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Ana Vasiliu Blog

Welcome

Ana Vasiliu

Welcome to my thoughts on natural pearls.

I will be spending much of this year breaking, slicing, polishing, shooting… then labeling and shelving natural pearls. The sum total ought to amount to a hefty catalogue for the current research collection of natural pearls held at my host institute, IACT.

From the early days of the collection, my calls for samples have insisted on the unusual. Current holdings rather fit the bill: these pearls tend to digress rather wildly from the commonsense, historical expectation that pearls ought to match the looks of their respective shells. Such as they are, these samples give the distant dots one might connect to come up with a fairly complete view of what is possible in finer quality:

Pinctada radiatas have not won their reputation as a classical pearling species on account of the glossy blacks, translucent yellows, bright pinks or taupe gravel—not enough to stand on their own facing the march of the whites. White P. radiata will get their page later on this blog: there is some great variety of nacre still to be mapped. In the background: roadside polychrome mica. (Photo: Ana Vasiliu)

Pinctada radiatas have not won their reputation as a classical pearling species on account of the glossy blacks, translucent yellows, bright pinks or taupe gravel—not enough to stand on their own facing the march of the whites. White P. radiata will get their page later on this blog: there is some great variety of nacre still to be mapped. In the background: roadside polychrome mica. (Photo: Ana Vasiliu)

Long story short, expecting a given pearl to just match its shell is barely dull. On the other hand, I may never find out if there exist any substantial pearls of the more outlandish types that are proven possible by the trifle tokens that I do have. Truth be told, going further into such investigation is somewhat outside the remit of my work—this blog kindly invites news of this kind, of course.

All academic subtleties accounted for, the natural origin of pearls is still entirely mysterious. The earliest growth toward the center is the closest testimony remaining of what might have caused the birth of pearls, although much might have happened since the crucial event and the production of whatever is to be found. Often enough, much can be said about what made each pearl possible. Throughout the year, pearls will be destructively opened to probe their growth history layer by layer. Many have already met this fate, so the next post on this blog will show how some Pteria sterna naturals started out, ending with drastically different colors and qualities of nacre. Since patterns of this early growth are part of the armamentarium deployed toward identification, I'll be reporting often on such details.

All academic subtleties aside, my objects of inquiry tend to be easy on the eye whichever way you look at them: it so happens that the luminous bodies of classically fine pearls catch light into vastly intricate mineral fabrics. Color and light delight first; you'd be excused for jumping the gun past the first impressions: pearls contain the last starkly wild Terra incognita among precious minerals, with its versions of habits and formations familiar on tangible if not walkable scale. Conveniently, the pearls best resembling the rock in the background above, are the easy pickings for micrography of one sort or another: this type of shell—called "prismatic" for historical reasons you'd be right to ask for—is the only one built of mineral blocks just large enough to barely deal with by hand, a staggering perk! This time, the easy pickings happen to be the best:

Fracture of a Pinna natural pearl, one of the taupe gravel type in the other picture (#KCB25, source KC Bell Natural Pearls, scanning electron micrography). The white mass is mineral—expected calcite with a small organic fraction; the dark sheets are organic. Left: this pearl fractured straight through its nucleus—so it is possible to follow the growth of mineral blocks from their origin… Right, lower: 'prismatic cells'—the obvious building blocks of this pearl—start from massive mineral blocks, then continue up the surface of the pearl or one of its classical layers. If the latter growth of these mineral formations, closer to the surface of the pearl (right, top), remind you of the grand landscapes of basalt columns, you are not close to wrong. I'd be delighted to hear of kindred patterns in gem minerals, not in the least because these columns in pearls—approximately crystalline, unlike most others—are keeping open a fine line of research on the approximation thereof. (The arcane subject will not further mar this blog, I welcome private correspondence; truly brilliant samples may break any rule, as a matter of course.) (Image: Ana Vasiliu)

Fracture of a Pinna natural pearl, one of the taupe gravel type in the other picture (#KCB25, source KC Bell Natural Pearls, scanning electron micrography). The white mass is mineral—expected calcite with a small organic fraction; the dark sheets are organic. Left: this pearl fractured straight through its nucleus—so it is possible to follow the growth of mineral blocks from their origin… Right, lower: 'prismatic cells'—the obvious building blocks of this pearl—start from massive mineral blocks, then continue up the surface of the pearl or one of its classical layers. If the latter growth of these mineral formations, closer to the surface of the pearl (right, top), remind you of the grand landscapes of basalt columns, you are not close to wrong. I'd be delighted to hear of kindred patterns in gem minerals, not in the least because these columns in pearls—approximately crystalline, unlike most others—are keeping open a fine line of research on the approximation thereof. (The arcane subject will not further mar this blog, I welcome private correspondence; truly brilliant samples may break any rule, as a matter of course.) (Image: Ana Vasiliu)

These inner landscapes of natural pearls are rarely seen; I will be posting pickings from my day-in, day-out optical and electron micrography.

Please feel free to comment here or write to me directly.