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How Pearls Are Made

September 16th, 2011 Jewelry

Pearls have historically been one of the most popular forms of jewelry. Even though they're prevalent, you may not know how they're made or all the different varieties.

The three general categories of pearls are natural, cultured and imitation. Pearls can come from either saltwater or freshwater sources. Both are considered high quality, but some types of freshwater pearls aren't as valuable because they're too irregularly shaped. Natural pearls are the least common today because pearls are typically cultured in farms for commercial markets. Older pieces of jewelry are more likely to have natural pearls.

Natural pearls are made when an irritant, like a piece of sand or shell, gets inside of an oyster, clam or mussel. The animal coats it with a fluid called nacre as defense and eventually layers build up over it and a pearl is formed. The entire process takes several years to complete and a high quality finished pearl is the minority. More often than not, the animal dies, rejects the irritant or produces a misshapen pearl.

Cultivated pearls are made the same way as natural pearls, but the irritant is surgically implanted into the mollusk. The implanted piece of shell or bead is called the Mother of Pearl and makes for a larger core than natural pearls. Imitation pearls are made using a glass bead dipped in a fish scale solution. This layer is very thin and can wear off easily.

You can usually tell if a pearl is real or imitation by rubbing it over your teeth. A real pearl has a gritty feel to it while imitation pearls are smoother. Either way, pearls are a pretty addition to any piece of jewelry.