Pearls have an amazing long history, that is rich is culture. In fact they are one of the most ancient documented gems. Records of commercial harvesting have been found going back over 2500 years ago.
The natural occurrence of pearls is actually quite rare with only one in several million shellfish ever producing a pearl. Oysters are the best known source of pearls but abalone, clams, and muscles also produce pearls. This is one of the reasons that pearls are harvested. Harvested pearls are known as cultured pearls, or manmade pearls.
In order to form a pearl, an irritant has to get deep enough inside a shell. This irritant is usually a grain of sand. It must get deep enough so that the shellfish does not expel it. When the irritant gets deep in the shell, the shellfish’s system begins coating the irritant with a shiny substance called nacre. Nacre is made up of the mineral aragonite, with an organic binder called conchiolin.
The aragonite forms minute crystals. If you rub pearls against your teeth, you can feel the edges of these crystals. This is why the tooth test has long been used for identifying natural pearls. Natural pearls have a bit of a gritty feel.
Almost all imitation pearls will feel smooth. Because of over harvesting, during the late 1800s natural pearls almost became extinct. Even today, natural pearls are extremely rare and demand a huge price.
The shortage of natural pearls and their high cost necessitated the need for man to intervene with a solution. Several enterprising Japanese developed methods of culturing pearls in oyster farms.
In 1928 freshwater pearl farms began in Lake Biwa, Japan. They have the advantages that up to thirty seeds can be inserted in a single clam and the production time is just three years. The shape of freshwater pearls is usually quite irregular, but has improved over the years and is beginning to rival their saltwater cousins in shape and luster.
Cultured pearls are the norm for most, with the odd person actually owning a natural set of pearls. There are even some pretty good simulated or imitation pearls on the market.
Nowadays pearls are getting special treatment with fabulous makeovers to style and color. We are seeing pearls in colors never before seen, amethyst, deep purple, steel gray, and even hot pink.
You can’t go wrong wearing pearls! Pearls have always been popular for their sheer beauty and elegance. They will continue to be an essential wardrobe item for centuries to come.