Great grandma's pearls

Lulu

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My turn to ask: what are these?!

These come down to me from my great grandmother and my mom had told me they were South Sea pearls (from nanyang). But now that I've seen some SSP in person, these look nothing like those.

I'm guessing that these are from the 1930's or before. I do not know if the clasp is original. I'm guessing based on the metal and the marking, that the clasp is made of "german silver" which seems to have been a popular clasp material in Asia at the time, but I also know that grandma said there once were more pearls and the necklace was longer. I wouldn't be surprised if the necklace had been broken apart way back when during the various times when there was one form of turmoil or another in the area.

Any guesses as to what these might be? I'm guessing freshwater by the patches of metallic lustre, shape and pitting, but I didn't think the Chinese had freshwater pearl cultivation at the time. The smallest on the strand is about 4mm and the largest is about 8 mm x 11 mm.

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Wendy - Yes, they pass the tooth test. I've also re-strung them myself and there is no peeling around the drill hole that makes me think that they're shell pearls. They also don't otherwise look like imitation pearls to me (irregular shapes, patches of lustre, etc.) Is there some characteristic that looks suspicious to you?
 
I'm certainly no expert, but give the size and shapes, could they be naturals?
 
I was wondering re naturals given the 1930s provenance....
Flaws on ss are distinctive often - I've never seen a freshwater with that stone dropped into thick creamy mud ..sort of moon crater..... sort of mark
The colour looks right and the satin lustre looks right too.
But I am not a south sea pearl expert
 
They really look a lot like some of my Mo-in-laws Baroque akoyas from the 30-s -50's. I love all the unique shapes.
 
did baroque akoyas from that time come in gold hues Caitlin...using the one on the clasp as a reference, they are clearly golden...pale, but golden..more golden than akoyas? 8x11 is big for an akoya and that is very baroque....
who knows old south seas...someone....????
 
What size are the larger ones? They look like South Sea to me (the large ones). There is a depth to the luster/color/tones that makes me think that, even in the smaller ones. Are they heavy?
 
They could be ss, though the color is very similar and some of the shapes to the baroque akoya. The akoya needs restringing and I haven't photoed it, but I'll go look for it for comparison. German silver is imitation silver, so I don't think it tells us anything except it may be a replacement clasp. If it were ss, I would expect a better clasp.

The pearls really are nice- whatever they are!
 
Given the wide variety in appearance of each pearl, this is likely a mixed strand.

Sometimes we'll see naturals mixed with cultured, but in this case appears to be baroques mixed with off-round and round cultured pearls.

It's worth a closer look though.
 
Here are some older baroque akoyas for comparison.

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Lulu, check your pearls to see if any of them have a little extra deposit of nacre near a drill hole, like in the above image. Baroque akoyas often have that. Kind of reminds me of that last little drip on soft ice cream.
 
Thanks to everyone for your comments!

Bacca - I don't see the extra deposit of nacre near the drill hole that yours show. A few of the drill holes are pretty worn, but none show that extra little bit of soft-serve.

These unfortunately languished in my grandmother's jewelry box for a few decades before they ended up in my hands. (She preferred her jade pieces anyway.) Grandma had given them to my mom in pieces in a ziploc bag maybe 20-30 years ago, explaining that the piece was broken and was "special" (saying something about south seas and not cultured, but who knows what she meant since she wasn't a pearl expert) and I was the first one to put it in a necklace again since then.

I'm glad I'm not the only one who can appreciate their character. Grandma just thought they were ugly and wrinkly and too golden. The wrinkly texture on some of them and the patches of metallic lustre remind me of the Chinese kasumi-like pearls I got recently. In fact, when I got my strand recently, the first thing I thought was: I've seen this before!
 
Thanks to everyone for your comments!

These unfortunately languished in my grandmother's jewelry box for a few decades before they ended up in my hands. (She preferred her jade pieces anyway.) Grandma had given them to my mom in pieces in a ziploc bag maybe 20-30 years ago, explaining that the piece was broken and was "special" (saying something about south seas and not cultured, but who knows what she meant since she wasn't a pearl expert) and I was the first one to put it in a necklace again since then.

Our grandma's and their love for jade! Mine's name was jade - green jade "yu qing" - specifically, so there's some lying about. I liked your story of Grandma handing over the precious pearls in a ziploc bag; why do they do that?! My grandma hid her coral, pearls and what-not all over in her handbag collection wrapped in small bits of (believe it or not), toilet paper! Such that when she passed on and we were rifling through her stuff, we nearly through them all away!

Love this strand not just because they are turning out to be SSPs but also for the story that came along with it!
 
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The clasp could just be tarnished, rather than cheap. The "S" is likely to denote silver (I believe Japanese silver pearl clasps from the early days often just say S). These pearls look to be the real deal and they are just beautiful! Lucky you!
 
If I had this necklace in hand, and could not find any indication of MOP beads using a loupe, I would definitely have it tested! In your photos, the pearls do not look like baroque Akoyas. The clasp is very cheap (whether silver or not), but the pearl in the clasp looks like white plastic compared to those in the necklace, so it is possible that it is not the original one.

If they are South Sea, don't expect them to look like modern SS cultured pearls. If natural freshwater, the identification issue is tough when they are all drilled through, as the central structure is gone. The Chinese cultured freshwater pearl industry has essentially destroyed the natural freshwater market. Most of the time, the pearl labs won't even rule on drilled freshwater pearls, although I did recently see a natural freshwater necklace with a GIA cert listed on Sotheby's.

Your pearls are far too early for cultured freshwater, so I would at least have them tested to determine saltwater or freshwater, and if there is a central bead. It's really worth a try, as there's a chance you could have old natural SS.
 
The first time I read the first post, I missed the reference to SS or I never would have brought up akoyas. I know less about SS than any other popular pearl and have only seen a few in person. I have some SS keshi from Carolyn and that is it.

If I ever saw a strand that should be looked at by the experts, it is the one that is the topic of this thred. The sheer variety of shapes and extremes of shapes make me wonder whether it is cultured, cultured with a few keshi, or older than that.

Nevertheless, my MiL's baroque akoya does not have any pearls with the dairy queen swirls on it,just a variety of oddly shaped pearls. I include a photo just to complete the curiosity. My sister-in-law knotted this-not me!- and I have not redone it, one reason I haven't photoed it.

I just went back and captured the first one, just for comparison purposes. It has been an education for me!
 

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