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PEARL

A pearl is a hard object produced within the soft tissue (specifically the mantle) of a living shelled mollusk. Just like the shell of a clam, a pearl is composed of calcium carbonate in minute crystalline form, which has been deposited in concentric layers. The ideal pearl is perfectly round and smooth, but many other shapes (baroque pearls) occur. The finest quality natural pearls have been highly valued as gemstones and objects of beauty for many centuries. Because of this, pearl has become a metaphor for something rare, fine, admirable and valuable.

The most valuable pearls occur spontaneously in the wild, but are extremely rare. These wild pearls are referred to as natural pearls. Cultured or farmed pearls from pearl oysters and freshwater mussels make up the majority of those currently sold. Imitation pearls are also widely sold in inexpensive jewelry, but the quality of their iridescence is usually very poor and is easily

 Pearls are an organic gem, called organic because they are created by living creatures. Each pearl begins its existence as a piece of grit or other particle that makes its way into the shell of a marine or freshwater mollusk — some types of oysters and clams. A defense mechanism kicks-in and coats the particle with layer after layer of a substance called nacre, or mother-of-pearl, which eventually becomes thick enough to form a pearl.

Natural Pearls

Natural pearls are formed when an accidental intruder enters a mollusk's shell and continuous layers of nacre grow like onion skins around the particle. Natural pearls vary in shape depending on the shape of the piece being coated.

Natural pearls have always been considered rare and are quite expensive. They are usually sold by carat weight. Most natural pearls on today's market are vintage pearls.

 Cultured Pearls

Like natural pearls, cultured pearls grow inside of a mollusk, but with human intervention. A shell is carefully opened and an object is inserted. Shapes of objects vary, depending on the final shape of pearl that's desired.

Over time the object becomes coated with layers of nacre. The depth of the nacre coating depends on the type of mollusk involved, the water it lives in, and how long the intruder is left in place before being harvested. As nacre thickness increases, so does the quality and durability of the cultured pearl.

Pearls have been harvested and cultivated primarily for use in jewelry, but in the past were also used to adorn clothing. They have also been crushed and used in cosmetics, medicines and paint formulations.

Whether wild or cultured, gem-quality pearls are almost always nacreous and iridescent, like the interior of the shell that produces them. However, almost all species of shelled mollusks are capable of producing pearls (formally referred to as "calcareous concretions" by some sources) of lesser shine or less spherical shape.