What are Cultured Pearls?
Thanks to cultured pearls, more people can now afford to buy pearls as jewellery. Not long ago, people had to search for pearls in the sea to harvest them. This made them quite a luxury, costing a good amount of money that only the upper classes could afford. Most wealthy women have their necks encircled by these lovely orbs.
Hence, pearls have been symbols of wealth and status for centuries, due to their alluring lustre and aesthetically pleasing roundness. They are made up of layers and layers of a substance called nacre, which is secreted by molluscs to envelop a foreign object that gets inside their shell. Think of it as them catching a cold, but with a shinier mucus!
Due to the oysters’ natural bodily function of conveniently creating a valuable ornamental item, man has found a way to trigger the creation of pearls. The end products are called cultured pearls.
As opposed to natural pearls that are purely made of nacre, cultured pearls are made of tissue extracted from oysters, enveloped in a thin layer of nacre. However, cultured pearls are not so easily distinguished from their natural counterparts.
How are they made?
The process of producing cultured pearls is divided into three parts.
The culturing starts by opening up a live oyster and gently inserting a seed material into the mollusc. The material commonly used is mother-of-pearl or a bead made of similar components. It is gently nestled in the soft tissue inside the shell.
This seed material is called the nucleus. If the oysters are pried open more than 3 centimetres, they will expel the core; as such, very precise instruments must be used.
After the implantation process, the oysters are returned to the sea, individually enclosed in nets suspended from rafts. They are situated in areas where nutrients are plenty, for the optimal growth of the pearls.
Every year, millions of oysters are nucleated, but only five percent bear pearls that possess suitable traits. Half don’t even survive to be harvested, due to such complications as storms and predators.
Upon extraction, the new crop of pearls is immersed in a mild cleaning solution, to eliminate any impurities and odours they may have gotten while submerged in the sea. After this bath, the pearls are put in a wooden vat filled with crushed walnuts. The oils from these nuts give the pearls a gentle polish.
Sorting and Finishing
Pearls were meant to go with one another, either in strands for necklaces or pairs for earrings. As such, it’s painstakingly imperative that groups of pearls match one another regarding size, shape, lustre, and other such characteristics.
First, pearls are sorted according to size, by pouring them into individual sieves that drop them in groups according to size. Things get a lot more intensive after this, as the pearls are sorted according to particular shape, colour, overtone, and surface quality. This is very delicate and time-consuming work, requiring meticulous attention to detail.
After the pearls are sorted into their respective batches, they undergo even stricter screening to match pearls in perfect pairs or strands. Once designated their final groups, the pearls are drilled and mounted upon hooks or strings.
After this long and arduous process, the pearls are sold at auctions, for a fraction of the price of naturally grown pearls. Kudos to cultured pearls, the ornamental fashion statement needn’t be as pricey as it used to be.
Ever sat and thought:
How Much Are Pearls Worth?
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