A Brief History of Pearls: How Pearls are Harvested

  A brief history of pearls


How Are Pearls Harvested? Pearl Harvesting 101

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. Pearl harvesting is a complex but fascinating subject, and one that discerning pearl shoppers should know a little bit about before purchasing fine-quality pearls. Read this piece to get some insight on how the professionals harvest pearls and learn the secrets of one of the Earth's most rewarding treasure hunts.

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

Cultured pearls develop under controlled conditions in both saltwater and freshwater all over the globe.  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.

How Are Pearls Harvested?

Typically, it takes between six months and four 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. This is an extremely delicate process, and one that requires gentle hands to ensure that pearls, including the rare and high-value pearls of Australia, Japan, the Philippines and other countries, are not damaged in the process.

The pearl experts at American Pearl are more than happy to help you learn everything you've ever wanted to know about pearls. Be sure to shop our selection of fine-quality pearl jewelry if you're in the market for the world's most beautiful oceanic gem.

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How pearls are harvested
How pearls brought to market
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