A Pearl Is Born

Pearl in Oyster

The pearl has been revered as a symbol of fine and rare beauty for centuries, and for good reason. Imagine what a treasure it must have been for ancient people to crack open a mollusk and find a perfectly round, richly colored pearl, shimmering like a full moon in the night sky. Pearls are the only gemstones that are created by living creatures, making them one of the most intriguing gemstones we have. Ever wonder how a pearl is created? Let’s investigate.

Pearls are formed inside of various mollusks, such as oysters and mussels. The process begins when an irritant (usually a grain of sand or piece of shell) gets trapped within its shells. The mollusk, in an effort to protect itself, begins to coat the foreign object in a lustrous layer of a material called nacre. Over time, the layers build up and a pearl is born.

cultured pearl

Cultured Pearl (image from Rahmanim’s Imports)

The type of mollusk determines what kind of pearl will be formed and what color it will be. Freshwater pearls are irregularly shaped and often come from mussels, while saltwater pearls usually come from oysters and can be nearly perfectly spherical. The layers of nacre will be the same as the interior color of the mollusk’s shell, ranging from iridescent white or pink all the way to brown or black.  

A large, naturally occurring and uniformly shaped pearl is a considerably valuable gem. A natural pearl can be identified using gemological X-ray. This will check to see if a pearl has concentric growth rings of nacre layers. If the X-ray finds a rather solid center with only a thin layer of nacre surrounding it, the pearl is not natural, but cultured. This means that humans have intervened and inserted a foreign object (often a bead) into the mollusk’s tissue to initiate the pearl creation. These are still gorgeous and highly valued for their appearance.

Regardless of whether a pearl is natural or cultured, the nacre that created it is soft in nature and very sensitive to extreme heat, acidity and humidity levels. For this reason, care should be taken with pearls when wearing and storing them. To learn more about pearl types and care tips, click here.

Here are some interesting factoids about pearls:

  • The oldest known pearl jewelry fragment was found in the sarcophagus of a Persian princess who died in 520 BC.
  • Periculture is the term usually referred for cultured pearl farming.
  • In 1916, Jacques Cartier, one of the world’s renowned jewelers was able to purchase his 5th Avenue store by trading only two pearl necklaces in exchange for that plot.
  • Pearls are thought to give wisdom through experience, to quicken the laws of karma and to cement engagements and love relationships.

To see pearl jewelry created by our jewelers here at The Jewelers Center, click here.

The Jewelers Center is home to more than 180 fine jewelers.