How are Pearls Formed?


There’s nothing that completes a picture of elegance quite so well as a string of shining pearls draped around the neck. As such, pearls have adorned the necks of innumerable women, both real and fictitious, and served as the artist’s muse. What is rare about the pearl when compared to other precious stones is that how are formed inside of animals called mollusks. Whereas diamonds, emeralds, and rubies emerge in a crude form after thousands of years of compression, the pearl comes polished and ready if you just pluck it from the oyster’s shell.

Pearl Formation

At its humble beginning, the pearl is nothing more than a foreign object that has accidentally become lodged inside the oyster’s soft inner body.  It could be perhaps a piece of shell, sand, or a parasite.  Regardless of its origins, the oyster’s self defense mechanisms quickly go to work releasing a hard crystalline substance, called nacre, to ease the irritation.  The oyster will continue to secrete this substance in an endless cycle unless the irritant is expelled. In the case that it is not expelled, the irritant will eventually be completely encased in the nacre coverings. The result is a gemstone, completely shimmering and iridescent, a lustrous pearl that has been formed through the oyster’s tireless defense. Formation of a pearl can take 1 to 6 years for freshwater pearls while marine pearls take as many as 5 to 20 years. Of course, the longer the pearl stays in the shell, the more coatings of nacre it will receive and the larger it will become. The color of the pearl is determined genetically by what type of mollusk is the host. In truth, though pearls will be matched to appear similar in color, each is truly unique.

Cultured Pearls

Though there were once many natural pearls to be found, particularly in the Persian Gulf, their quantities have been all but exhausted. To avoid paying the exorbitant price that natural pearls now fetch, humans have taken chance out of the equation. The process for cultured pearls is almost exactly the same, however. Instead of hoping that irritants will enter oysters of their own accord, they are specifically implanted to ensure that the process commences. After the irritant has been introduced, the oyster’s natural defense mechanisms go to work on the creation of the natural wonder.

Beware Imitations

According to Saint Christine, a company with a collection of pearl rings, even though pearls aren’t quite so rare, there’s plenty of people trying to sell imitations in place of the genuine thing. Imitation pearls are often made with shell, plastic, or glass. These are what would be called “man made” or “simulated” pearls, which are not the same as cultured pearls that are made using the animal’s natural process. How do you tell the difference? Genuine pearls, created in a natural environment, are a bit gritty. Moving your fingers over them, you should feel a bit of friction, whereas imitation pearls are almost entirely smooth. There’s an inaccurate test that a pearl will not scratch against your teeth, but it’s false. Freshwater pearls do in fact scratch your teeth, though saltwater pearls will not because the nacre is much more compact.

This article was contributed on behalf of Saint Christine, your number one choice when looking for great bridal jewelry sets. Click here and see how they can help you! 

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