& Pearl Formation
Cultivation Gives us the Gem our Ancient Ancestors Coveted
The invention of pearl cultivation has given us the ability to own one of the most sought after gems in the world – the pearl. Pearls are either natural or cultured. Cultured pearls are the pearls most people are familiar with today because these are the pearls prevalent in the marketplace. Natural pearls are the gems of the past. Natural pearls are rarely found except for in auction houses or in the jewelry boxes of the wealthy and the lucky. Only one in every ten thousand mollusks produces a natural pearl. And only one in a million of those beats the odds and is beautiful enough to be used in jewelry. Because of this extreme scarcity pearl cultivation is a necessity.
Did You Know?
Pearls were so sought after that by 1890 natural pearl resources in our oceans, rivers, and lakes were on the edge of extinction.
Ancient civilizations believed pearls brought magical powers to those who wore them.
Cultivation – in General Terms
The beautiful pearl gem is created when a mollusk is irritated by something that enters its body. This process can start naturally or by a human purposely placing an irritant in just the right spot. When a human is involved the process is called cultivation – hence the name cultured pearl. Cultured pearls are real pearls formed by the same natural materials natural pearls are formed by. The only difference between a cultured pearl and a natural pearl is how the irritant got inside the mollusk’s body. It’s as simple as that.
Cultivation – in Technical Terms
Cultured pearls are those pearls formed when a human introduces an irritant into a mollusk. A mollusk is defined as any invertebrate of the phylum Mollusca. Mussels and oysters are types of mollusks – and belong to the phylum Mollusca. To produce a freshwater cultured pearl a small thinly-sliced portion of a donor mussel’s mantle tissue is placed inside a pearl-producing mussel. To produce akoya, South Sea, and Tahitian pearls a small well-formed smooth bead made from the shell of a donor mussel is placed inside the pearl-producing oyster. Yes – that is right – the small well-formed beads inserted into saltwater pearl producing oysters are from a freshwater mussel’s shell. The United States is the largest supplier of these mussel shells used to produce the bead nuclei to be inserted into saltwater oysters. This insertion of a foreign irritant – whether it be a mantle tissue or a bead formed from a mussel’s shell – starts the pearl formation process. It is very important to note the type of irritant inserted into a pearl-producing mollusk determines the nacre thickness of a pearl. freshwater cultured pearls consist almost entirely of nacre whereas akoya, South Sea, and Tahitian cultured pearls have a very thin layer of nacre. This is because the mantel tissue used to form the freshwater cultured pearl almost completely dissolves whereas the bead nuclei used to form the saltwater cultured pearl is much larger and stays intact in shape and form and does not dissolve. Natural pearls form when a parasite enters the shell of a mussel or oyster, thus starting the pearl formation process naturally. It was once thought a grain of sand introduced into a mussel or oyster started the natural pearl formation process, this however, is a myth. Mussels and oysters sift thousands of grains of sand daily in and out of their interior. It is not a grain of sand but a parasite that starts the pearl formation process in a mollusk. Cultured pearls are sold by their size in millimeters, and natural pearls by their carat-weight. Perfectly round natural pearls are extremely rare and valuable. The irritant introduced determines the shape of the pearl to some degree. The nacre is deposited in concentric circles around the irritant thus producing the shape of the pearl. Both cultured and natural pearls are beautiful gemstones we will continue to covet.