The Little Oyster That Could – A Pearl Story

“The world is your oyster, they say, so fill it with pearls”

                                                                          Trebor Healey

Most of you lucky pearl owners have probably never given a serious thought to the fascinating, long and windy road that one single shining gem has travelled; from its very first moment of creation until the point where it becomes a beautiful piece of jewelry. Each pearl’s life starts, like many other good things, at the bottom of the ocean the natural home of the ‘pearl oyster’, the calm water where it lives and thrives peacefully. The ‘pearl oyster’ is technically the biological mother of the pearl, and here is its story.

Well, it all begins with the invasion of an enemy.

Facing the Intruder

It happens suddenly. The ordinary and quiet life of the oyster changes dramatically in a split second. While having its mouth open, a tiny particle, such as a grain of sand or microorganism, penetrates the oyster and slides inside – an intruder invades the oyster’s belly. Recognizing an unidentified object inside its body, the irritated oyster turns on its ‘red alert’ mode. Automatically, the response of the oyster is to conceal the irritation with an ongoing production of nacre, a substance that is similar to crystalline limestone. The nacre ultimately shapes itself around the ‘enemy’ and gradually forms a pearl.

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Into the Wild – 7 Years of Pregnancy

Layer upon layer of nacre, also known as mother-of-pearl, coat the grain of sand (the ‘enemy’) until the iridescent gemstone is formed.  How long does it take for a beautiful pearl to grow inside the belly of an oyster? Well, it depends. Pearls usually grow between 0.1mm to 0.2mm a year. If you want a large pearl – you may have to count to seven. That’s right, 7 years!

The knowledge of how these pearls are created is relatively new to us.  It took mankind some years to discover the brilliance and mystical truth that lies underneath a single pearl. It has only been 100 years since the magical process has been revealed. And until the end of the 20th century, pearls made their way to beautifying our lives only thanks to special pearl divers who fished for pearls at the depths of the ocean.

pearl diver

Home grown pearls

The turning point in the pearl industry came in the late 19th century when Japanese researchers developed a technique for creating cultured pearls. Unlike natural pearls where oysters create their own pearls organically, cultured pearls are pearls that have been grown in a managed and supervised environment known as pearl farms – either in the ocean or in freshwater. These days, both techniques still exist, even though cultured pearls are far more dominant and available.

Posted in Workmanship.

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