We are often asked what is the difference between natural and cultured pearls?
Natural pearls occur when a mollusc, an oyster or mussel, is invaded by a foreign substance, for example a small piece of grit or coral, washed in by the sea. The mollusc will then immediately start to build natural defences, by secreting a calcium carbonate substance called nacre around the small piece of grit. Over several years, the build-up of nacre forms a natural pearl.
Cultured pearls are still real pearls, grown organically inside a mollusc; the only difference is there is a little bit of help at the beginning, as the pearl farmer stimulates the development of the pearls by inserting a nucleus into the mollusc.
At Claudia Bradby we use freshwater cultured pearls.
Discover the story of cultured pearls below.
1. Technicians gently add a small bead or a tiny piece of mantle tissue into a live pearl mussel. This is a skilled and delicate procedure and if successful the mollusc will start to slowly deposit iridescent layers of nacre, beginning the process of the creation of a cultured pearl.
2. The implanted mussels are then returned to freshwater where they are regularly inspected; environmental factors such as water temperature and pollution need to be frequently monitored. Freshwater pearls typically take between 6 – 24 months to grow depending on type and size. The mussels can be up to A4 in size and grow many pearls to a single shell.
3. After being harvested the pearls undergo further treatment to prepare them for jewellery. They are soaked for several days in a mild cleaning solution under intense flourescent light; this removes any deposits and odours that may have been picked up during their time in the water. It also enhances their surface quality.
4. The pearls are then grouped by size, shape and quality. To assemble a single strand workers must comb through thousands of pearls to match for consistent size, shape, colour, lustre and surface quality. This is time intensive and detailed work and can take months to complete.
The culturing process is both incredible and complex; it relies on the expertise of pearl farmers and technicians and ultimately their partnership with nature.