Sweet Mother of Pearl

By Sheena Ignacio, Intern

Have you ever been lucky enough to open an oyster or clam only to find a magnificent shiny pearl? These prized stones have been fancied for four thousand years by ancient China, India, Egypt, Rome, and Native American tribes. The creation of this stunning stone is the result of a defense mechanism, which bivalve mollusks have developed to protect themselves from foreign substances. Many people believe pearls begin as tiny grains of sand, but contrary to popular belief they commonly begin as parasites. If a mollusk, such as an oyster, is invaded by a parasite and irritates the soft mantle tissue, the oyster will form a sac around the parasite and releases crystal like substances called nacre. This same crystal like substance coats the inner layer of the mollusk, but is known as mother of pearl.

This natural phenomenon develops in many ways depending on the mollusk’s environment. Fresh-water pearls are usually produced within 1-5 years, whereas salt-water pearls take as long as 20 years. A few
types of pearls include classic pearls, keshi pearls, and twin pearls. Classic pearls are the most familiarly identified as round and symmetrical. Keshi pearls are the most rare freshwater pearls made of pure nacre, but because it does not start with a foreign substance it is the most lustrous and irregularly shaped. Twin pearls occur when two pearls are joined together and form a barbell like shape. The black-lip oyster in the South Pacific waters precisely, around the Tahitian Islands, produces the extremely rare true black pearl. Although pearls also come in white, silver, cream, gold, green, and blue, the black pearl is the most prized. This elusive black pearl, depending upon its appearance, can be priced up to $10,000 US Dollars.

So, the next time you crack open an oyster or clam look for a pearl, you just might get lucky.