Is this Pearl a Gem?

The daughter was looking for pearls to go with her dress. I moaned. Jewelry was not my specialty. Pearl jewelry even less so.  I remember, decades ago, going to one of those famed pearl stores in San Francisco and being completely bewildered by the array that met me. I told the husband quite honestly that I had no idea what I had bought and whether they were worth it, but I liked how they looked and that ought to do. Things had not changed much on the pearl front in the intervening decades.

So, off I went looking for pearls in the best place I knew. Not the oceans to hobnob with oysters and occasional mollusks to see how they were doing with the irritants of the sand against their skin and all that, but to that one place you go to check to buy anything from ‘bear goggles for toddler swimmers’ to ‘jellyfish tees for teens’: Amazon.

It was while deciding between a $20 piece and a $50 piece that I threw my hands up in the air. The pictures looked amazing. My keen, discerning eye that had helped me spot a heron in the riverbed before anyone else could, could make out no difference between the $20 ones and the $50 pearls. Scratch any of those observations you have seen me make on the birds nearby. With pearls, I was an oyster chasing a duck.

A little rabbit hole related reading later, I emerged with this tidbit: freshwater pearls require our oyster friends to make the pearls after they are injected with an irritant, while artificial ones could be coated with oil-pearl like substances to get the sheen you need. 

With that, I was content and bought something that she wore gleefully. It was $20 well spent. I asked her if her friends thought they were $2000, and she gave me a throaty gargle. “No ma! They know me, and they know you and jewelry too! But they said it looked nice!”

The Smithsonian on how pearls are made – in case you are interested

Imagine my surprise then when I decided to get a spot of light reading in and picked up the book, Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit by P G Wodehouse, I learnt more about these gems. Jeeves, the narrator Bertie’s valet, that trusted man whose intellect shaped his head, taught me about endoscopes and how to determine real pearls from the ones I’d bought on Amazon a few days ago.

Usually, it is risky business to hinge a whole novel on one concept viz knowing how to tell a real pearl from a dud. But P G Wodehouse, that master of the sublime, pirouetted a whole novel around this knowledge. Starting slowly like an oyster does when it’s making its pearls, the novel meanders and swishes with the ocean water, slowly grating and building the pearl.

‘The genuine pearl has no core.’ says Jeeves and then goes on to enlighten his master, Bertie Wooster.

“Core sir. In its interior, the cultured pearl has a core….Nature’s own irritant is invariably so small as to be invisible, but the core in the cultured imitation can be discerned as a simple rule by holding the object before a strong light. This is what I did with Mrs Travers necklace. I had no need for an endoscope.”

The endoscope, is also something doctors (not just endocrinologists) use to plumb your systems and to get a good view. An endoscope is an instrument that can also be used to “peer into the cultured pearl’s interior to discern the core.”

Jeeves, being Jeeves, never leaves us with just this information, but goes on to give us something about the Moh’s scale of hardness that can be used to determine a true diamond. 

After reading that piece, I chuckled to myself. When next I wear my pearls, I intend to keep away from bright lights and endoscopes and all should be well. 

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