173. Elegant Pearls

From outside an oyster gives no hint of the treasure it holds within. The shells are grey, gnarled, misshapen and are surrounded by flaps of tissues called “mantle”.

Nature has devised a way of protecting the delicate body of the oyster. The mantle secretes “nacre” which makes the inner surfaces of the shells smooth and shiny “mother of pearls”.

Pearls are formed in the same way. The oyster feeds on Planktons, a tiny organism drifting in the ocean. Occasionally a foreign body like a grain of sand or a piece of shell gets drawn in along with the plankton, by the oyster, by mistake.

To protect itself from this irritant, the oyster covers it up with nacre. In three to six years’ time the irritants get transformed to elegant pearls.

Most pearls are white ranging to delicate pink. Black, blue and golden yellow pearls are very rare and cost a fortune.

To increase the yield of pearls, cultured pearls are produced under controlled conditions. Perfectly spherical artificial irritants are introduced into the oysters’ body and they are tended in special tanks till the pearls grow to the desired size.

Since cultured pearls are formed in the same way as the natural ones, it is very difficult to tell them apart. However X rays can help us to know the difference since cultured pearls have perfectly round original centre.

Visalakshi Ramani


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