What are “Cultured” Pearls?

Cultured Pearl Earrings


 A pearl is a gem that is produced inside an oyster from the sea or a river-borne mollusk. A small foreign object becomes lodged within the tissue of the mollusk and if it can’t be repelled it irritates the oyster. In order to prevent further discomfort the mollusk secretes a white substance called nacre around the irritant. Over time this lustrous coating becomes thicker and thicker and its pearly appearance can produce a rainbow of reflected colour which is highly prized.

Natural pearls are very rare and extremely valuable. Today virtually all pearls are sold as ‘cultured’ which means that humans have helped nature by inserting the ‘irritant’ which is in the form of a mother-of-pearl bead. Kokichi Mikimoto was one of the pioneers who helped to develop the modern cultured pearl industry and by the early 1900’s he patented the technique of culturing spherical pearls thereby creating the successful cultured pearl industry we have today.

However beware! Pearl imitations can be found in the market and some of these pearls can be quite convincing. One of the easiest tests to establish if a pearl is real or fake is the ‘tooth test’. If you very gently run a genuine pearl along the edge of your teeth it will feel mildly abrasive. By contrast an imitation pearl feels very smooth and plastic.

In future blogs we will be looking at the most important factors that affect the quality and value of cultured pearls.


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