Virtually all the pearls you see and purchase today are cultured pearls that have been aided by science. Planting a mother-of-pearl nucleus into the soft membrane of the "oyster" develops the mollusk's natural protective response, which is to secrete a conchiolin (soothing brownish substance). The Conchiolin is then covered by a nacre coating (the lustrous materials of pearls) to destroy the intruder. The longer it cultivates, the thicker the nacre and usually, the deeper the luster.
Cultured pearls have literally saved the pearl trade from extinction. If it weren't for cultured pearls, only kings and queens and the fabulously wealthy would be awarded the opportunity to treasure these gems. Thanks to Mr. Mikimoto, we can all marvel at the inner glow and magical beauty of pearls.
Pearl QualityEarly pearl cultivation depended entirely on wild oysters. Now pearl cultivation is more selective. Japanese scientists isolated strains of oysters possessing superior pearl bearing qualities. These selectively bred oysters produce pearls of exceptional luster and color clarity. This variety of pearls is what is known as Akoya pearls today.
Pearl NucleationHighly skilled technicians open the live pearl oysters carefully, then surgically implant a small polished shell bead and piece of mantle tissue in each. The shell bead serves as the nucleus around which the oyster secretes layer after layer of nacre, the crystalline substance that forms the pearl.
The Pearl RaftsThe nucleated oysters are returned to the sea. There, in sheltered bays rich in natural nutrients, the oysters feed and grow, depositing lustrous layers of nacre around their nuclei. in winter, the oysters are moved south to warmer waters.
The nucleated oysters are suspended from rafts such as these in order to provide the best growing conditions. Pearl technicians check water temperatures and feeding conditions daily at various water depths and then move the oysters up or down to take advantage of the best growing conditions.
Periodically, the pearl-bearing oysters are lifted from the sea for cleaning and health treatments. Seaweed, barnacles and other undersea growths that might impede feeding are removed from their shells. Then the shells are treated with medicinal compounds that discourage parasites from injuring the oysters.