Natural and cultured pearls are special and precious because they both originate in nature. Pearl divers either find the pearls in the wild (a rare practice in this day and age, due to scarcity), or pearl farmers help the mollusks along with the process, caring for and nourishing them until the precious pearls within them are ready to be harvested.
Have you ever wondered how a pearl initially forms in a mollusk and then eventually gets to your custom pearl necklace? In this blog post, we'll explain the process from start to finish, focusing specifically on saltwater cultured pearls, which are cultured in oysters. Did you know that Kokichi Mikimoto, the founder of Mikimoto, was the first man to culture a pearl? In 1893, after many years of experimentation, he successfully cultured a semi-spherical pearl - and then later discovered how to culture many different varieties of pearls.
The pearl culturing process begins with farmers at pearl farms in places like Japan, Tahiti, and the Philippines (read this blog post for more information about where pearls are cultured) introduce an irritant to their oysters. Typically, this irritant can be a shell bead nucleus, small mother-of-pearl bead, or tiny pieces of mussel tissue called mantle, and it's inserted inside the soft tissue of the oyster.
After approximately two years, the pearl becomes fully formed and large enough to be harvested. At that point, a harvester will begin the process of removing the pearl from the oyster. As you can imagine, removal is not easy and requires a great amount of skill and patience. The harvester must open the oyster very gently and then use special surgical tools to carefully remove the pearl, doing everything in his or her power to keep the oyster safe, since the farmer can potentially reuse the oyster to produce another pearl.
Just because the pearl is harvested doesn't mean it can be immediately sold to a jeweler. First, the pearl must undergo a five-step preparation process, which includes finishing, sorting, drilling, matching, and threading. The pearls are cleaned with a special cleaning solution that removes any unwanted residue and enhances their shine. Then, they are sorted by qualities like size, shape, luster, and more to determine their value (read this blog post about grading pearls for more information). Next, the pearls are drilled either all the way through for necklaces and bracelets, or they're partially drilled for earrings. One of the most time-consuming steps in preparing pearls is matching them, so that they can be used together in a necklace, bracelet, or pair of earrings. Finally, they're threaded onto temporary strands to keep them together; at that point, they are sold as strands to jewelers.
Once we get the pearls, we make them available to you, so you can build your personalized pearl necklace. Add-A-Pearl Necklaces are usually started with one, three, or more pearls on a chain. You can choose either a 14K yellow gold, 14K white gold or sterling silver chain. You can even engrave a date, initials, or nickname on an added charn, so your gift recipient will always remember the occasion. When you're ready to add to her existing necklace, you have two options: the traditional gift method and the pearls-on-hold method.
With the traditional gift method, we send her gift of pearls in our signature Add-A-Pearl gift box with information on how to return the new pearls and necklace to us for stringing. With the pearls-on-hold method, we set aside the pearls you ordered and then add them to the necklace when we receive it. Either way you choose, we thread the pearls using silk thread and create a knot between each pearl to keep them from rubbing together and to prevent the loss of multiple pearls in the rare case that the thread breaks. You can watch this video to see the process for yourself.
Now that you know more about how saltwater cultured pearls get from the oyster to your custom pearl necklace, are you more impressed by pearls and all the people involved in the process of cultivating them? We'd love to hear your thoughts and reactions.