Natural Pearls
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Present-day purling is confined mostly to the seas off Bahrain. Australia still has one of the world’s last remaining fleets of pearl diving ships. Australian divers dive strictly for South Sea pearls that are often used in the cultured South Sea pearls industry. Significant numbers of natural pearls are still found in the Australian indie ocean waters from wild oysters. The catch of pearl oysters is similar in number to the oysters taken during the natural pearl days. X-ray examination is often required to positively verify natural pearls that are found today.

Natural pearls are nearly 100% calcium carbonate and conchiolin. It is thought that natural pearls form under a set of accidental conditions when a microscopic intruder or parasite enters a bivalve mollusk, and settles inside the shell. The mollusk, being irritated by the intruder, secretes the calcium carbonate and conchiolin to cover the irritant. This secretion process is repeated many times, thus producing a pearl. Natural pearls come in many shapes, with perfectly round ones being rare.

Value of a natural pearl

You may be surprised to discover that quality natural pearl is actually quite rare. The value of the pearl is determined similar to other precious gems. Valuation factors include shape, the quality of the surface, as well as size, orient and luster. It is not unusual to see natural pearls sold as a collector item. They are often used as centerpieces in unique jewelry designs. Unlike what most people think, matched strands of natural pearls are very unusual. Those that do exist, often sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. In 1917, Pierre Cartier purchased a double strand of matched natural pearls that were valued at $1 million. To put this into perspective, he also purchased the Fifth Avenue mansion that today we know is the New York Cartier store for $100.

Keshi pearls

A byproduct of the culturing process, Keshi pearls often occur by chance although they are not considered natural pearls. In China, Keshi pearls are produced by many different types of mollusks and freshwater mussels. In fact, today many Keshi pearls are actually created with postharvest shells returned to the water to generate a pearl in an already existing pearl sac.