5 Crazy Things You Never Knew About Pearls

They seem flawless and smooth but they’re actually as rough as sandpaper. They may look flawless and spherical but they’re technically never, ever round. They’re one of the most beautiful products of nature, yet they’re the oyster’s equivalent of a stomach ulcer. Pearls have fascinated us since the days of ancient Greece and while they’ve been ubiquitous in glamorous jewelery for centuries, pearls are subject to numerous unfortunate misconceptions.

Perhaps you’re a fashion conscious lady who cares deeply about the planet and all the animals who live on it, and wants to know if pearls are murder. Perhaps you’re a dude who wants to get his lady a pair of handmade pearl earrings but wants to make sure that the ethical cost isn’t too high. Maybe you’ve always loved pearls and want to know more about them. Whatever the case, check out these crazy facts you never knew about pearls…

Cultivating pearls does not kill the oyster

It’s a common misconception that for a pearl to be cultivated, the oyster must be yanked open thereby killing it. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it’s in an oyster farmer’s best interests to ensure that the oyster is as long lived and healthy as possible. Not all pearls come out as opalescent and flawless as we imagine, indeed some look like malformed teeth. As pearls age they produce better and better quality pearls so pearl farmers benefit from keeping their oysters alive for longer.

Most pearls originate in the Mississippi river

Oysters are cultivated all over the world with Tahiti, Japan, China and Australia all thriving centers of pearl commerce, but the crucial ingredient to pearl crafting, mother of pearl can only be found in the Mississippi river. This thick, iridescent shell comes from a mollusc shell that is cultivated in the Mississippi. Pieces of the shell are then inserted into the oyster’s shell, around which the pearl grows.

Pearls are not smooth

To our fingers pearls may feel smooth, but the reality is that their texture is rough and akin to sandpaper. If you’ve ever been unsure as to whether a pearl in a piece of jewelery is real or a man made synthetic is by rubbing it on your teeth. If it’s real, you’ll be able to feel the grainy texture on your teeth.

They’re never round either

There’s technically no such thing as a round pearl. This is because the world pearl originates in the Latin word “pirum” meaning pear or pear shaped. This is because up until the 20th century all pearls cultivated were baroque or pear shaped with very few perfectly round pearls in circulation. Since pearl means pear shaped they can’t, by definition, ever be round.

At the heart of some pearls is a nasty parasite

While it’s true that all cultivated pearls are grown around a mother of pearl core, in the natural world, a pearl may contain at its center a worm or a nasty parasite. This is because the pearl is formed around a foreign contaminant to protect the oyster from infection. Gross, but fascinating!


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