Pearl is a smooth lustrous gem and clearly one of nature’s great treasure with a wide range of color and shapes. In the pearl jewelry, there are mainly three ways in which the pearl can be formed, including natural vs. cultured vs. imitation.
Natural (or wild) pearls, formed without human intervention, are very rare. A pearl is formed when an irritant accidentally, such as a piece of sand, becomes lodged in the shell of an oyster, mollusks, either oysters, mussels or another various bi-valve species. To protect its soft body from this irritant, the oyster secretes a smooth, hard substance called “nacre”. Layer upon layer of nacre coats the foreign object and hardens, ultimately forming a pearl. It commonly will take years to create a pearl of decent size and perfectly round shapes are rare. In general, the thicker the nacre, the richer the “glow” of the pearl – which can greatly enhance its value. Many hundreds of pearl oysters or mussels must be gathered and opened, and thus killed, to find even one wild pearl; for many centuries, this was the only way pearls were obtained, and why pearls fetched such extraordinary prices in the past.
Cultured pearls are formed in pearl farms, using human intervention as well as natural processes. Essentially the process involves inserting an irritant into an oyster, mussels or another various bi-valve species and then caring for that oyster until it has developed a pearl.
Some imitation pearls (also called shell pearls) are simply made of mother-of-pearl, coral or conch shell, while others are made from glass, ceramic or plastic and are coated with a solution containing fish scales called essence d'Orient. Although imitation pearls look the part, they do not have the same weight or smoothness as real pearls, and their luster will also dim greatly. They are fake pearls.
Glass beads coated in the ground-up iridescent nacre from fish scales.