The beauty of a pearl is timeless. From the classic, elegant single-strand style to a multi-stringed statement piece, these gemstones are the perfect accessory to an ensemble for any occasion.
Of course, they aren’t like other gemstones. While other gorgeous jewelry gems like sapphires and diamonds come from deep within layers of the earth’s crust, these luminescent orbs come from a certain edible living organism from the sea—the oyster.
A Pearl’s Conception
Natural pearls are really just an oyster’s attack against invasion. When an intruder slips between the two shells of a mollusk into its mantle (a protective layer covering its organs), it will begin to cover that invader with a layer of composite mineral called nacre.
A common misconception is that the intruder that most often lies at the heart of the pearl’s conception is simply a grain of sand, but oysters are actually capable of expelling the sand that often invades their space. The invaders that oysters attack with nacre are more often parasites, like a sea worm or a bug, that grab onto the oyster so that the oyster can’t expel it at all.
Over time, the oyster covers the intruder with layers and layers of nacre, which is actually the mineral substance that makes up its shell. The nacre, also known as mother of pearl, coats the parasite until the gem is formed.
Natural pearls are those that are formed without the intervention of man. The oyster is naturally invaded by a parasite and layers it with nacre to protect itself.
Cultured pearls are made with the help of pearl farmers. These pearls are formed by the same process as natural pearls with one exception. The oyster is not organically irritated by the parasite. Instead, a harvester opens the oyster and cuts a small slit into that protective mantle tissue we mentioned earlier. In some pearls, the cut into the tissue is enough. In others, small irritants are placed in the mantle and the oyster begins its process of nacre layering.
The cultured pearls produced in this process are more often than not considered to be of equal quality to natural pearls. They’re just a lot easier to come by.
An oyster begins forming a pearl when it covers invaders with a layer of composite mineral called nacre.
A Pearl’s Gestation
Pearl production, whether it is natural or cultured, can take quite a bit of time. While some pearls can develop in just six months, larger pearls can take anywhere from four to seven years to develop.
Generally, oysters only produce one or two pearls at a time. There are exceptions, of course. For example, the Ayoka pearl oyster, which produces the most sought-after pearls, can produce up to five pearls at a time. However, unlike other varieties of oyster, this one is killed upon harvesting, so it will only ever produce up to five in its lifetime.
Most species of oyster can go on to create dozens of pearls in their lifetimes. Often, the pearls that are produced become of better quality with each new harvest.
Looking for a new strand of pearls? Come to Reiner’s Fine Jewelry in Houston.
Reiner’s Fine Jewelry can create the best custom pearl bracelet or necklace to complement any ensemble.