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Monday, February 18, 2013

The Pearl - Cultured and Beautiful

The pearl, birthstone for June, is the only gemstone that is created by an animal. They are formed within mollusks, usually oysters or mussels, when a piece of foreign matter enters and irritates the soft body of the mollusk. As a defense against this irritation, the mollusk secretes a crystalline structure around the irritant to encapsulate it. As long as the irritant remains, the mollusk will continue to put layer upon layer on it.

The pearl is also the only gem that needs no working to bring out its beauty. As soon as it is removed from the oyster it shows off the qualities that have made it so desirable and valuable since their discovery by humans.

Finding a naturally formed pearl in a mollusk is very rare and it was for this reason that their value and price was so high for centuries. Until the early 20th century wild pearls were the only kind known. Most today are cultured. The beginning of a cultured pearl is when a human implants or nucleates an irritant into the mollusk. While this method has produced many of the gems in the nearly one hundred years it has been done, this type of production is a risky business. Millions of salt water oysters are nucleated each year, but very few produce. The seeding itself kills some, disease, weather, predators, parasites all take their toll. Fifty percent or less of all nucleated oysters survive to yield a pearl. Of these, only twenty percent are marketable. Only five percent of nucleated oysters give forth pearls that are of gemstone quality.

Cultured pearls are grown in saltwater and freshwater. Saltwater pearls come from oysters, while freshwater pearls come from mussels. This culture is done in various areas of the world, but mostly in China, Japan, and the United States.

They can come in many different shapes besides round. Oval, half round, pear shaped, circle, button, and irregular which is called baroque. The most common color is the familiar iridescent white, but they can range in color from white to black, with tones of pink, cream, gold, purple, blue and green.

The pearl still catches the eye like it has for countless centuries, whether it's freshwater or saltwater, cultured or wild, white or colored. While it is the intervention of human hands that accounts for the beginnings of most modern pearls, it is still nature that works the miracle of their forming.

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