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What Are Pearls

Pearls are wonderful gifts of nature, with a charm that has captivated mankind for thousands of years. They are the only gem created by a living creature, and have a natural beauty that simply cannot be matched by artificial processes.

Yet the very gems that enchant us, come from something that was irritating, or even painful, to its host mollusc.

How pearls are formed

Real pearls are formed when a foreign body gets inside the shell of a seawater oyster or a freshwater mussel. Contrary to popular belief, this is not usually a grain of sand, as the mollusc can easily wash these back out. The irritant seed or nucleus of a natural pearl is much more likely to be debris from the seabed that was taken in during filter feeding, or a parasite that has found its own way into the shell. If it cannot be washed back out again, then the mollusc sets about coating the irritant to make it smooth, in order to protect its soft internal tissues from harm.


This coating is called nacre (pronounced nay-ker), and is the same substance that you find on the inside of a shell – hence the term ‘mother of pearl’. Nacre is made of the same mineral compound that we use to make bones and teeth. Over time, the nacre forms multiple concentric layers of aragonite crystals, bound together with an organic ‘cement’ called conchoilin. As these layers build up around the irritant, a pearl is formed.

It is this multiple layer construction that gives pearls their unique visual appeal, playing with the light to create mesmerising iridescence, lustre and colour overtones through interference and refraction.

In the wild, less than one in ten thousand oysters will contain a natural pearl created in this way, making natural pearls highly prized and incredibly valuable. Fortunately, Absolute Pearls can offer you cultured pearls, which are still grown within a mollusc, and which have all the ethereal beauty of a natural pearl, at a fraction of the price.