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About Pearls

Pearls are a molluscs response to an irritating object inside their shells. These irritants either occur naturally, such as in the case of a parasite (resulting in a Natural pearl) or are surgically placed there by human intervention, called bead nucleation (resulting in a Cultured pearl). The entombing process that forms the pearl happens by the mollusk secreting saliva (Nacre) to form this wonderful gift of God that is a Pearl.

Before the beginning of the 20th Century, pearl diving was the most common way of harvesting pearls. Now, however, almost all pearls used for jewellery are cultured by planting a seed or nucleus, bead nucleation, into pearl oysters, to produce saltwater pearls or mussels to produce freshwater pearls. The nucleus is surgically implanted in the oyster's gonads and is generally a polished bead made from special mussel shell along with a small graft of mantle tissue from a live oyster. Freshwater Pearls are typically mantle-nucleated, meaning they are composed entirely of nacre; the fragment of mantle tissue disintegrates as the mollusc coats it, resulting in a pearl made of solid nacre. As Saltwater Pearls are nucleated with a seed and mantle tissue the resulting pearl is normally larger and rounder in shape than freshwater pearls. Technical evolution now enables freshwater mussels to be seed-nucleated thus producing freshwater pearls akin to saltwater pearls. Cultivation takes from two to four years depending on conditions, variety and whether it is a fresh or salt water medium. A typical fresh water mussel can produce up to 50 pearls at a time whereas their saltwater cousin can only produce 1 or 2 pearls at a time and taking much longer to do so.

The Anatomy of Pinctada Maxima (silver lip oyster)

Anatomy of Pinctada Maxima - Silver Lip Pearl Oyster

Nacre

Calcium Carbonate (CaCO3) & Conchiolin

Nacre is the material of Pearls, and is also known as "mother of pearl" or "sadaf" it is the deposit of layers of crystalline calcium carbonate held together by an organic horn-like compound called conchiolin. This combination of calcium carbonate and conchiolin is what gives pearls their uniqueness, value and beauty.

Nacre is secreted by the ectodermic cells of the mantle tissue of certain species of mollusc. In these molluscs, nacre is continually deposited onto the inner surface of the animal's shell (the iridescent nacreous layer, commonly known as mother of pearl), both as a means to smooth the shell itself and as a defense against parasitic organisms and damaging detritus. When a mollusc is invaded by a parasite or is irritated by a foreign object that the animal cannot eject, a process known as encystation, entombs the offending entity in successive, concentric layers of nacre. This process eventually forms what we call pearls and continues for as long as the mollusc lives.