The birth of a pearl is truly a miraculous event. Unlike gemstones or precious metals that must be mined from the earth, pearls are grown by live oysters far below the surface of the sea. Gemstones must be cut and polished to bring out their beauty. But pearls need no such treatments to reveal their loveliness. They are born from their mother oysters with a shimmering iridescence, luster and soft inner glow that is unlike any other gem on earth.
A natural pearl begins its life as a foreign object, such as a parasite or piece of sand, that by accident lodges itself in the oyster’s soft inner body where it cannot be expelled.
In an effort to ease this irritant, the oyster’s body takes defensive action. The oyster begins to secrete a smooth, hard crystalline substance around the irritant in order to protect itself. This substance is called nacre.
As long as the irritant remains within its body, the oyster will continue to secrete nacre around the irritant, layer upon layer. After a few years, the irritant will be totally encased by the silky crystalline coatings. The result—the lovely and lustrous gem called a pearl.
How precious pearls are formed, from what an oyster regards as merely protection against irritation, is one of nature’s most prized secrets. For the nacre is not just a soothing substance. It is composed of microscopic crystals, each crystal aligned perfectly with each other so that light passing along the axis of one is reflected and refracted by the other to produce a rainbow of light and color. Cultured pearls are formed by oysters in almost an identical fashion. The only difference is that man surgically implants the irritant—a small piece of polished shell in the oyster rather than leaving it to chance, then steps aside to let nature and the oyster create their miracle.