Most people know that pearls come from the sea, but the journey from sea to store is a mystery. Here is what happens to your pearls, from nacre to necklace.
A pearl begins when an oyster secretes nacre around an irritant, layering the nacre upon itself, the crystalline coating eventually creating a beautiful gemstone. Of course, most of the world’s pearls today are cultured pearls, meaning that the irritant is purposefully placed in the oyster by human hands (rather than leaving the pearl’s creation to chance). This process is called nucleation.
During nucleation, a technician carefully opens a live pearl oyster and makes an incision in the oyster’s body. A tiny piece of mantle tissue from another oyster is placed into the technician’s oyster. Finally, a small round shell is placed beside the inserted mantle tissue.
The cells from the mantle tissue develop around the shell, and it forms a sack which starts to secrete nacre. Nucleated oysters are then returned to the sea to feed and grow in safe, nutrient-rich bays.
Technicians care for the oysters from above, checking the water temperature and nutrient levels, and removing the oysters as necessary for shell cleaning and care. After anywhere from 8 to 36 months, the oysters are ready for harvesting, and they are brought ashore and opened to reveal the beautiful prizes within.
After pearls are harvested, they are sorted. Sorting is an arduous process, because no two pearls are exactly alike. The size, shape and color of the pearls are compared in order to find similar pearls for earrings or for stringing into necklaces.
A pearl’s journey is a difficult one, with only 50% of nucleated oysters surviving to bear pearls, and only 20% or fewer of those pearls are found to be of gemstone quality. The journey makes you appreciate a pearl all the more.