Signifying femininity, grace and charm, pearls have enticed women for ages. Increase your awareness of pearls before you set out to buy your new set.
Considered as birthstones for those born in June, pearls are one of the most ancient gemstones known. According to the Hindu epics, Lord Krishna discovered pearls and plucked the first one from the sea to present it to his daughter Pandaia on her wedding day.
The largest pearl in the world is about three inches long and two inches across, weighing one-third of a pound. It is called the Pearl of Asia. It was gifted by the Mughal King Shah Jahan of India, to his beautiful wife Mumtaz, for whom he also built the Taj Mahal.
How are pearls formed?
Pearls are formed within the bodies of mollusks (water animals with soft bodies and a covering of hard shell, such as oysters found in saltwater bodies such as seas and oceans and mussels found in fresh water bodies such as lakes and rivers).
Sometimes a foreign material, usually a sharp object such as a sand grain, enters the body of the oyster or clam. This irritates the mollusk, but it is unable to expel the particle. In order to relieve itself from the irritation it secretes a liquid called nacre and coats the particle with it. Layer upon layer of nacre solidifies around the particles resulting in the formation of a pearl. It takes anywhere between three to six years for a pearl to form.
Nacre is the same secretion that the mollusk uses for building its shell. Chemically, it is a combination of calcium carbonate and an organic compound called conchiolin. Nacre in popular parlance is known as mother-of-pearl.
The layers in a pearl are translucent. Therefore, both reflection and refraction of light takes place from them giving the pearl its unique luster. The iridescence is caused by the overlapping of successive layers, which breaks up the light falling on the surface.
Although white is the most commonly found color, pearls are also found in delicate shades of pink, black, cream, gray, blue, yellow, lavender, green and mauve.
Earlier on, pearl hunting was the only means known for obtaining pearls. These were natural pearls and were extremely rare to find. Eventually the process of culturing pearls was discovered and developed as one of the branches of mariculture. This process was first developed by Kokichi Mikimoto in Japan, who was granted a patent for the process in 1896.
Nowadays, almost all the pearls found on the market are cultured pearls.
In this process, the irritant which is called the nucleus or core is implanted surgically inside the oyster which is then returned into the water. After a growth period of at least three years they are harvested. Usually, more than one implant is done within one mollusk. If the oyster survives the first harvest, fresh implants are made and it is returned to the waters for another cycle of growth.
In 1914 pearl farmers of Japan began culturing freshwater pearls on a very large scale. China emerged next on the scene. Today Japan, China, Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines are major producers of pearls.
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