Antique natural wild pearls: an example and a mystery!

cath71

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Jul 31, 2023
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This set of pictures contains images of two antique necklaces. The first is set on an 18ct gold clasp with three fine diamonds and French hallmarks. The pearls on this necklace are natural saltwater pearls with a slight barrel shape and averaging about 5mm in length. They are a cream colour with the expected variations you’d see in a natural string.

The second necklace is a mystery! Again strung on a gold clasp of French design, but older. The pearls are slightly larger (around 6mm in length) and more varied in shape with a very high lustre and pink overtones. I’ve photographed both necklaces together for comparison with the known natural pearls. Dental X-rays show similar patterns for both with no evidence of bead nucleation and I drilled one bead in half to take a look inside but I’m not trained in identification of tissue-nucleated pearls. I wondered if anyone more knowledgeable might be able to comment? My sincere thanks in advance. Catherine (a newbie here, but a long term lurker!)
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Modern pearls can be strung / restrung with old clasps. The second necklace looks looks like cultured freshwater pearls from China.
To be sure, you'd have to send them to be tested by a lab, such as GIA.
 
Modern pearls can be strung / restrung with old clasps. The second necklace looks looks like cultured freshwater pearls from China.
To be sure, you'd have to send them to be tested by a lab, such as GIA.
Thank you! That was my immediate thought when I first found them, but they don’t ‘feel’ like Chinese freshwater cultures.
 
I'm not sure what that means. I can't tell what pearls are by their feel.
 
My apologies for not being clear. Having had a lot of pearls of varying kinds through my hands over the years one of course gets used to the characteristics of different types and production techniques. I posted the picture of the second strand because they didn’t present with the kind of characteristics that immediately suggested freshwater cultures (or indeed any other type of pearls I’m familiar with) and I wondered if perhaps the pictures would alert someone to share knowledge that I don’t have. What I mean by the “feel” of pieces is a combination of tacit knowledge about shapes, sizes, colours, lustre, drilling, marks, candling, sometimes the setting and threads used (I re-knotted this string myself, however) and any other clues about age like accumulation of dirt. This tacit body of knowledge constitutes expertise that might then be augmented by explicit data from x-ray or other laboratory-based exploration but it can help to eliminate candidates and suggest others. Anyway, grateful for your input.
 
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Modern pearls can be strung / restrung with old clasps. The second necklace looks looks like cultured freshwater pearls from China.
To be sure, you'd have to send them to be tested by a lab, such as GIA.
I agree with @pearldreams
Testing them would be the only way to ascertain they are natural.
Both necklaces are very nice, and if they are natural: wow!
 
Thank you! That was my immediate thought when I first found them, but they don’t ‘feel’ like Chinese freshwater cultures.
I do understand what you mean. I also get the "Feel" for pearls, but usually works when I have them in my hands. Photos lack so much infomation!
 
I agree with @pearldreams
Testing them would be the only way to ascertain they are natural.
Both necklaces are very nice, and if they are natural: wow!
I know for certain that the diamond-strung necklace is natural and I have certification. I’ve been collecting wild pearls for some years now and I’m lucky enough to have several strings and some phenomenal examples. I’d very happily share photos of them here for reference. I scour eBay for likely pieces and have become pretty good at spotting them :) I had just wondered if anyone might be immediately able to alight on the other necklace and offer any wisdom!
 
Well, the second necklace has many "barrel" shaped pearls. I've seen this shape when pearls have been used for a long time, probably had other shapes before (more oval or even "pointy ends") and they become reshaped by them grinding against each other.
So, "I feel" these are old pearls...200 years at least. Reminds me of pearls that I have seen in Mexico, owned by families that acquired them in the 18th century.
But that's about it...I would love to see them in person!
 
Once I have saved enough money to send them to the lab I will share the results here! Thank you for the insight into the tendency for old pearls to develop a barrel shape: that is very clear on the diamond-strung necklace here and it wasn’t knotted when I found it, so that description would fit. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to retain the aesthetics of the unknotted appearance or to knot for safety and a bit of extra length: jury is still out on which is preferable!
 
Well, the second necklace has many "barrel" shaped pearls. I've seen this shape when pearls have been used for a long time, probably had other shapes before (more oval or even "pointy ends") and they become reshaped by them grinding against each other.
So, "I feel" these are old pearls...200 years at least. Reminds me of pearls that I have seen in Mexico, owned by families that acquired them in the 18th century.
But that's about it...I would love to see them in person!
I also fantasise about seeing 200 year old Mexican pearls… how wonderful!
 
Well, the second necklace has many "barrel" shaped pearls. I've seen this shape when pearls have been used for a long time, probably had other shapes before (more oval or even "pointy ends") and they become reshaped by them grinding against each other.
So, "I feel" these are old pearls...200 years at least. Reminds me of pearls that I have seen in Mexico, owned by families that acquired them in the 18th century.
But that's about it...I would love to see them in person!
Douglas, can you clarify which necklace you mean by the "second" one? I think we are talking about different necklaces.

I was referring to the necklace on the left in this photo as the one that seems to be Chinese FWP. I called it the "second one" because it was not the first photo that appeared in the original post.
But in this photo (below) the order is reversed -- the second one-- the one on the right-- is the one that exhibits the barreling you referred to, indicating its old age.
What do you make of the one on the left?

Screen Shot 2023-08-02 at 2.01.16 PM.png
 
Douglas, can you clarify which necklace you mean by the "second" one? I think we are talking about different necklaces.

I was referring to the necklace on the left in this photo as the one that seems to be Chinese FWP. I called it the "second one" because it was not the first photo that appeared in the original post.
But in this photo (below) the order is reversed -- the second one-- the one on the right-- is the one that exhibits the barreling you referred to, indicating its old age.
What do you make of the one on the left?

View attachment 465540
In this picture the necklace on the right is comprised of certified natural saltwater pearls. The one on the left is the one that is very likely to be, as noted, Chinese freshwater cultured pearls. Apologies for the confusion.
 
Douglas, can you clarify which necklace you mean by the "second" one? I think we are talking about different necklaces.

I was referring to the necklace on the left in this photo as the one that seems to be Chinese FWP. I called it the "second one" because it was not the first photo that appeared in the original post.
But in this photo (below) the order is reversed -- the second one-- the one on the right-- is the one that exhibits the barreling you referred to, indicating its old age.
What do you make of the one on the left?

View attachment 465540
The one on the right, with smaller pearls is the one I refer to. The one on the left makes me think freshwater pearls.
But you know how it is with photographs: they lack the depth and the vividness of pearls "in the nacre".
 
I know for certain that the diamond-strung necklace is natural and I have certification. I’ve been collecting wild pearls for some years now and I’m lucky enough to have several strings and some phenomenal examples. I’d very happily share photos of them here for reference. I scour eBay for likely pieces and have become pretty good at spotting them :) I had just wondered if anyone might be immediately able to alight on the other necklace and offer any wisdom!
Certified by whom? Can you post the accompanying documentation?

You've not mentioned species, country of origin. Likewise, any tangible provenance.

I would like to see other pieces and forgive my skepticism, but I don't think I've seen an authentic natural piece on eBay, ever. Not saying it hasn't happened, insomuch as it's not a thing, no less a reliable vendor with selection criteria and a pool to choose from.

You've mentioned candling, hence I don't need to, but I've not seen any views. Can you post those for us to analyze? Even in their absence and surrounded by ambient light, these appear nuclear identical. Additionally, 100% are pallial periostracial onset/growth. I see no myostracial or adductoral pearls in this lot. All the pearls appear to be from the same age group.

These appear as CFWP. They scored 0:10 N v C in cursory analysis, sorry to say. I struggled hard to find just one controversial point, yet failed.
 
Thank you for your message. I do have quite a few natural strands sourced from eBay and later GIA certified and a few ready to go that I’m pretty confident about. I enjoy the chase! I thought you all might like to see this little collection of un drilled pearls that came from a jeweller in Leicester that was in business in the 19th Century. Obviously these are tiny affairs, but they’re an interesting part of the history of pearl setting in the UK.
 

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Similarly this three strand bracelet was also an eBay find and fully certified as natural saltwater by Stephen Kennedy in London. Such things are indeed out there.

three strand bracelet certified as natural saltwater by Stephen Kennedy in London
 
It might be a cultural thing, American English not being quite the same as UK English, but there’s quite a whiff of newbie bullying along with the skepticism here. I had rather hoped to find a nice place for discussion and sharing of my passion. You will forgive me if I now bail from the conversation and with regret stick with my local experts.
 
It might be a cultural thing, American English not being quite the same as UK English, but there’s quite a whiff of newbie bullying along with the skepticism here. I had rather hoped to find a nice place for discussion and sharing of my passion. You will forgive me if I now bail from the conversation and with regret stick with my local experts.
Sorry to see you leave @cath71
Sometimes we do get people that come here under a different guise and try to deceive. It's normal that some members will "jump" defensively, but you would understand if you were stay here long enough.
Our local experiences colour our viewpoints. I have barely been exposed to eBay so I don't have much to say about it...and UK eBay, US eBay will be different I guess, so as to give you the opportunity to find those pearls that we can't find in eBay USA.
Anyway, I thank you for sharing those photos and information...I do find them interesting!
 
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