||A brief history of pearls
HOW PEARLS ARE HARVESTED
One of nature's most spectacular processes, the development of a pearl, is complicated but yields remarkable results. Before the invention of cultured pearls in the early 20th century, all pearls grew in the wild; that made them extremely rare and valuable.
However, thanks to modern technology and careful oyster farming techniques, pearls can be harvested on a much larger scale than they have been in the past.
How Are Pearls Harvested?
Typically, it takes between 6 months and 4 years for a pearl to develop. During this time, pearl farmers care for the oysters by feeding them, checking for parasites and ensuring that water conditions are optimal for the development of pearls.
When pearls are ready to be harvested, pearl farmers remove the oysters from the water. In most cases, the oysters are transported to harvesting facilities. Harvesters open the oysters, remove the pearls and, in some cases, prepare the oysters to create more pearls.
Early History of Pearl Harvesting
Before the advent of pearl farming, people used to fish for oysters containing pearls. Fishermen would pry open the shells, look for the rare gems and throw the mollusks back into the water.
During the 15th and 16th centuries, the Spanish harvested pearls along the coasts of Central and South America by sending divers into the water - often slaves - to retrieve oysters.
Caring for Oysters Before the Harvest
Oysters used for cultivated pearls are well cared-for; farmers put them in sheltered bays that have nutrient-rich waters. The oysters feed and grow, and as they do so, they deposit layers of lustrous nacre - the defensive coating that gives pearls their beautiful color and iridescence - on the irritant deposited in their mantle so they can create pearls.
The pearl-making oysters are lifted from the water periodically, when they are checked for barnacles and other organisms that could interfere with their feeding. Their shells are also treated with medicines that kill off and prevent parasites.