Aphrodite’s tears of joy, dew drops filled with moonlight, Krishna’s wedding gift to his daughter, Cleopatra’s love potion. The legends abound but one fact is undeniable, Pearls are the oldest known gem, and for centuries were considered the most valuable. So valuable that the Roman General Vitellius allegedly financed an entire military campaign with just one of his mother’s Pearl earrings.
A natural Pearl (sometimes called an Oriental pearl) forms when an irritant works its way into a particular species of mollusk that is actually closer to a scallop than an oyster. As a defense mechanism, the mollusk secretes a fluid to coat the irritant. Layer upon layer of this coating (known as nacre) is deposited on the irritant until a lustrous pearl is formed.
A cultured pearl undergoes the same process. The only difference being that the irritant is a surgically implanted mother-of-pearl bead or nuclei. The best nucleus comes from a Mississippi mussel that only lives in that famed waterway. The core is, therefore, much larger than in a natural pearl. As long as there are enough layers of nacre to result in a beautiful, gem-quality Pearl, the size of the nucleus is of little importance to beauty or durability.
Pearls have long been considered ideal wedding gifts because they symbolize purity and innocence. In the Hindu religion, the presentation of an un-drilled Pearl and its piercing has formed part of the marriage ceremony. While in the western hemisphere Pearls are the recommended gift for couples celebrating their third and 30th wedding anniversaries.
Almost every Pearl on the market these days is cultured. It’s only at antique auctions that you’re likely to come across “naturals”. Cultured Pearls are still “real” pearls they’ve simply had a helping hand from mankind.