How a Pearl is Born

pearl embedded in a shell
pearl embedded in a shell

“All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster's autobiography”

-Frederico Fellini

I love this quote from Fellini. Don’t you wish your own autobiography is as pretty and precious as a pearl?

How to Make a Pearl

A pearl is born when an irritant enters an oyster or any of the other shelled members of the phylum Mollusca. The irritant is commonly thought of as a grain of sand. However, studies show that a grain of sand is rarely the beginning of pearl formation. Rather, any irritant, most likely a piece of food that strays between the mantle, (the soft flesh that forms the shell), and the shell of the mollusc, serves as the “seed” for pearl formation.

When an irritant strays into the mollusc, it tries to isolate and separate this from the rest of its body by coating it with the same material that lines its inner shell. This inner shell lining is called nacre or mother-of-pearl. It appears lustrous and consists of the substances aragonite and conchiolin.

The mollusc coats the irritant, layer by layer with nacre at a rate of about 0.1mm to 0.2mm per year. This coated irritant becomes the pearl. As you can see from the rate at which nacre is laid, it will take a few years before you can harvest a moderately sized pearl. Thus, naturally formed pearls are really very rare and precious.

Because the chances of a mollusc forming a pearl is rather rare, humans have learned to intervene in the pearl formation process by “pearl culturing” or “pearl farming”.

Pearl Farming

Harvesting Oysters   photo from: http://akoyapearlfarm.com/images/harvest.jpg
Harvesting Oysters photo from: http://akoyapearlfarm.com/images/harvest.jpg

How to Culture Pearls

Most of the pearls that we see now are what are known as “cultured pearls”. How are pearls cultured?

This is done by surgically introducing an irritant, usually a bead or a piece of shell, into a mature mollusc. Then the mollusc is returned to the sea or lake where it then begins to cover this irritant with nacre. And so a pearl is born.

Sometimes, a piece of mantle tissue is introduced together with the bead to hasten nacre secretion. This is especially true for saltwater pearls.

Pearls can then be harvested 1 to 3 years after the “culturing” process began. To maximize pearl making especially in freshwater molluscs, several beads or even just mantle tissue are usually implanted into a single mollusc. Thus, you can harvest more than one pearl from a single mollusc. This is the reason why fresh water pearls are not as expensive as saltwater pearls.

Cultured Pearls

Several cultured pearls embedded in a shell
Several cultured pearls embedded in a shell

How to Differentiate Natural from Cultured Pearls

It is hard to differentiate a naturally formed pearl from a cultured one just by ocular inspection. A special x-ray machine is used to tell them apart.

The x-ray machine will show a solid center and concentric layers only at the surface in cultured pearls. Natural pearls on the other hand, show concentric layers even at the center.

Faux Pearls

Because pearl production is a long process and the demand for pearls is always high, merchants have taken to producing faux pearls or false pearls. These are made by coating ordinary beads with pearl-like powder derived from scales of fishes. Well-made faux pearls are not easy to differentiate from either natural or cultured pearls. The difference can be seen however under a microscope. Also, gemmologists say that you can “feel” the difference between faux pearls and cultured or natural ones. If you rub the pearl against your front teeth, faux pearls will have a smooth feel while natural and cultured pearls, because of the nacre, have a kind of gritty feel.

Natural pearls are very rare and expensive. Thus, most of the pearls being sold today are either cultured or faux pearls.

Button pearls
Button pearls
Rice pearls
Rice pearls

A Gem Like No Other

The quality of a pearl is based on the following criteria: size, lustre, color, coating, surface and shape. Most of these items are self-explanatory but pearls can exhibit shapes other than round or oval. I’ll explain this further.

The shape of pearls can be...round, oval, teardrop, baroque, button, mabe, or rice. Round, oval and teardrop shapes need no further explanation. The other shapes need some explanation though.

  • Baroque is the term given to odd shaped pearls. Shapes vary from near round to highly irregular
  • Button as the name implies is like some buttons that are round but also a little flat.
  • Mabe pearls are round on the top and flat on one side. They are thus useful for making earrings and pins.
  • Rice pearlslook like rice crispies.

Matching is another criterion that is taken into consideration if pearls are in a strand. Well-matched pearls (size, lustre, color, shape, texture) in a strand have higher value than less-matched ones.

Pearls of Wisdom and Inspiration

Pearls are mentioned several times in the bible and my friend Coffeesnob was inspired to write in her latest hub about the verses from Matthew 13:45-46

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls.

“And upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it”.

Unfortunately, I just discovered now (July 2014) that Coffeesnob has removed her article from HubPages. It's sad!


Make a Pearl by Harry Emerson Fosdick


"Most of us can afford to take a lesson from the oyster.

The most extraordinary thing about the oyster is this.
Irritations get into his shell. He does not like them; he tries to get rid of them.

But when he cannot get rid of them he settles down to make of them one of the most beautiful things in the world. He uses the irritation to do the loveliest thing that an oyster ever has a chance to do.

If there are irritations in our lives today, there is only one prescription: make a pearl. It may have to be a pearl of patience, but, anyhow, make a pearl. And it takes faith and love to do it".

Harry Emerson Fosdick was inspired to write the above piece when he discovered how a pearl is born.

So, are we gonna make our own pearls?


More by this Author


Comments 44 comments

coffeesnob 7 years ago

Jill

As always you have such awesome pictures and what a great article! Glad we are on the same team! Can you see me smiling :)


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jill of alltrades 7 years ago from Philippines Author

Hi Carol,

I'm smiling too! You know what, I feel that I have created a great pearl (without the irritant!) in this joint venture with you. I'm looking forward to more!


fvohra 7 years ago

a very good informative article bravo!Salvacion fvohra


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jill of alltrades 7 years ago from Philippines Author

Hi fvohra,

It's nice of you to drop by again! Thank you very much for leaving an inspiring comment.

Please check out too the hub written by my friend Coffeesnob. The link is found in the article. You will appreciate the pearl even more after you read that too.


jayb23 profile image

jayb23 7 years ago from India

Great hub jill. It was v informative. Keep up the good work


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jill of alltrades 7 years ago from Philippines Author

Hello jayb23,

Thank you very much! I appreciate your dropping by and leaving a comment.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago

This is a wonderful Hub Page. I knew where they came from but I had no idea how it worked. Fascinating! Thank you very much. I love to learn new things. The words of wisdom were precious, too. (Ocular! Great word.)


angcorics 7 years ago

Glad to see another milestone of an article from you, my favorite hubster. The way you write is wonderful, ever clear and ever exciting. Keep up this pearly manner in which you write, and keep me always informed.


jill of alltrades profile image

jill of alltrades 7 years ago from Philippines Author

Hi James,

Thank you for visiting and leaving a wonderful comment.

I really enjoyed writing this hub and working with Coffeesnob for parts 1 and 3. I'm happy that you learned something new.

Hello angcorics,

Nice of you to drop by again! You are very kind for saying all those beautiful words. You inspire me to do even better!


cgull8m profile image

cgull8m 7 years ago from North Carolina

Nice to learn about Pearls. Great Hub Jill. You get lots of pearls from your loved ones. Cheers :)


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jill of alltrades 7 years ago from Philippines Author

Hi cgull8m,

Thanks for dropping by and leaving a heartwarming comment! I'm happy you learned something.

Yes, we do get our pearls when we "plant" good deeds and not irritants.

All the best!


DoodleLyn profile image

DoodleLyn 7 years ago from Upstate New York, USA

Very interesting hub, jill! I learned a lot about pearls that I didn't know. I love the story of the lesson of the oyster - very insightful. This hub has inspired me to do more reading and research about pearls. Thanks for this inspirational and well written hub. I'll be checking out Coffeesnobs hubs, too.


jill of alltrades profile image

jill of alltrades 7 years ago from Philippines Author

Hello DoodleLyn,

I'm happy that you learned something from this hub. Happy too that this inspired you to read more about the pearl.

Thank you for your inspiring comment. Yes, do check out Coffeesnob's related hubs. We had fun doing this together.

All the best!


dohn121 profile image

dohn121 7 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

Wow. This was so fascinating. Just as I thought ahead to ask you how we can differentiate between cultured an natural pearls, the next paragraph did exactly that! Nicely done. Thanks for your "pearls of wisdom." (Sorry, I couldn't help myself)


Aqua profile image

Aqua 7 years ago from California

This was a very informative hub! I've always been curious about how pearls are formed. My favorites are the Mabe pearls. Thanks for the great hub!


jill of alltrades profile image

jill of alltrades 7 years ago from Philippines Author

Hi dohn,

I really appreciate your dropping by. Coming from a writer like you, your comment is really inspiring.

Thank you very much!


jill of alltrades profile image

jill of alltrades 7 years ago from Philippines Author

Hello Aqua,

I'm happy that you found this hub informative. I really appreciate your comment especially since you are a wonderful writer.

Thank you for dropping by!


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States

Loved this article and the sentiment it expresses. I have a hub coming up on the subject of pearls and I'll certainly link this fine explanation on pearls.


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States

Loved this article and the sentiment it expresses. I have a hub coming up on the subject of pearls and I'll certainly link this fine explanation on pearls.


jill of alltrades profile image

jill of alltrades 7 years ago from Philippines Author

Hi Jerilee,

Thank you very much for your heartwarming comment.

You are making be very happy for thinking of linking your upcoming hub to this hub. That's just great! Thank you very much!


Silver Rose profile image

Silver Rose 7 years ago from UK

That was a really fascinating article. I think pearls are beautiful - more flattering to wear than any other jewellery because they reflect a soft light onto the wearer.


jill of alltrades profile image

jill of alltrades 7 years ago from Philippines Author

Hello Silver Rose,

You are right, the pearl is a beautiful piece of jewelry. It even goes well with almost any kind of attire.

Thank you very much for your kind comment. I really appreciate it.


DeBorrah K. Ogans profile image

DeBorrah K. Ogans 7 years ago

Jill of alltrades,

Amazing! This has been very informative!

What a beautiful analogy of the oyster!

We can learn patience which is a Fruit of His Spirit! When someone tries to irritate us its an opportunity for our FAITH to grow when it is rooted in the Lord!

Blessings!


jill of alltrades profile image

jill of alltrades 7 years ago from Philippines Author

Hello DeDorrah,

Thank you very much for your inspiring comment!

God bless you!


ChrisAmsterdam 7 years ago

Very Interesting! Good info!


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jill of alltrades 7 years ago from Philippines Author

Thank you very much Chris!


tim-tim profile image

tim-tim 7 years ago from Normal, Illinois

Love pearls! They are classic,timeless,a gem like no other!You ae so right:) In fact, my sister is in the business. She can tell me a thing or too about pearls. Guess what? She has the most beautiful pearls you can ever imagine!


jill of alltrades profile image

jill of alltrades 7 years ago from Philippines Author

Hi tim-tim,

That's great! It must be fascinating to look at her pearl collection. I wish I could take photos of some of them.

Thanks very much for dropping by and for leaving this interesting comment.


DRG Da Real Grinc profile image

DRG Da Real Grinc 7 years ago from All over the USA

This is an awesome Hub, great insight. It got me wanting to buy some oysters and try to irritate them.


jill of alltrades profile image

jill of alltrades 7 years ago from Philippines Author

Hi DRG,

Thank you very much for visiting and leaving a wonderful comment!

Well, you will have to wait for about 1-3 years before you can harvest some pearls. If waiting this long is okay with you, then why not?


suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 6 years ago from Asheville, NC

I love this Hub - thanks.


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jill of alltrades 6 years ago from Philippines Author

Hi suziecat,

Thank you very much!


The Rope profile image

The Rope 6 years ago from SE US

This was so concise and perfectly explained, I just have to share it. Thanks for a terrfic read!


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jill of alltrades 6 years ago from Philippines Author

The Rope,

Thank you very much for your kind words. You just made my day!


Richard83 profile image

Richard83 5 years ago from West Virginia

Wow Jill. Very useful and interested. Pearl farming! I had no idea. You did such a great job writing this hub. Glad to follow an Artist. Have a blessed day.


jill of alltrades profile image

jill of alltrades 5 years ago from Philippines Author

Hello Richard,

What a beautiful thing to say! You are making my heart sing! Thank you very much!

God bless!


khushboo 4 years ago

interesting

i liked them and also admire ur interest in pearls


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jill of alltrades 4 years ago from Philippines Author

Hi khushboo,

Thanks so much for dropping by and leaving a comment! I glad that you liked this and found it interesting!

God bless!


coffeesnob 3 years ago

Wow! Was it really three years ago?


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jill of alltrades 3 years ago from Philippines Author

Yes, it's been three years now!Unbelievable! It's great to see you again my friend! I guess we have both been busy in our own ways but it's always great to touch base!

God bless!


coffeesnob 3 years ago

Life sometimes takes us in many directions...but it is good to be back on hp for a while.


jill of alltrades profile image

jill of alltrades 3 years ago from Philippines Author

Hi Carol,

You are so right about that! HP is still my favorite writing/sharing site even if I don't visit as often now. It is like home wherein I keep coming back to be re-energized!!!

Maybe we can have another joint effort soon?

God bless you friend!


coffeesnob 3 years ago

Would love that, Jill.


jill of alltrades profile image

jill of alltrades 3 years ago from Philippines Author

That's great Carol! Let's talk about this one of these days.

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