Why Pearls Are So Expensive | So Expensive

Why Pearls Are So Expensive | So Expensive

Pearls have been a symbol of elegance and class for centuries. The Maharajas of India and European queens adorned themselves with pearls,
a symbol of their prestige. At 2018’s Catholic
Church-inspired Met Gala, celebrities walked the red carpet dripping in pearls. Uma Thurman’s dress had over
3,000 white pearls sewn to it, while Rihanna’s pope-inspired outfit was encrusted in pearls. At the 2019 Grammys, Cardi B was basically dressed like an oyster. The most expensive pearl ever sold was Marie Antoinette’s pendant. It sold for $32 million in a 2018 auction. But what is it that makes
pearls so expensive? Marie Antoinette’s pearl was part of a diamond-studded pendant, and it has important
historical significance, which increased its value. But there are several other factors that determine the value of a pearl. Tom Moses: Assessing the value of a pearl is probably the most
complex gem to assess. Narrator: That’s Tom Moses. He’s a gemologist at the
Gemological Institute of America where he oversees diamond grading, colored stone identification,
and pearl identification. He says that part of the reason the Marie Antoinette
pearl is worth so much is because it’s a natural pearl, which brings us to one quality that determines a pearl’s value. Natural versus cultured. Natural pearls are hard to find. They’re rare, and this
makes them worth more money. But let’s rewind for a second. What is a natural pearl, and how are they formed? Natural pearls form when
some kind of irritant, usually a small organism, makes its way into the shell of a mollusk like an oyster or a mussel. To protect itself from the invader, the mollusk starts to coat
the debris with nacre, or mother-of-pearl, the same material that lines the inner layer of its shell. It continues doing this, and the irritant grows into a shiny pearl. Cultured pearls are formed
by the same process, but instead of the irritant
entering the shell accidentally, it’s put there intentionally by a human. Pearl farmers insert a
piece of mollusk tissue, which is called donor tissue, into the shell of the oyster where they want the pearl to grow. This triggers the
oyster’s defense response, and it starts coating that
piece of tissue with nacre. The vast majority of pearls on the market are cultured pearls. The Gemological Institute of America uses X-rays to tell if a
pearl is natural or cultured. If you look closely at these two images, you can see the difference. Moses: Think about the layers of an onion. So a natural pearl would have all of those concentric layers of growth
from the very inside out. Narrator: A cultured
pearl, on the other hand, is like an orange, with a large center and a thinner layer of
pearl growth around that. The large center is the manmade irritant placed in the shell to
encourage nacre formation. Cultured pearls date all the
way back to around 500 AD in China. However, in
1893, the Japanese-born Kōkichi Mikimoto streamlined the process and eventually created
perfectly round pearls. Today, Mikimoto is widely considered the grandfather of cultured pearls. He used Akoya pearls,
which are the traditional white round pearls you’re
probably familiar with. By the 1920s, cultured pearls became more commercially available,
which made them more affordable and accessible to people
who weren’t royalty. But just because you can
grow a cultured pearl doesn’t mean it’s an easy process. Pearl farmers pry open the mollusk shell just enough to implant the
piece of foreign tissue, then they put the
oysters back in the water and wait anywhere from
six months to two years for pearls to form, and not every pearl comes out the same, which brings us to another quality that can make one pearl
worth more than another. Size. The larger the pearl, the more valuable, just
like any other gem. Narrator: The size of
the pearl largely depends on the size of the mollusk. Certain oysters grow bigger than others and can, therefore, make bigger pearls. For example, Akoya pearls can only grow to about 9 or 10 millimeters in diameter, but South Sea pearls and
black Tahitian pearls can reach a diameter of
around 15 or 16 millimeters. The larger size makes South Sea pearls and black pearls the most
valuable type of pearl. On Mikimoto’s website, this strand of South Sea cultured pearls is selling for $32,000. The other notable difference
between pearl types is the color. Sometimes this goes hand in hand with size because the pearl’s color is determined mostly by the mollusk it comes from. Tahitian black pearls are
black because the inside of the Pinctada margaritifera
oyster is black, but colors can vary slightly based on the culturing process as well. The main reason for the color difference is the species of the mollusk. Another very interesting influence is when a pearl is cultured, there is a donor tissue used
from another living mollusk, and depending on the color of that tissue, it will influence the color
of the final cultured pearl. Narrator: Take for example Akoya pearls. These are all white pearls, but the shade of white can still vary. Some strands might be slightly more pink, while others have more of a greenish tint. Tom says that pinker pearls
are typically preferred over green hues. Along with size and color,
the shape and surface of a pearl can have an
impact on its value. Typically the rounder
and smoother, the better. And finally, perhaps the hardest variable to measure: luster. Luster is essentially the
way a pearl reflects light. The shinier the pearl, the better. But it’s hard to tell how shiny a pearl is unless you have other
pearls to compare it to. That’s why Tom and the rest
of the Gemological Institute have a collection of sample
strands for comparison. That way they can look at
how one strand of pearls compares to another and see where it falls on the luster scale. The quality of a pearl’s luster is influenced by the layers
of nacre that coat the center. One way to think of it is like the tiles of a roof. Picture a roof with all the tiles lined up so that everything fits together well. If you translate that to a pearl, it would result in a
nice, high-luster pearl. A dull, low-luster pearl
would be more like a roof with broken and fragmented
tiles that don’t line up. When you take into consideration all of these factors, finding or creating the perfect pearl is an art, and the fact remains they’re
grown inside an animal, so it’s impossible to
have complete control over how and when they form, especially in the wild. So if you ever bite down on something hard while you’re eating an oyster, take a look at it before you chuck it. It might be more than a piece of sand.

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About the Author: Oren Garnes


  1. Once my dad who now is well gone caught and oyster there were 7 Pearl's inside 4 were white 1 was yellow 2 were black my dad had good luck

  2. It was weird to me when they said “the more round the better.” My grandma always told me that bumpy/more oval/imperfect pearls were worth more because they were natural and “one of a kind” since there would never be a pearl that ever looked like it. She said how you knew it wasn’t artificial because real oysters couldn’t make perfect pearls. Technically all real pearls are natural and that uncultured pearls that are perfectly round are possible, but the mindset never left me because whenever I buy pearls they have to be imperfect, otherwise they just look fake

  3. Something that I'm missing in the explanation…..
    Why do cultured pearls form differently than natural ones?
    If a pearl is created in nature by the infiltration of a foreign body and we as humans do the exact same to an oyster, insert a foreign body, then why does the pearl form differently?

  4. I paid 15$ for an oyster (with a pearl inside it) and there was a black pearl inside it…with a value of around 150$

  5. humans: we have come so far, and evolved so much. we are nothing like our primitive ancestors.

  6. It's so expensive because people pay what the seller ask for it. Because people believe it have a real value. Because we live in a world of imbeciles manipulated by a few mentally sick people. But honestly pearls have no value at all. Its value is a completely imaginary value that you believe it have, just because somebody told you and you believed it.

  7. So those oysters are irritated for the rest of their lives just so we can have something shiny? Humans r trash really.

  8. I always thought gold and silver were better jewelry than diamonds, because they're actually useful hence their value, and not artificially inflated prices. But pearls are just so beautiful and rare.

  9. I think the Ender pearl is more expensive because most traders drive a hard bargain and the endermans have a chance dropping it 25%.

  10. Not gonna lie, pearls are kinda nasty but really beautiful. It’s literally an oyster getting irritated by sand or a small organism in its mouth, so it spits on it over and over again for a long time.

  11. You can watch extraction videos on YouTube… it’s so gross yet so satisfying at the same time. It’s similar to watching pimple poppers lol

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