Where Would You Find Pearls?
Pearls come from mollusks – a group of marine animals which includes squids, clams, and oysters. These beautiful round jewels are the result of a biological process within the mollusk as it protects itself from foreign substances.
Although clams, squids and mussels can also produce pearls, they don’t do so very often. Most pearls are made by oysters, and they can be made in either freshwater or saltwater environments.
Under its shell the mollusk has a mantle, or outer-skin. When a particle of dirt, or any tiny marine creature gets stuck in this mantle, a hard substance forms around it. This makes the pearl. It is formed of the same material as the mollusk shell-nacre or mother-of-pearl.
Pearls come in many different shapes and colors. The most valuable ones are completely smooth, spherical and usually white. But there is a black pearl from the Gulf of Mexico, which is also extremely valuable.
The most beautiful pearls — the kind used for jewelry — are perfectly round. Not all pearls turn out this way, though. Some pearls form in uneven shapes. These less-than-perfect pearls are known as baroque pearls. Pearls that form naturally inside of oysters are called natural pearls.
The people who first discovered how to stimulate the production of pearls were the Chinese. They put the mollusk into a shallow pond, inserted a speck of mud into the mantle, and waited for the pearl to form. After a couple of months they would detach the pearl from the mollusk’s mantle – and eat the mollusk.
The pearls produced by this method are called cultured pearls. Cultured and natural pearls are usually considered to be of equal quality. Cultured pearls are often less expensive, though, because they’re not as rare.