For centuries, people have treasured pearls for their beauty and rarity. They come in both natural and cultured forms. Natural pearls are created by chance in the wild, while cultured pearls are created by human intervention.
In this article, we will explore the differences between natural and cultured pearls. We will look at the history of pearl cultivation, the methods used to produce cultured pearls, how to recognise natural pearls, the differences in price and value, the environmental impact of pearl farming, the future of pearl production and the cultural significance and symbolism of natural and cultured pearls.
Natural vs Cultured Pearl
Understanding the difference between natural and cultured pearls is a crucial aspect when it comes to pearl appreciation and buying.
What are the differences?
- Created through human intervention.
- Formed when a small bead or piece of tissue is inserted into the oyster, which then begins to secrete nacre around the irritant.
- Generally more uniform in shape, size, and colour than natural pearls.
- More readily available and less expensive than natural pearls.
- Formed by chance in the wild.
- Formed when a small irritant, such as a grain of sand, enters an oyster's shell and the oyster begins to secrete nacre to form the pearl.
- Considered rare and more valuable than cultured pearls.
- Unique in shape, size and colour.
Price and Value
Value of the natural and cultured pearl depends on their quality factors, with the larger and higher qualities fetching a higher price. Both pearls have their own symbolic value in the market due to their rarity, beauty, and cultural significance. However, natural pearls command a higher price because they are extremely rare. On the other hand, cultured pearls are more readily available and less expensive than natural pearls.
It will not be easy to distinguish the natural pearls from the cultured pearls by just looking at them, it is recommended to have a pearl expert or a jeweller helping you to identify the pearls. And also, it is important to consider that the prices can vary based on the market and the demand.
The History and Evolution
The history of pearl cultivation and how it has evolved over time is a fascinating subject. People have valued pearls for centuries, and the methods used to cultivate them have changed significantly over time.
Ancient and Early Cultivation
In ancient times, people obtained pearls mainly through wild pearl fishing, which was dangerous and unsafe. Therefore, natural pearls were very valuable and sought after by the rich and elite. The Chinese were the first to experiment with pearl cultivation in the 13th century, cultivating pearl mussels in freshwater ponds. The process was still in its early stages and not yet fully developed at that time.
19th Century Breakthrough
The Japanese pearl farmer Mikimoto Kokichi revolutionised the pearl industry by successfully cultivating Akoya pearls in saltwater oysters species Pinctada Fucata, which made pearls more readily available and less expensive. This led to a significant increase in pearl production and consumption.
Modern Advancements and Impact
In the 20th century, pearl farming techniques continued to evolve, culminating in the introduction of bead nucleation which greatly improved the size and quality of cultured pearls.
Pearl Cultivation Process
The production of cultured pearls and the methods used are a complex and sophisticated process that has evolved over time. Cultured pearls are created through human intervention, where a small bead or piece of tissue is inserted into an oyster, which then begins to secrete nacre around the irritant. The process of pearl cultivation can be broken down into several important steps:
1. Selection of the Oyster Species
The first step in pearl cultivation, also known as pearl farming is the selection of the oyster species to be used for farming. Different species of oysters have different characteristics that make them more suitable for certain types of pearls.
After selecting the oyster species, the next step is to spawn the oysters. This is done by collecting oyster eggs and sperm and fertilising them in a controlled environment.
The fertilised eggs are then placed in a nursery where they grow into tiny oyster spat. This usually takes several months.
Once the oyster brood reaches a certain size, it is ready for implantation. This step involves inserting a small bead or piece of tissue into the oyster's shell, which serves as the nucleus for the pearl.
5. Growing and Harvesting
After the implantation, the oysters are placed in pearl farms where they are cared for and observed for several months as the pearls grow. The harvesting will starts once the pearls have reached a desirable size and quality.
The skilled pearl farmer or pearl grader will then match the pearls based on their similar characteristics such as size, shape, colour, and lustre. The matching process ensures that the pearls used in the final product are consistent in appearance, aesthetically pleasing and has a high-quality appearance.
8. Stranding and Pairing
Stranding and finishing the matched pearls is the final step in the pearl cultivation process. The matching pieces will then be drilled and put in strands for necklace or bracelets. For matching pairs, they are usually undrilled and placed on a two holes pearl card.
Pearl cultivation employs various methods, including freshwater, saltwater, and bead nucleus culturing. All methods have been continually refined over time to enhance efficiency and quality. Today, pearl farming is a highly sophisticated industry, with pearl farmers using advanced technology and techniques to cultivate pearls in a controlled environment.
In summary, pearls have been prized for centuries for their beauty and rarity. They exist in both natural and cultured forms, the latter being produced by human intervention. The process of pearl cultivation has evolved over time, and today pearl farming is a highly developed industry. It's important to understand the differences between natural and cultured pearls, including the price and value, as well as in the cultivation process.
I hope this article has given you a better understanding of cultured pearls and the different aspects of the pearl farming and pearl industry. If you'd like to learn more about the different types of pearls, such as Akoya, South Sea and Tahitian pearls, and their unique characteristics, click the button below.