Just about everyone is familiar with pearl jewelry in some way or another. Some remember pearl necklaces from black and white classic films, while others might recall seeing the famous “Girl with a Pearl Earring” painting by Johannes Vermeer. The beautiful, iridescent sheen of the pearl has captivated many eyes over the centuries of human history. Ancient Egyptian rulers were frequently buried with their pearls and it is said Cleopatra once crushed pearls into powder to dissolve in drinks, just to show she could throw the world’s most expensive dinner party. The ancient Greeks saw pearls as symbols of love, purity and devotion, while the ancient Roman culture placed a high value of pearls and saw them as a mark of status.
Today, pearl is the June birthstone and traditionally used as the gift for the 30th wedding anniversary. Questions like where do pearls come from?, what is a pearl made of?, where do you find pearls? and why are pearls valuable? are just a few of the commonly asked questions this post can answer.
The Lustre and Shine of Pearl
These unique gemstones are the only ones made by an animal. Pearls are not mined like other gemstones or created in a lab like some crystals. Instead, pearls are formed when an irritant (like a grain of sand) gets into the mouth of an oyster or mussel. Some wonder: do clams make pearls? They can, but not as often as oysters.
That small particle gets trapped and the mollusk (oyster, clam, etc.) starts to coat it with nacre in self-defense. This Nacre is a strong and iridescent layering that forms over the irritant in the mollusk’s mouth. After thousands of layers over the course of about 2-4 years, the pearl is big enough to be considered fully developed. Naturally formed pearls are very rare, since not all mollusks naturally get irritants resulting in pearls. More commonly, pearls are farmed as irritants are placed into oysters, cultivated and then carefully removed.
Sorting Unique Pearls for the Perfect Fit
Once the pearls are harvested, they are cleaned, sorted and drilled. When pearls are chosen for earrings or necklaces, they have to match. Yet, no two pearls are perfectly identical, which often makes the sorting process very demanding. The drilling happens once the pearls are designated for pearl necklace or a pair of pearl earrings, since the size and depth of the holes are different.