Cultured Pearls are keeping the global pearl market alive having largely replaced natural pearls. There are too many people and too few oysters to keep up with demand worldwide, as it can take twenty years for a pearl to reach a marketable size on its own. With pearl cultivation we are able to create pearls in a three to five years as well as control the end shape and color. There are two ways to go about jump starting this process with varying control on the shape of the pearl and length of time required.
To start the culturing process skill technicians surgically implant a small bead, typically made from mother of pearl, with the desired final shape into the mantle tissue of the mollusk. This process requires great skill and care as the oyster cannot be opened more than two to three centimeters without the risk of killing the animal or having it reject the seed. Once the seed nucleus is placed the oysters quickly returned to the sea, where they are housed in individual mesh pockets amidst thousands of others suspended from floating structures in sheltered bays. The bays in which these oysters are housed are selected for their temperature and nutrient content to produce to the type of pearl desired. They feed and grow in these nutrient rich protected areas under constant vigilance by their care takers. As time passes layer after layer of lustrous nacre is secreted surrounding the implanted nucleus creating a pearl.
There, oysters are moved on a daily basis to various water depths to maintain the ideal growing conditions for the pearl. Water between twenty and twenty five degrees Celsius is ideal at a depth of around fifteen meters. In addition to these daily adjustments the oysters are moved to warmer waters during the winter months to prevent the stagnation of growth that would come with colder temperatures. Periodically the oysters are lifted from their waters so they can be cleaned of parasites and any other growths that could threaten their health. Even with all this tender care these oysters are given, the majority will not survive to bear pearls, and even fewer still will produce pearls of ideal shape, luster and color. Less than five percent of a crop of oysters will yield fine quality pearls each year.
After the pearls are brought back to shore and harvested the painstaking working of sorting gets under way. The acceptable pearls will be soaked for a week in a very mild cleaning solution under fluorescent light to remove any deposits and or odors they acquired growing inside the belly of an oyster for the past three years. They are soaked and gently polished in a pool of crushed nut shells and oils before they are ready for sorting. All of the quality pearls are then sorted by shape, size, color, overtones, and quality. These close matching pearls are then separated into groups for their end purpose: pairs for earrings, strands for necklaces, etc. It can take months to clean, polish, and sort a harvest of pearls. The quality pearls will then be taken and sold at auctions all across the world.