One of the most common questions asked by new pearl connoisseurs is: are cultured pearls real? Until the early 20th century, pearls were an extraordinarily rare commodity. Fleets were dispatched across the globe to scour the waters for the lustrous gem. Hundreds, if not thousands, of mollusks were culled from the sea and anxiously pried open to find just a single pearl. This rarity made pearls accessible only to nobility.
Pearls are formed when an irritant makes its way into the soft tissue of a mollusk, like an oyster. To protect itself, the mollusk secretes a nacreous fluid to coat the intrusion. Layer by layer, nacre wraps around the irritant and forms, in time, the pearl. This process can take years. To accommodate the global demand for pearls, man found a way to simulate this irritant – which occurs so infrequently in nature. By inserting a small fragment of shell into a living mollusk, man can stimulate the pearl-forming process and sustainably farm the gem.
Cultured pearls, as the resulting gems are named, form under the exact circumstances that natural, or wild, pearls are formed. Man just helps to get the process rolling. Both natural and cultured pearls are real; they are the result of patience and the oyster’s greatest triumph. Cultured pearls should not be confused with imitation pearls, which are wholly man-made of varying materials. So the next time someone asks you, are cultured pearls real? You may confidently answer: yes! They most certainly are.