What is a Pearl?

A pearl is a living gem, and each pearl is a miracle of nature.

A pearl is the accumulation of a slightly translucent material, called nacre or mother of pearl, similar to the lining found on the inside of nacreous shells. This is what gives a pearl its unique lustre and iridescence. It takes thousands of very thin layers of this nacre to make a single pearl. It is the composition, structure, thinness and evenness of these microscopically thin pearly layers that distinguishes a high?quality pearl worth thousands of dollars from another worth a great deal less. It is a remarkable feat of nature that a living oyster produces such an exquisite work of art.

Natural Pearls

Before the depletion of natural pearl beds about 100 years ago, all pearls discovered were natural pearls. Today they are very rare and are often traded at auctions in New York, London and other places as investment pieces. Natural pearls are by definition all types of pearls formed by an accident, without human intervention; there is no implanted nucleus! Natural pearls are the product of chance, whose beginning lie in a grain of sand, the larva of a worm or a speck of coral. With no shell sphere as its nucleus, natural pearls are rarely round or uniform in size.

Cultured Pearls

Cultured pearls are formed when humans intentionally introduce an irritant into the oyster. Most of the pearls today are cultured pearls.

To produce a cultured pearl a technician skillfully inserts foreign matter into a healthy, mature oyster or mussel. To protect itself from this irritant, the oyster produces cells that secrete multiple layers of nacre that eventually coat the foreign matter to become the cultured pearl. After the insertion, the oyster is placed in wire?mesh baskets for protection and hung from floating rafts in the sea. Traditionally, after one to three years beneath the sea the pearls are then harvested.

The shape and size of the resulting pearls depends, to a large degree, on the shape and size of their implanted irritant. Finding a valuable pearls requires as much luck as skill. The number of gem quality or 'perfect' pearls produced each year is still remarkably low.

Today there are three main groups of cultured pearls :

• Akoya pearls

• White and Black South Sea pearls

• Freshwater pearls


Imitation Pearls

Imitation and simulated pearls are completely man made from a variety of materials. They are commonly manufactured from beads of glass, plastic, or polished shells that are coated with a varnish that traditionally was made from ground?up fish scales but most recently from reconstructed mother of pearl.