Seed Pearl

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Seed pearls are very small; less than a one-quarter grain in weight, smaller than 2mm in size and off-round in shape. Historically they occurred naturally and were used as a decorative border, as tiny accents in small patterns, or in larger clusters woven together to make up an entire piece of jewelry. A nineteenth century obsession with pearls is evident in the profusion of tiny seed pearls on every type of jewelry imaginable. Imported from India an China, seed pearls were strung on white horsehair or silk and sewn to mother-of-pearl templates to create elaborate designs. The typical seed pearl parure was composed of a pair of bracelets, a brooch, a pair (or two) of earrings, necklace, ring and aigrette. Considered chaste and elegant, these amazingly elaborate seed pearl parures were deemed to be an appropriate bridal gift and always apropos in the ball room. Famously, Mary Todd Lincoln received a Tiffany & Co. seed pearl parure from her husband to wear at his inauguration.

Victorian Seed Pearl Necklace. Photo Courtesy of Lang Antiques.

Gemological information

Gemological Information for Seed Pearls
Color White, Pink, Cream and Black
Crystal Structure Crystalline Layers
Refractive Index 1.53 to 1.685
Durability Good to Fair, can be scratched, will crush.
Hardness 2.5 to 4.5
Similar Stones Cultured Pearls, Imitation Pearls
Treatments Bleaching and Dyeing
Country of Origin Sri Lanka, Australia, Central America
Seed Pearl Care
Ultrasonic Cleaning Never
Steam Cleaning Never
Warm Soapy Water Safe - Dry String before Wearing
Chemical Attack Attacked by Acids and Perfume
Light Sensitivity Stable
Heat Sensitivity Will Burn with Extreme Heat


Gemology Sources

Gem Reference Guide, Los Angeles: Gemological Institute of America, 1988. Pp. 169-171.

Newman, Harold. An Illustrated Dictionary of Jewelry, New York: Thames and Hudson, 1981. Pp. 274.

Schumann, Walter. Gemstones of the World, New York: Sterling Publishing, Co., 1977. Pp. 222-231.

Lang Antiques
Lang Antiques