Do you, too, sometimes dream of ordering oysters in a restaurant and finding a luxury pearl upon opening them, which will later turn out to be worth an incredible amount of money? Occasionally, things like that do happen, but considering what's been going on with nature in recent years, we will have to accept the fact that pearls are no longer miracles of nature, but products of a human skill. In Vietnam, for instance, this luxury will cost you a pretty penny.
Just as there are salmon or tuna farms, Vietnam is home to one of the largest pearl farms in the world, which is located right next to the top tourist destination that no one visiting these parts should miss, Ha Long Bay. It is one of the Seven Wonders of the World and was listed in the UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage Register as early as in 1994.
According to a Chinese legend, pearls were created in the head of a dragon. When they were ripe, he hid them between his teeth. If a warrior wanted to obtain the jewel, he had to kill the animal. In India, they believed that pearls were drops of moon dew that the gods had turned into a perfect gem. Japanese tales speak of them as tears of nymphs, mermaids, or angels. And in French Polynesia, home to the rare Tahitian black pearls, it was rumored that one of those pearls had been gifted to Princess Bora Bora by Oro (god of peace and fertility) as a token of his love.
It was not until the 18th century that people found out that pearls weren't a creation made by supernatural beings, but merely work of nature. Or better yet - pure coincidence. A foreign body enters the conch shell, mostly in the form of a grain of sand, and since the mollusc defends itself against the unwelcome guest, it begins to wrap it in mother-of-pearl. A revolution in jewelry making was brought about by the Japanese Ichimatsu Mikimoto, who managed to grow the first artificial pearl by inserting a tiny ball of freshwater shellfish into the bowels of an oyster in 1893.
Pearls are rounded formations of varying size with a color similar to the pearlescent layer on the inside of the aforementioned organism's shell. Molluscs do not create them for no reason, but only when a foreign irritating object enters the space between the shell and the body surface. It can be a grain of sand, as mentioned before, or a parasite. In Asia, they insert a bead into the mollusc. It is only slightly smaller than the resulting pearl and the mother-of-pearl deposited on it is typically not more than 1 millimeter thick.
The mollusc begins to wrap the foreign object into thin layers of mother-of-pearl. There are many of these layers and if the object to be wrapped moves over the sheath, a loose pearl is formed. The process takes several years.
Pearls can basically be divided into marine and river pearls. Freshwater pearl mussels can create up to twenty balls at once (seawater pearl mussels only 2), which is of course highly appreciated by traders. However, because cultivation of river pearls is much easier compared to marine pearls, they are not so rare. Genuine natural gems caught from deep ocean waters, though, only appear in the shop windows of the most exclusive jewelry stores or auction houses, and are rather a rarity nowadays. In times of successful farming, the most commonly used pearls are from bred, artificially grown oysters.
And here's a piece of advice. Before you go to a pearl farm, be sure to find out how much which piece of jewelry costs at your local jeweler, because even if it would be logical to find cheaper jewelry at a farm, the opposite is often true.