||A brief history of pearls
HOW PEARLS ARE BROUGHT TO MARKET
Despite advances in technology that allow pearl farmers to cultivate pearls on a much larger scale than ever before, the truth is that fewer than half of all oysters will survive the nucleating process. Of those that survive, only 20 percent of them create marketable pearls.
What is the Nucleating Process for Cultivated Pearls?
The nucleating process involves pearl farmers selecting oysters, opening their shells and cutting into their mantle, and inserting an irritant that causes them to create a pearl.
Why Don't Many Oysters Survive?
In addition to the fact that many oysters don't survive the nucleating process, some are naturally weaker than others. In some cases, oysters fall prey to disease. When saltwater bays become flooded with rainwater, the salt content becomes diluted; that can also kill oysters.
The dreaded "red tide," which is actually an overgrowth of phytoplankton, can suffocate oysters on oyster farms. In some cases, the oysters starve due to a lack of nutrients; others are eaten by non-human predators or attacked by parasites.
This is why pearls, despite the fact that they're farmed on fairly large scales, are still quite rare and considered extremely valuable.
How Many Nucleated Oysters Produce Perfect Pearls?
As few as 5 percent of all nucleated oysters create perfectly round, lustrous and colorful pearls. The remaining 15 percent of the surviving oysters' pearls are irregular in shape or may not have the ideal luster.
Sorting Pearls for Market
Experts must sort through thousands of pearls and separate them based on size, shape, color and luster. Sorting is a difficult process, and each pearl must be handled hundreds of times to ensure that it fits into the appropriate category.
Once pearls are sorted, pearls must be drilled using precision tools. An operator must be extremely careful, because pearls can split or become damaged; if a whole is drilled the slightest bit off center, it can ruin a necklace or other piece of jewelry that depends on the symmetry of its assembly of pearls.
The process is incredibly time consuming. In order to find 47 pearls for a perfectly matched 16-inch necklace, a pearl processor must cull through more than 10,000 pearls.