The Amazing True Origin Story of the Pearl

gold and pearl necklaces from Nikki Lorenz Designs

Someone asked me the other day why I liked pearls so much.  

Poor thing.

I don’t think she was prepared for the glimmer in my eye or the, possibly frightening, maniacal look on my face.

My quick response was:  “I’m in awe that one angry little mollusk could create something so gorgeous!”

For those of you that don’t know how pearls are formed let me drop a little knowledge.  

In nature, tiny little parasites bore a hole into the shell of a mollusk.  Once they get in it irritates the animal.  (I know from personal experience whether I’m physically or emotionally irritated I can get a bit angry so please allow me the personification.)  The mollusk’s defense against this irritation is to coat the little bastard in a secretion that forms the nacre of a pearl.  The longer the irritant remains in the mollusk the more nacre is secreted, the larger the pearl becomes.  

Along come humans.  

Humans realized pearls could get quite large and beautiful and assigned value to pearls.  So as is human nature, people began to covet these little beauties and sought them out.  The translation?  Hoards of men jumping off boats prying up mollusks and cracking them open to see if a pearl was inside.  The result?  A lot of mollusks were on the verge of extinction and pearls of any size were impossible to find.  

Along comes dear Mr. Mikimoto.  

He is credited with really streamlining the cultivation of pearls as we know it.  He managed to save a whole lot of mollusks from impending doom and provide us greedy humans with a reliable source of pearls.

Mr. Mikimoto decided that a perfect pearl was round and white with rose orient.  For those that’ve managed to stay this long, orient is the iridescent shimmer you see on a pearl that seems to float above the color of the pearl.  That idea spread across all the varieties of pearls.  A perfect pearl had to be perfectly round and depending on the type of mollusk (‘cuz different mollusks create different colors of pearls) it had to be a certain color.

The reality is that different varieties of mollusks create a range of shapes, colors, and orients.  

Fast forward to the 1980s or so. A pearl dealer was visiting a Tahitian pearl farm and happened to see the “reject” pile.  She was stopped dead in her tracks by the range of colors, shapes, and beauty in the scrap pile.  She bought up a lot of “the trash” and began to market them.  And people loved them!  

Now farmers have gotten so into the science of pearl farming that they know generally (again, angry mollusk at work so cut them some slack) what color pearls the mollusks would create at given depths, how the food sources of the mollusks would affect the color and quality, and how long the pearls needed to be in the mollusk to create the best qualities.

And now you know what a pissed-off shellfish can do.

As you were.

Talk to you soon,

P.S.  Now that you’ve read this oh-so entertaining story you should go to my shop and take a look at all my beautiful pearl pieces. While you're there don't forget to sign up for my email list.  I'll let you know when I release new work.