How are Pearls made? That is a very interesting question but first, the question, “What are Pearls?” should be answered. Pearls are round, hard masses formed in the shells of most living mollusks. Their lustrous appearance and smooth surface make them a popular addition to women’s jewelry and accessories. While Pearls can be found in many shades, including pink and green, white and black are the most commonly colors. There are eight basic shapes used for jewelry: round, semi-round, pear, drop, button, baroque, oval and circle. A perfectly round Pearl is rare, making it the most valuable. Less expensive options for a similar look are cultured Pearls or imitation Pearls, which have close to no value. Pearls are an incredibly unique gemstone. While most precious gems are formed in the ground, surrounded by rocks, Pearls are the only gemstone created inside a living creature.
Pearls are made when a small irritant finds its way inside an oyster or mollusk. This can be a grain of sand or a piece of shell but is more typically a little parasite. This irritant bothers the mollusk, which then slowly secretes nacre to protect itself. Nacre is the substance that coats the inside of an oyster or mussel shell. The nacre coats the irritant and the layers build up over time.
Depending on the size and shape of the irritant, the resulting pearl can take on a wide variety of sizes and shapes. The Pearl color can also vary based on the part of the ocean or another body of water where the mollusk lives. The ideal Pearl is perfectly round and luminous. Very often they can also come in unusual shapes and different colors. It takes many years for enough nacre to build up for the Pearl to be finished. Generally wild Pearls take at least seven years to form.
Pearl farmers must have immense patience to wait for a Pearl inside an oyster shell to develop. When a Pearl in an oyster is ready, the harvester opens the shell, extracts the Pearl and evaluates it for quality. Some oysters can produce two to three Pearls over the course of their lifetime, but only an oyster with Pearls of good quality will repeat the process of producing a Pearl.
Because it takes so long for a Pearl to form and they can be very difficult to find in the wild, most Pearls on the market today are farmed. Cultured Pearls are created the same way as naturally occurring Pearls. Although, the farmer has more control over the finished product. They intentionally insert an irritant and then make sure the mollusk is living in an environment where it will secrete nacre in the desired Pearl color. Cultured Pearls usually take about three years to form, since the farmer will insert a larger irritant as the “seed” than would exist in the wild. Read more about Cultured Pearls here.
As natural pearls are very rare, and hundreds of oysters or clams would have to be opened to find one wild pearl, cultured pearls are more common.
Because of their delicate nature Pearls should always be cared for with caution. Always put Pearls on after soap, make-up, lotions and hair products have been applied. A good reminder is that when getting ready, the very last thing one should do is put on one’s Pearls. It is also wise to avoid any chemicals, even jewelry cleaners. Nothing more than mild soapy water and a soft cloth should be used for cleaning Pearls. They should be re-strung periodically to ensure the cord holding them is sturdy. Lastly, store Pearls away from other jewelry as Pearls can too easily become scratched or worn down by metals and other gemstones.
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