cloth. Avoid commercial jeweler cleaners unless specified on the label.
  5. RE-STRING pearls regularly, for the sake of the pearls as well as to avoid a broken string. Makeup, powder and grime will form a soft, gluey paste on the string, attacking both the silk and the pearls.
  6. REPLACE INDIVIDUAL PEARLS when a competent pearl-stringer recommends it. Pearls which always lie against the neck when worn will absorb acid from the skin and eventually lose luster as well as their spherical shape.

What To Avoid:

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Birthstones

A standard list of birthstones is used in the jewelry industry today, but those gemstones were arbitrarily selected many years ago. There are more than one way to choose a birthstone.

 

 

Traditional Birthstones

In 1912, the National Association of Jewelers adopted the standardized list that is widely used today:

January

Garnet

February

Amethyst

March

Aquamarine, Bloodstone

April

Diamond

May

Emerald

June

Pearl, Alexandrite, Moonstone

July

Ruby

August

Peridot, Sardonyx

September

Sapphire

October

Opal, Tourmaline

November

Topaz

December

Turquoise, Zircon

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Christian Folklore Birthstones

Christian folk practices have influenced the symbolism of gemstones. George Kunz, in his book The Curious Lore of Precious Stones, lists specific gemstones which were also associated with the twelve guardian angels and the twelve apostles.

Month

Angel

Stone

Apostle

Stone

January

Gabriel

Onyx

Simon Peter

Jasper

February

Barchiel

Jasper

Andrew

Ruby

March

Malchediel

Ruby

James/John

Emerald

April

Ashmodei

Topaz

Philip

Carnelian

May

Amriel

Ruby

Bartholomew

Peridot

June

Muriel

Emerald

Thomas

Aquamarine

July

Verchiel

Sapphire

Matthew

Topaz

August

Hamatiel

Diamond

James

Sardonyx

September

Tsuriel

Zircon

Thaddeus

Chrysoprase

October

Bariel

Agate

Simon

Zircon

November

Adnachiel

Amethyst

Matthias

Amethyst

December

Humiel

Aquamarine

Paul

Sapphire

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Jewish Heritage Birthstones

About 1300 B.C. some gemstones acquired religious significance. In Exodus 28:17-21, specific gemstones are associated with each of the twelve tribes of Israel. People of Jewish heritage may choose their birthstones based on their tribal names. Paul E. Desautels, author of The Gem Kingdom, offers the following list:

Tribe

Modern Gemstone

Textual Gemstone

Reuben

Carnelian

Ruby

Simeon

Peridot

Topaz

Levi

Emerald

Beryl

Judah

Garnet

Turquoise

Issachar

Lapis lazuli

Sapphire

Zebulun

Rock crystal

Emerald

Joseph

Zircon

Jacinth

Benjamin

Agate

Agate

Dan

Amethyst

Amethyst

Naphtali

Citrine

Chrysolite

Gad

Onyx

Onyx

Assher

Jasper

Jasper

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Swarovski Austrian Crystal Birthstones

The Swarovski Company of Austria is the world's foremost maker of full leaded crystal. You may choose birthstone jewelry made from the following crystal colors:

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Shipping and packaging

Shipping costs are included in all purchases. To guarantee prompt delivery, we use U.S. Postal Service Priority Mail or 1st Class Mail for all jewelry items.

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