Did you know that natural pearls are produced by oysters and mussels (known as molluscs) in response to injury or attack? When an irritant, such as a piece of shell or a small bug, gets trapped inside the mollusc, it triggers secretion of a natural substance called nacre. This builds up around the irritant in layers and eventually a pearl if formed. Natural pearls are quite rare – hence their value.

It is estimated that 100,000 oysters are needed to get enough natural pearls to make a pearl necklace. Matching natural pearls to make a pearl strand is extremely difficult since they are never found round or uniform in size and colour. A well- matched natural pearl strand can be extremely pricey. It is known that Pierre Cartier exchanged a perfect, natural pearl, 2 strand necklace for the 5th Avenue Mansion that became the House of Cartier in 1916. Both were valued at $1 million at that time!

A Cultured Pearl is formed in molluscs using an external irritant introduced by humans. Nowadays a shell bead is placed inside the mollusc as an irritant. So human intervention starts the secretion of a cultured pearl. Freshwater pearls are grown inside freshwater mussels whereas saltwater pearls are grown in various types of oyster. These oysters are generally chosen for the colour of the nacre that they produce.

South Sea white pearls are the top grade pearl on the global market. They are grown in silver or golden-lipped oysters, on the shorelines of Indonesia, the Philippines and Australia. Akoya Pearls come exclusively from Japan’s saltwater, harvested from the Pinctada Fucata oyster (aka Akoya pearl oyster). To the untrained eye, they appear similar to freshwater pearls, but tend to be rounder and smoother. Stunning black pearls are found exclusively in Tahiti and the French Polynesian islands. Their colour varies from charcoal to purple/green. They are grown in the Pinctada Margaritifera oyster. Freshwater pearls are grown in the lakes and rivers of China, and to a lesser degree Japan and the USA. Another factor to consider is the growth rate of the pearl. Akoya pearls grow at a rate of per year, whereas Tahitian and South Sea pearls grow up to 2 mm yearly and Chinese freshwater pearls grow as much as 5 mm annually.

So, while a pearl’s lustrous beauty is a sight to behold, there is much that lies beneath the surface of these wonders of nature.