It All Starts with the Oyster
Most of us do not associate the beautiful pearl with something we consider a delicacy to eat! The very innards that we devour, house and slowly churn a mere piece of grit into the precious gem that only nature can produce.
An oyster is comprised of two shell halves which protect the soft tissue and organs. It is within these shells and this soft tissue that the miracle of a pearl takes place. A piece of foreign matter (grit) infiltrates the shell of the oyster, and immediately it will begin to produce a protective secretion called nacre. Over time the layers of nacre released forms an encasement around the grit, layer after layer. Nacre is responsible for the luster that pearls are famous for.
What kind of pearls do the oysters produce?
There are two categories of pearls produced in this world; natural and cultured.
Natural pearls are cultivated by Mother Nature herself without human intervention. A natural pearl in its rarity fetches high dollar and is prized by many collectors. Although the origin is unknown, it is said that a diver found one hunting the sea floor for food. The beauty of the pearl sparked the hunt for natural pearls, and with that, the advent of pearl diving as a profession was born. Centuries ago, pearl diving began in China. Before long it was introduced to Japan and consisted mainly of women known as “Ama.” The Ama would dive at depths of 100 feet without the aid of air tanks or any specialized equipment. Not only was free-diving fatal to many, but the Ama also endured the lack of protection against predatory sea life. The tradition of pearl diving was quite often passed from mother to daughter. Man was now looking at easier methods of obtaining the coveted gem, but in a way that was safer.
Cultured pearls were introduced as man devised a way to add the “grit” (foreign matter) into the shell of the oyster. The oyster naturally secreted the nacre producing the pearl. This process was perfected over the decades resulting in a more brilliant pearl. Man devised a way to farm oysters in controlled areas in the sea. By doing so, pearl divers were no longer required to dive dangerous depths, and often protective barriers were in place against sharks and other dangerous sea life. Cultured pearls can also be farmed in freshwater (ponds, lakes, tanks) thus producing Freshwater Pearls. These pearls, however, are produced by freshwater mussels. A cultured pearl can take up to three years to reach maturity and be ready for harvest.
Did you know?…
- Oysters are born male; however, they transform into a female at three years old.
- Oysters are not killed when the pearl is removed but are returned to the sea.
- The earliest known pearls were found to be dated back to 520 B.C. in the tomb of a Persian princess.
- Pearls is the birthstone for June.
- Pearls are given as gifts on the 1st, 3rd, 12th and 30th
See pictures below