Perhaps the most mysterious gemstone of all time, pearls are gifts from nature, created by the mollusc family. These include oysters and mussels, but only a handful have the ability to produce truly beautiful pearls.
Natural vs Cultured Pearls
Do you know only half of 1% of the world’s pearls are natural? Majority of the pearls you see in the market are cultured pearls and here’s why.
How are Natural Pearls formed?
Natural pearls form when some kind of irritant, usually a small organism, makes its way into the shell of a mollusk like an oyster or a mussel. To protect itself from the invader, the mollusk starts to coat the debris with nacre, the same material that lines the inner layer of its shell. It continues doing this, and the irritant eventually grows into a shiny pearl. This is why they say pearls are born of grit.
Sadly, the majority of the world’s natural pearl-producing beds have disappeared due to marine pollution and commercialised fishing. This has made this natural occurrence very rare. Due to their limited quantities, natural pearls are exorbitantly expensive. For instance, Marie Antoinette's pearl pendant sold for a record-breaking $32 million.
How are Cultured Pearls formed?
Cultured pearls are formed by the same process, but instead of the irritant entering the shell accidentally as a natural occurrence, it's put there intentionally by a human. Pearl farmers insert a piece of mollusk tissue, into the shell of the oyster where they want the pearl to grow. This triggers the oyster's defense response, and it starts coating that piece of tissue with nacre. However, it is important to note that this manual insertion does not guarantee that a pearl will be formed. It is also up to nature to decide what type of pearl will be formed - round or irregular-shaped, cream or grey.
Types of Pearls
Next thing to know, is that the type of pearl - Freshwater, Akoya, Tahitian or South Sea, is based on which oyster or mussel it came from. This applies to both natural and cultured pearls. Read this article to learn more about the different types of pearls!