Most crystals occur naturally from the heat and pressure of the Earth over millions of years. But pearls are different. They are the only natural gem formed in the mollusks, clams, and mussels.
What colors do pearls come in? Cultured pearls are found in various colors like pink, green, purple, blue, white, peach, and black. That’s not all. Some of these amazing gems also come with fabulous multicolor shades.
But have you ever wondered how oysters make colored pearls? This is what this blog post is about. So keep reading as we explain how do oysters make colored pearls.
Mother of pearl is an informal name given to the lustrous substance that creates the inner lining of the oyster or mollusks shell. This substance is formally referred to as nacre. Please note that this nacre is a unique amalgamation of minerals that oysters and mollusks make.
The epithelial cells present in the mollusks’ lining secret tiny platelets. These platelets form the foundation of the nacre. Moreover, these platelets are made up of calcium carbonate. Therefore, when the mollusks secrete them, the platelets have a structure similar to the light waves.
And this process gives nacre its shimmering, iridescent shine and makes it unique. So what is the job of the nacre? First, it sits inside the shell, protecting it from external parasites and pollutants.
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How do Oysters make Pearls?
We all know that oysters are bivalves. The oyster’s shell is composed of two valves or parts. A special elastic ligament holds both valves together. It also helps in keeping the valves open to enable oysters to eat.
To understand how oysters make pearls, you should first understand their anatomy. The mouth, stomach, intestine, heart, mantle, gills, and abductor muscles are the major parts of an oyster.
Pearl is formed when a foreign ingredient slips between the shell and mantle into the oyster. It irritates the mantle, and the oyster gets a splinter. On receiving a splinter, the oyster tries to cover up the irritant and protect itself.
The mantle starts covering the irritant with multiple layers of nacre. It gradually forms a pearl. More precisely, a pearl is nothing but a foreign substance covered with several layers of nacre.
Moreover, not all natural pearls are round in shape. Some also have uneven shapes. These are known as baroque pearls. Apart from this, the process of preparing cultured pearls is also similar to the process of natural pearls.
However, in this, the farmer opens the oyster shell. He then makes a slit in the mantle tissue and inserts a small irritant. You can visit a real pearl harvesting site to see what does a pearl look like in an oyster.
How do Oysters Create Different Color Pearls?
Do you wonder how do pearls get their color? You see, three primary factors contribute to the oyster pearl colors. They are:
- The type of oyster
- The number of layers of nacre
- The thickness of layers of nacre
All these trace elements are present within the aquatic environment of an oyster. Pearl harvesters can also influence the oyster’s pearl color by adding tissue from another oyster into the host oyster.
This process is performed along with the shell nucleus. Now, the color of the pearl is decided by a mix of overtone, radiance, and base color. In simple terms, the thicker the layer of the nacre, the better the pearl color will be and the higher the brilliance it will show.
Moreover, thinner nacre usually creates milky-appearing pearls that have lesser overtones. The luster of a pearl happens due to the layering of translucent nacre coats. Apart from this, cultured pearls are also dyed occasionally. Get in touch with an expert to know how colored pearls are made.
What Contributes to a Pearl’s Color?
Why are pearls different colors? In most cases, the color of the pearl is determined by the lip color of the oyster. You should meet an experienced pearl harvester to understand what color are oysters.
For instance, cultured Tahitian pearls get their grey shade from cultured Tahitian black-lipped oysters. Apart from this, Conchiolin is an organic substance that holds the crystalline aragonite layers together.
Some microscopic pigments are present within the Conchiolin layer, from which pearls can get their colors. After all, it is the substance that seals all these platelets together. So it was all about how do oysters make colored pearls.
Does a Pearl’s Color Affect Its Cost?
The color of the pearl does influence its total cost. Although other factors like shape, luster, type, and size also impact the overall cost of the pearl. The color’s uniformity and consistency add to the gem’s value.
Pearls that have deeper tones with attractive overtone shades are more expensive than lighter tones. So, which are the most expensive pearl colors so far? According to the experts, pink, blue, and golden pearl hues are rare and hence more expensive.
There was a time when black pearls used to lead the race. But they became more affordable since they entered the category of cultured pearls. On the other hand, white pearls are more affordable than colored ones.
But a natural and 100% pure pearl will enjoy a higher price than a cultured colored pearl. Presently, the South Sea pearls are the most expensive in the world. Moreover, they come in two colors; golden and white.
FAQs on Pearls and their Colors
What is the rarest pearl color?
Natural blue pearls are the rarest in the world. Read more about Pearl Color in our complete guide.
Why do oysters make different-colored pearls?
The genetics of mollusks determine the color of the pearl.
Do oysters die when you take the pearl?
Yes, in most cases, oysters die after producing a pearl.
Where do black pearls come from?
Black-lipped oysters form the Tahitian black pearls.