How are Pearls made?

How are Pearls Made?

Pearls are relatively one of the most expensive jewels that can be found. They can be found in different colours, shapes, size, and lustre. And unlike any other gemstones, pearls are formed perfectly without needing an artificial process. “How are pearls made?” is a question that not many know the answer to. I will do my best to answer this as best I can so hopefully you find this post helpful!

Different Types of Pearls

Gems generally need to undergo specific synthetic processes to form them correctly into a particular or desired shape, like melting, moulding, and drilling.

Another thing that makes a pearl distinct is that most jewels come from natural minerals such as metals or gems found beneath the earth’s surface. But pearls form through a biological process, formed inside a living thing – a mollusc.

Exactly how are pearls made can be categorised in to exactly three different ways. The processes are also what the types of pearl are called. They are: Natural Pearls, Cultured Pearls, and Imitation Pearls.

Natural Pearls

Natural pearls, from the word itself, are pearls that are formed directly on their own. They do not undergo any process involving humans from start to finish.

The most basic way to detail how pearls are made is when an irritant or a foreign object lodges its way in between the mantle and shell of a mollusc (or Oyster). These foreign objects are usually parasites and not the stereotypical grains of sand. This factor will then cause an irritation of the oyster’s mantle.

The anatomy of a Mollusc

The anatomy of a Mollusc. Credit: Wikipedia

As a defence mechanism, the oyster’s reaction to protect itself is to cover the irritant; the mantle will produce the same substance that it used to form its shell, the nacre.

It will make layers and layers of shells until it forms into a pearl. So basically, pearls are made of foreign objects that are covered in layers of nacre.

The most valuable kind of pearls are the ones that we can see the most in jewellery stores – nicely and flawlessly rounded. These are also the most expensive pearls.

But just like any other things, not all pearls will turn out perfectly. Some pearls will become what they call the Baroque Pearls. These baroque pearls are quite uneven shaped and can be quite large.

Additionally, if you have noticed, pearls also come in different colours. Including white, grey, black, blue, green, and red. Most of these are found in many parts of the world, except for the black ones. Black pearls are only found and formed in the South Pacific.

Tahitian Cultured Pearls

Cultured Pearls

Cultured pearls mainly undergo almost the same process that natural pearls go through. The main difference is that cultured pearls involve synthetic processes.

The individuals aiding in the formation of these kinds of pearls are usually called harvesters. There are three primary processes cultured pearls undergo: Nucleation, Pearl Care, and Sorting & Matching.

1. Nucleation.

In this process, trained and skilled technicians slightly open the shells of an oyster and create a small incision on its mantle very carefully.

Then the foreign object or irritant is inserted in to its mantle. Rather than leaving it for this irritant to slide inside the oyster by chance. Harvesters will then put it back in the water, and let the miracles of nature do its job.

Pearl Culturing

2.Pearl Care.

This process takes from eight up to 36 long months. During this stage, the oysters implanted with the irritants are intensively managed.

This process involves checking of water temperature where the oysters are submerged, occasionally moving the oysters shallower or deeper in the water as necessary, cleaning, health treatments, removal of any organisms on its shells such as seaweed, and discouraging parasites to form in the shells by treating them with medicinal compounds.

After a period of time, the oysters will be harvested, and those that “survived” are opened. All the pearls are then cleaned with salt in a rotating barrel to get rid of residues and odours. Even in the process of cleaning, pearls are still meticulously monitored.

Pearl Harvestation

3. Sorting and Matching.

Sorting is a time-consuming and extremely hard process. Experts will precisely sort the pearls based on each piece’s shape, size, colour, and lustre. And will then be drilled to perfection with utmost care.

Lastly, the matching, which is even harder than sorting. Experts need to look for the exact matches of the pearls based on the same qualities in sorting. These matches will then have the same values.

Producing Pearls

Culturing pearls is an extremely long and hard process. This process takes experts long enough to complete the procedure. But on average, only about half of the nucleated oyster survive and form pearls. While only 20% of this half are good to be sold on the market, only as little as 5% of these marketable cultured pearls are remarkably perfect.

Imitation Pearls

Imitation pearls have an entirely different process from natural and cultured pearls. They don’t have any resemblance on how pearls are made to be as expensive and valuable as a natural or cultured pearl.

Most imitation pearls are made from glass beads. These beads are then just dipped in a fish scale-made solution. Aside from the relatively low price, imitation pearls are easy to identify.

First, you may notice its coat wear off over a period of time. The second and instant way is to rub the pearl(s) across your teeth. Fakes will glide across smoothly, while authentic ones will glide roughly as the nacre on the pearls feel grainy.

How are pearls made? – Conclusion

To sum it up, this is the three different ways upon how pearls are made. And aside from its distinct qualities such as size, colour, shape and lustre; the way it was formed also determines the value of a pearl, and for how much it could be sold in the market.

The more natural the method pearls are formed, the more expensive they become. And the more synthetic the process is, the cheaper they are. However, the more natural the pearls are made, the lower the survival rate. On the bright-side the chance of them being beautiful and authentic becomes a lot higher.

You should now be able to effectively answer the question, “how are pearls made?” Comment if you have any further questions! Lastly, here is a cool video I found on YouTube (credit: National Geographic) that also details how pearls are made, in particular the South Sea Pearls of Australia. These are known to be one of the most expensive in the World!

Ever sat and thought:
How Much Are Pearls Worth?

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Ever sat and thought:
How Much Are Pearls Worth?

For more information on Pearls and to get notified of our latest posts, subscribe to our mailing list.