Before launching Pearls in Bloom, Vellva's first ever collection of handmade jewellery, I spent a long time researching all things pearls - their origins, history, supply chain and environmental impact, to ensure that when I bought my own pearls I was making the most informed and responsible decision possible.
What I learnt surprised me, and made me switch to an alternative I hadn't heard of before - crystal pearls. Now that the collection is live and I'm a whole crystal pearl convert, I wanted to share with you why I love them, and why I think you will too.
First of all, some context.
Real, Natural, Cultured Pearls - What's the Difference?
The term 'real pearl’ is used to describe a pearl which occurs naturally in mollusk shells. They are formed when an irritant enters the shell that the mollusk can't expel, so to protect itself it secretes a fluid called nacre and coats the irritant in layers and layers of it. Over a period of years, these layers of nacre build up to form a pearl - the only gemstone to come from a living creature.
Given how incredible this is, how rare it is (only 1 in 10,000 mollusks produce a pearl on average and even less are considered acceptable for jewellery making), the amount of time involved, and the teeny tiny detail that you have to dive to the sea bed to harvest them, it's no surprise that pearls have been one of the most valuable materials for thousands of years.
Pearls were so valuable in fact that over-harvesting caused their supply to dry up almost completely by the late 1800s, leading to the invention of pearl farming in Japan. In the farming process, the pearls are formed in the exact same way as natural pearls, except that the irritant is purposefully inserted into the mollusk rather than leaving it to happen by chance. This technique revolutionised the pearl industry and led to them becoming much more accessible and affordable than ever before.
Today these farmed, or 'cultured pearls' as they are commonly known, are used in the vast majority of the jewellery produced today, while 'natural pearls', those that occur in nature as described above, are much rarer and have a hefty price tag to match.
Natural and cultured pearls both fall into the 'real pearls' category despite their different origins, as they are both derived from living mollusks. The act of forming a pearl doesn’t harm the mollusk, however the harvesting and cultivating processes often do. When people dive for mollusks, the vast, vast majority are opened, found not to contain a pearl, and discarded. With cultivated pearls the mollusk is usually discarded and killed when the pearl is extracted.
What Are Crystal Pearls and How Are They Different?
The first thing to know about crystal pearls is that they aren’t ‘real’ pearls, instead they’re man-made imitations that aren’t derived from a mollusk. Imitation pearls are nothing new, considering the popularity of natural pearls it’s no surprise that people sought to produce more affordable versions of them.
Crystal pearls are a type of imitation pearl named for their glass crystal core which is coated in a pearlescent material designed to replicate the lustre of natural pearls. Unlike other types of imitation pearls which use animal-derived materials such as fish scales in the coating, the crystal pearls I use for the Pearls in Bloom collection contain are completely free of animal-derived products and are therefore suitable for vegans.
In addition to being cruelty free, the crystals pearls I use at Vellva also have a much more visible supply chain than the cultured pearls that would have been my alternative. Cultured pearls for the costume jewellery market and price bracket typically originate in China, and, due to the nature and complexity of the product, pass through several processes and companies before being sold, making it almost impossible to get a clear view of the supply chain from the UK.
The Advantages of Crystal Pearls
The pearls themselves also have some pretty amazing qualities which make them the ideal material for jewellery. Unlike their natural counterpart, crystal pearls are much more resistant to sunlight, water, everyday chemicals like perfume, perspiration and general wear, making them perfect for every day wear. Stronger pearls means you'll need to replace your jewellery less often, making them a more environmentally friendly option.
With their many benefits, it's no surprise to see world leading brands such as Vivienne Westwood using crystal pearls to create their iconic jewellery.
Crystal pearls are not only vegan friendly, high quality, and durable, they're also beautiful. Have a look at our Pearls in Bloom collection to see how I've used these wonderful pearls to create handmade jewellery here in the UK.
Thanks for reading and please ask any questions you may have in the comments section.