How Are Pearls Formed? – The Astonishing Process

Pearls are the most exquisite organic gems on the jewelry market. Their delicate shape and their wonderful luster and have dazzled us for centuries. But how are pearls formed? The development process of these elegant gems is actually a small wonder of the natural world. In this article, we will present the stunning formation process of these organic gems to give you some insight into the complexity of pearls.

How Pearls Are Formed Naturally

You may know that pearls are formed in clams or oysters, but the formation process itself is absolutely fascinating. It all begins when the oyster opens its valves to feed. At this point, its mantle is exposed to irritants in the aquatic environment around it.

The mantle is one the oyster’s sensitive areas. It is a fold of tissue that covers the internal organs of the oyster. When an irritant structure such as a parasite lodges itself into the mantle, it generates significant local irritation.

pearl pendant displayed on large rock

When the oyster is unable to drive out the irritant structure, it begins to encapsulate it to avoid further harm to the mantle tissue. This is actually when pearls begin to form. The mantle then secretes a rough substance called nacre to safely cover the irritant.

The nacre is, in fact, the base material that pearls are made from. This is why it is also known as “mother of pearl”. It is an organic composite made primarily of calcium carbonate. Nacre is the material that makes up the shell of the oyster as well.

The oysters cover the irritant in concentric layers of nacre and the end result is the pearl. As such, pearls are made of numerous layers of nacre disposed around the irritant factor. In fact, how the pearls are formed determine the final shape of the organic gem. This video will help you visualize the entire process and get a better understanding of the complexity of this natural wonder of the aquatic world.

Natural Pearls vs. Cultured Pearls

The formation process that leads to both natural and cultured pearls is essentially the same. The key difference is that in cultured pearls, the irritant that generates the pearl formation process is applied artificially.

drawing explaining the anatomy of an oyster

Furthermore, pearl culturing has evolved to the point where the pearl formation process can be optimized to get better quality organic gems. For example, culturing experts use spherical shaped items as irritants. This is extremely useful because it generated rounder pearls, which is one of the main objectives in the pearl industry.

Distinguishing Natural Pearls from Cultured Pearls

It is impossible to distinguish natural pearls from cultured pearls with the naked eye. As we have explained above, the key difference is made by the central structure that lays at the core of the pearl. As such, examining this structure could shed some light on how the pearls were formed inside the oyster.

Aquatic parasites and organic compounds that are specific to this environment typically indicate that the pearl was formed naturally. On the other hand, minute pearls or spherical shaped objects indicate that the pearls were formed as part of a culturing process.

Scientists use complex techniques to examine how pearls were formed. The key methods for pearl structure analysis are X-ray scanning and DNA testing. The aim of these methods is to distinguish natural pearls from cultured pearls. The main reason why this type of analysis is necessary is that natural pearls are significantly more valuable on the jewelry market than cultured pearls.

The Most Valuable Cultured Pearls

The vast majority of the pearls on the jewelry market are cultured because natural pearls are quite rare. Their value is determined precisely by the nature of their formation process. However, the structural characteristics (roundness, luster, size, body, colors) of cultured pearls are often more impressive than those of natural pearls.

This happens because the formation process of cultured pearls has been adapted to give out better and better results. As such, cultured pearls are currently the most popular organic gems on the market. And they come in a remarkable variety of shapes, colors, and lusters.

Tahitian Pearls

Tahitian pearls are the dark wonders of the natural world. By optimizing how these pearls are formed inside the oysters, the culturing process has rendered the largest pearls available on the market. In fact, their impressive size is one of the central value factors of these amazing pearls. Their other key feature is their astonishing variety of dark colors.

tahitian pearl silver pendant

The base colors of Tahitian pearls range from the most elegant dark grays to stunning blacks. But their overtone pallet sets them apart from any other type of pearl. It features everything from metallic grays to subtle greens and all the way to wonderful yellows.

South Sea Pearls

If Tahitian pearls impress with their size and metallic overtones, South Sea pearls dazzle with their stunning luster and their luxurious golden colors. In fact, these are the most appreciated golden pearls on the market precisely because this remarkable pigment is entirely natural.

golden south sea pearl

The mirror-like luster of South Sea pearls is yet another astonishing breakthrough of the pearl culturing process. White South Sea pearl are extremely appreciated because their perfect luster highlights their impressive texture in the best possible way.

Japanese Akoya Pearls

These remarkable pearls boast the classic white pearl beauty. Japanese Akoya pearls have a perfectly round shape that has no contenders on the market. In fact, it is precisely how these pearls are formed that provides them with their stunning features.

akoya pearl drop earrings

The natural color of Japanese Akoya pearls is white and these immaculate pearls have become the symbol of classic feminine beauty. But the white variety is not the only beloved type of Akoya pearl. In fact, dyed black Akoya pearls are only organic gems that can compete with Tahitian pearls.

As you can see, how pearls are formed has a great impact on the final form of the gems. The formation process of a pearl inside an oyster is a true wonder of the aquatic world. But the development of the pearl culturing industry has managed to bring it to entirely new levels. As such, the adapted process has rendered some of the most impressive pearl specimens on the jewelry market.

Image Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

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