Gemology: P is for ...

Our gemology guide is back again with a look at gemstones beginning with P. In this article we invite you to discover pearl, peridot, petalite, phenakite, phosphophyllite, prosopite and pyrite. How many of those do you already know?

Pearl

There are many different types of pearl; natural, shell, and artificial. Natural pearls are organic gemstones formed within the shells of molluscs and oysters and can be either freshwater or saltwater with sub-classifications according to wild-harvested or cultured (farmed), region (South Sea), and shape (button, round, mabe, baroque etc). We'll cover each of these variations as they occur in our gemology guide or specialist pearl guides. Natural pearls are formed when an irritant enters the shell (or is introduced in the case of cultured pearls), and the mollusc begins to coat the irritant in layer upon layer of nacre. The end result is a pearl that can be judged for quality on its shape, lustre and colour. Natural pearl colours can be white, ivory, cream, peachy-pink, lavender and black, which isn't technically 'black' at all, but rather a variety of shades including brown-black, green-black, purple-black and – the most popular one of all – peacock black, in which all the colours of the rainbow shimmer like oil on water. The different colours occur as a result of a number of factors including type of mollusc, water temperature, and the food source the mollusc consumes. Most genuine pearls on the market will be cultured pearls – only 1 in 1000-10,000 wild molluscs will contain a pearl, so that's a lot of pearl fishing! Shell pearls are artificially made from a mixture of ground mother-of-pearl (the lining of the shell), and a blend of binders and fillers. A tiny bead is repeatedly dipped into the mixture, dried and polished, until the desired size is reached. Shell pearls tend to be much heavier than natural pearls. Artificial pearls can be made from a variety of materials, generally glass, ceramic, resin or plastic, coated with a substance that will give the impression of a lustrous nacre. They're a lot quicker and cheaper to produce than cultured pearls!

Variety of different natural pearls

Peridot

Peridot is a beautiful yellow-green gemstone, and the birthstone for August! Peridot is the gem quality version of the mineral olivine, which forms deep below the earth's crust when magma cools. Most peridot at mineable depths made its way there in volcanic eruptions, as those living near the June 2018 eruption of Hawaii's Mount Kilauea are discovering. Peridot and olivine crystals have also been found in meteorites that scientists believe have come from an extinct planet that once orbited between Mars and Jupiter. Peridot looks stunning in jewellery, but it can scratch or chip easily and should be protected from extreme temperatures.