The Parish Church of St George the Martyr, Waterlooville


We had a super evening on 27th October. Barbara Bartlett came with a wonderful collection of pearl rings, earrings, necklaces and bracelets all for us to look at and buy if we wanted to.

All the pearls are Chinese Freshwater Pearls. Barbara made everything that was on display.

In 2001 Barbara’s husband’s employer in Haslemere, which is a Swiss Company, packed up and went to China. So, in February 2001 Barbara found herself in Hong Kong in temporary accommodation in a flat on the 14th floor of a 40 storey tall building. She found that she was on her own a lot of the time while her husband was working in China. The Chinese ladies belonged to a group which was the YWCA. Barbara got involved, going on different courses, and one of the courses was stringing and knotting pearl necklaces. She found she liked doing this and sent some of the necklaces back home for presents, and some she kept herself.

In 1905 Mikimoto obtained a loan to start his first pearl oyster farm. He inserted a bit of sand or grit into the oyster or mantle which causes the tissue to form a pearl sack. The sack produces nacre, which coats the nucleus, thus creating a pearl. He also discovered that the oysters made better and larger pearls if they were implanted with the shell of an American freshwater mussel. The process of making natural freshwater pearls is firstly a foreign object finds its way inside the mussel or oyster. It can be anything from a parasite to a tiny pebble. If the oyster isn’t able to take it out of its system it will begin to feel irritated. To reduce its discomfort it will start secreting nacre, which is the stuff that pearls are made of.

Barbara showed us around some lovely shells that were very shiny and soft to touch. There were even some pearls that were stuck in the shell and someone had tried to chisel them off without success.

The clams are lowered into the water in a basket and they are there for around three years. During this time they are kept a close eye on so trawlers or boats do not disturb them.

The pearls are on a strand called a Hank which is usually 16 inches long. There are rice pearls so called because they are small like a grain of rice. There are also oval shape rice pearls and pear shape rice pearls. There are barrel pearls which have a ridge around them made from when they were in the water and were moving from side to side. Coin pearls make nice bracelets.

The young Chinese people drill into each pearl by machine and then placing a knot between each pearl on a strand serves two purposes. First, it keeps the pearls from rubbing scratches on each other, second it makes the strand more secure by keeping the loss down to one or two pearls should a strand break.

You should always keep pearls separate from your other jewellery. Keep pearl earrings in a box or pouch. Clean them with a soft cloth. Put your pearl jewellery on last, do not shower or bath whilst wearing them. Don’t spray hairspray or get shampoo etc near them.

Barbara uses strong polyester string to thread the pearls on. Many years ago strong silk was used but it frayed.

Barbara thinks our Queen may wear wild pearls. We were shown a picture of Queen Elizabeth I where she was wearing lots of pearls on her head dress and earrings etc.

Pearls are supposedly worn for good luck. Perhaps Queen Elizabeth I was wearing them because her skin was badly scarred by smallpox in 1562. She used face paint and vinegar to cover these scars.

In 1845 pearls came on the market from South Sea Islands. The pearls were noted for their range of coloration, and particularly for the very dark shades, black or greenish black being especially prominent. The fashion had always been for white or yellow pearls, these black ones were of little value in the markets until about 10 years later when they became fashionable in Europe.

The colour of pearls has no connection with the luster. In general it is the same as that of the shell in which they are formed.

If you want to tell if your pearls are real, then two points are, they will have a knot between each pearl on the strand and they will have a good clasp either gold or silver.

Priscilla Barlow

Winter Edition 2012

St George’s Ladies Group