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What are Cultured Pearls?

May 1, 2017

If you were to go back a hundred years, the only people wearing pearls were royalty because they were unbelievable expensive. The only way to find a pearl was to scour the ocean floor, harvest thousands of oysters and sort through them for the one rare gemstone. Divers could pull up thousands of oysters looking for that one gem quality pearl. It […]

Ben Bridge Jeweler

If you were to go back a hundred years, the only people wearing pearls were royalty because they were unbelievable expensive. The only way to find a pearl was to scour the ocean floor, harvest thousands of oysters and sort through them for the one rare gemstone. Divers could pull up thousands of oysters looking for that one gem quality pearl. It could take years or decades to create a single necklace. Pearls were so valuable, one double natural pearl strand was used to buy a building on Fifth Avenue in New York.

That building still graces Fifth avenue, but natural pearls, have been replaced by cultured pearls in the jewelry market today.

Cultured pearls were first patented by Akiko Mikimoto in 1916. Mikimoto was the son of a local noodle maker, but he grew up obsessed with pearls. In his area pearl divers were harvesting oysters at a rate that would soon wipe out the oyster population. Mikimoto began researching ways to encourage the oysters to make a pearl, with a little bit of man made intervention. That process was the beginning of the cultured pearl.

Pearls are created when the oyster puts down layers and layers of nacre, (rhymes with baker) over some irritant. In a “natural” pearl, that irritant could be a broken bit of shell or some other irritant, but for a cultured pearl the irritant is man made and inserted by a pearl technician.

Mikimoto experimented until he found just the right pearl “seed” to implant into the pearl that would then grow into a beautiful pearl. He eventually found the perfect seed pearl from bits of mussel shells that came from America.

Even today, nearly all cultured pearls start with a little bit of American mussel inside, ground into a perfect bead, to try to encourage the oyster to produce a round pearl.

Today, pearls are grown on pearl farms, carefully tended to by divers and pearl farmers trying to keep their oysters or mussels healthy until they can hopefully coax a beautiful jewel from them.

There are saltwater farms that grow a variety of oysters that will produce gems like Akoya, Tahitian and South Sea pearls. Freshwater farms use similar techniques to grow mussels that produce freshwater pearls.

Shop All Pearls

Learn more about

Saltwater Vs. Freshwater Pearls

Akoya Pearls

South Sea Pearls

Tahitian Pearls

Mikimoto Pearls

 

 

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