In all of human history, mankind has admired and even worshiped pearls. Persian mythology called them “the tears of the gods.” Ancient Chinese legend claims the moon holds the power to create pearls, instilling them with its celestial glow and mystery.
Whatever the folklore, the birth of a pearl is a miraculous event! Pearls are unique because they are the only gemstone formed within a living creature. Live oysters below the surface of the sea grow pearls. Gemstones must be cut and polished to bring out their beauty, but pearls need no such treatment to reveal their loveliness. They are born from oysters complete with a shimmering iridescence, luster and soft inner glow unlike any other gem on Earth.
A Pearl is Born
A natural pearl begins its life as a foreign object, such as a parasite or piece of shell that accidentally lodges itself in an oyster’s soft inner body where it cannot be expelled. To ease this irritant, the oyster’s body takes defensive action. The oyster begins to secrete a smooth, hard crystalline substance around the irritant in order to protect itself.
This substance is called “nacre.” As long as the irritant remains within its body, the oyster will continue to secrete nacre around it, layer upon layer. Over time, the irritant will be completely encased by the silky crystalline coatings. And the result, ultimately, is the lovely and lustrous gem called a pearl.
Since natural pearls are rare and difficult to recover from the ocean’s depths, mankind invented the technique of culturing salt and freshwater pearls from mollusks carefully seeded with irritants similar to those produced by nature.
Cultured pearls share the same properties as natural pearls, and most pearls today are cultured. The only difference is a person carefully implants the irritant in the oyster, rather than leaving it to chance. They then step aside and let nature create its miracle.
Culturing – Growing Up Pearl
The oysters are given the utmost care during this time while suspended in the water. From the rafts above, technicians check water temperatures and feeding conditions daily at various depths, moving the oysters up or down as appropriate. Periodically, the oysters are lifted from the sea for cleaning and health treatments.
After eight to 36 months of growth and care, the oysters are ready for harvest. Those that have survived the many perils of the sea are brought ashore and opened. All pearls must be cleaned and washed to remove residue and odors. When everything has gone well, a beauty is revealed — the result is a lovely, lustrous and very valuable cultured pearl.
Sorting, Matching & Stringing
After harvesting, gem quality pearls must be sorted. Because no two pearls are ever exactly alike, sorting pearls is an extremely difficult and time-consuming effort performed by experts. Each pearl must be sorted by size, shape, color and lustre, so it is handled hundreds of times. After sorting, the pearls are drilled with great care and precision.
Finally, it’s time for matching and stringing. This can be even more difficult than sorting, because now experts must compare pearls that are similar in size, shape, lustre and color — looking for nearly exact matches. As an example, to find 47 pearls for a perfectly matched 16-inch necklace, a pearl processor must cull through more than 10,000 pearls.
Fit For A Queen
Millions of oysters are cultured every year, but only a small proportion live to produce fine-quality cultured pearls. On average, only 50 percent of cultured oysters survive to bear pearls, and of them, only 20 percent bear pearls that are marketable. The rest are simply too imperfect, too flawed to be called jewels.
A perfect pearl is truly a rare event; less than five percent of cultured oysters yield pearls of such perfect shape, luster and color as to be considered fine gem quality.
All Shapes, Sizes and Colours
Cultured pearls come in many beautiful colors, from pale cream and white to rose, lilac, green, gold, gray, and black. There are four main types of cultured pearls: Akoya, South Sea, Tahitian, and Freshwater each having unique qualities that separate them for the other.
Today pearls are both classic and contemporary; a strand of white pearls can be timeless but a bracelet of blue pearls is more modern. One thing to keep in mind with pearls, no matter the color or size; they can be worn every day or can complement the most formal attire.
We’ve shared just a small sampling of pearl options available today. Please stop by to visit our beautiful collection and see these miracles of nature close up!