Cultured pearls are pearls farmed under controlled conditions.
When the mantle tissue of an oyster is injured, the mollusk secretes nacre. This forms into a pearl sac, which is a cyst. This is part of their reflexive healing process. The continuous build up of nacre forms a stunning pearl.
Nacre is a composite material made of aragonite, which is a form of calcium carbonate. Its most notable and revered quality is its iridescence. The inner surface of mollusk shells is coated in a nacreous layer, often referred to as mother-of-pearl.
It is not without function; this layer protects soft tissues from parasites and anything that can puncture it.
The visual characteristics of pearls have rendered them as a statement piece in everything from architecture to fashion for centuries. They are symbolic of timelessness.
With increasing demand for them, pearl farms began to emerge. The most common sources are the pearl oyster and freshwater pearl mussels.
Most pearls sold are in fact cultured pearls because they are much easier to acquire. Wild pearls can fetch quite a heavy price on the market.
Cultured pearls are not imitations, they are real pearls, but they are reared. Natural pearls are made without human interference. While they are not perfect in shape, their rarity gives them their value.
The cultivation process begins with the insertion of a small bead and a piece of mantle tissue inside the mollusk. The layers of nacre will gradually entomb the nuclear bead. Once nucleated, the mollusks return to controlled waters to feed and thrive.
Feeding conditions, water temperature and general health are carefully monitored. The mollusks are taken out of the water and cleaned regularly. Even in controlled conditions, some of the mollusks do not produce pearls of commercial quality.
After a careful extraction, the pearls are cleaned, soaked and stored. The highest quality of pearls usually has a high luster. Generally, the larger the pearl, or the rounder, the more expensive it is.
There are many different types of cultured pearls. The “classic” version is the lustrous Akoya pearl. These are the perfect round ones you will find on strands that adorn the necks of the wealthy. The most affordable of the pearls of the freshwater pearls – they also have the most variety. Exotic hues, like metallics and pastels, are a new twist on the classic pearl.
Freshwater pearls generally have a softer luster than Akoya pearls, with the exception of metallic varieties. The market is also saturated with a variety of shapes. Baroque styles, which are irregularly shaped, are almost as common as their perfectly round counterparts.
Pearls aren’t just brilliant white wonders; they have darker varieties. Tahitian pearls are the only naturally occurring dark pearls. Though they are often referred to as “black pearls”, they are actually dark shades of various colors – mostly green, purple and silver. For most, the Tahitian pearl is the most exotic of pearls.
If you want something that exhibits true luxury, then South Sea pearls are the best option. They are the largest saltwater pearls grown at present. Their most distinctive feature is their range in color. These pearls are the most expensive because they are usually large or available in colors from white to gold. The perfectly round South Sea pearls are a rare occurrence, but Baroque styles are more easily accessible – if you can afford them.