Pearl harvesting is a demanding work that pays off the investment years later. Although, pearls are not that rare and special anymore like in the 19th century and before. Still, pearls are fashionable items that are used in the jewelry industry.
Before pearl harvesting became industrialized in the beginning of 1910s, pearls were considered precious and valuable. In today’s marketplace, harvested (cultured) pearls account for almost 100%. About 0.001% of pearls in the market are wild pearls.
Firstly, we want to address a common question: Do oysters die after the pearl has been harvested? The answer is NO. This being said, let’s move on.
Pearls are grown and harvested in pearl farms, which are usually quiet and isolated bays. After the pearls are collected and nucleated, the nurturing period can last from 8 months to 6 years.
Nucleation is the process of making an incision in the oyster's soft tissue. An irritant is inserted which causes the oyster to protect is itself. It releases a material called nacre. This material accumulates into layers which ultimately form the actual pearl. Back in the day when pearl farms did not exist, wild pearls would appear because oysters were affected or attacked by another being thus creating the nacre layers.
TIP: If you want to find out if a pearl is original just rub it against your teeth. The original pearl’s surface should feel like sand (accumulated nacre layers). If it feels smooth and silky, then it’s a fake.
The three most known pearls are Akoya, South Sea and Tahitian. Akoya pearls are usually cultured between 10 and 18 months. Freshwater South Sea and Tahitian pearls take 2 to 3 years to grow large enough for harvesting.
Back in the day, this process was significantly different. Typically, people just dived into the sea to collect the oysters and they took out the pearl, after that the oyster was thrown back into the water. Modern pearl farming is quite different as the oysters need to be taken care of. It’s like having a garden full of vegetables and fruits. If a storm hits, a virus or pollution occurs all the hard work was in vain and thousands of oyster can be affected thus not producing pearls.
For this reason, the oysters are checked periodically for parasites and other illnesses that may occur. Farmers feed the oysters and check the waters for optimal conditions. Usually, 3 to 4 months after nucleation, pearls are X-rayed to see if they accepted the nucleus. There is hard work put into this process. Despite, it, only about 50% of the oysters produce pearls and of those, only about 10% are considered top quality pearls in the market.
The actual harvesting part is not the complicated. The farmers collect the oysters, open the oysters, take out the pearl and prepare the oyster to replicate the creation of more pearls. Although, the opening process of the oyster requires medical precision and tools in order to not harm the oyster.
Pearls are used in many different ways to create jewelry such as necklaces, earrings, pendants and rings.