From Panama Jack — March 12, 2015 at 5:00 am

Pearls of Wisdom: How Oysters Produce Jewels

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©istockphoto/ganache

©istockphoto/ganache

Pearls, the ocean-born jewel that conjures up images of elegance and gala dinners, are the byproduct of chance. And, as we all know, they’re financially-straining bits of natural serendipity. But just how are pearls amassing bits of “serendipity?” Well, two essential variables for the formation of pearls: a bivalve and an unscratchable itch.

Variable One
Bivalves are a class under the kingdom animalia, which mostly include mollusks. So, by every connotation of mollusk grouping, oysters are actually an umbrella common name for certain families of bivalves that inhabit the world’s oceans and brackish waters. Yes, most of these mollusks have the capability of producing pearls; but there’s been one genus in particular that’s been given the moniker “pearl oysters.” After all, a single pearl easily fetches at least $100. That’s a pretty penny when you factor-in a fifteen-inch necklace might have twenty or more dangling, drool-inducing pearls.

An Insatiable Itch
Like all bivalves, oysters are filter feeders, siphoning the surrounding ocean water and extracting whatever nutrients present in the filtered water. Because of their feeding habits, pearl oysters unknowingly welcome a multitude of foreign bodies into their mantles (the inner-workings of the mollusk). Oysters have a hinge-like external ligament located at their rear. When a foreign object enters that tissue space between the mantle and that cartilaginous ligament, the oyster begins to protect itself in the most beautiful way possible.

Because of the constant irritation brought on by the intruding body, the mollusk begins to “round-out the edges,” so to speak. Oysters, as do many other cephalopods and gastropods, have an inner-mineral coating that lines their mantle called nacre. This iridescent shelling isn’t just protective—it’s comely in appearance. It’s no shock then why many refer to the organic compound as “the mother of pearl.” And it’s this protective coating that then envelops the itching-body, amassing into a rounded body worth a Benjamin. Pearl farmers kickstart this process by forcefully embedding sand particles into the pearl-producing bivalves, ensuring that eventually a pearl will result.

From The Sea To The Sales Representative
There are five main criteria to determine a pearls worth: symmetry, luster, color, size, and the degree of external imperfections present. This creates both a quality standard and monetary norm in the sale of these ocean-going gems. It’s also worth noting that a well-versed jeweler should be aware of how the pearl was produced, if they were harvested rather than farmed, and which geographic region they originated from. Depending on the magnitude of each of the described physical attributes, a stranded pearl necklace can be worth as little as a clearance pair of jeans or the car you just placed the jeans in.

Next time you find yourself at a fine-dining event and your dinning partner’s ordered nacre bodied meal, make sure to share this pearl of wisdom with them. It’s, at the very least, an ice breaker. Or a last-ditch attempt at small talk, to each their own.

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