American Mussel Harvesters
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Do You Ever Find Any Pearls?

April 14, 2021

Do you ever find any pearls?

While working as a shucker in my early 20’s the most frequent question I would receive was “Do you ever find any pearls?” The answer is a bit more complicated than yes or no, but the best response one of my co-workers came up with for the pretty ladies that would ask was “you’re the only pearl I see”…

So how is a pearl formed?

Inside the shell of an oyster there is a smooth slick surface within which the soft bodied meat of the oyster lives. When you eat an oyster think about the rough outer shell compared to the smooth inner shell. As an oyster grows it forms its shell from calcium carbonate in the water column where it lives and produces nacre from a variety of minerals in its food to coat the inside of the shell making living more comfortable. In some species, such as Pinctada margaritifera, the nacre on the inner shell is of dazzling colors with a beautiful shining mother of pearl elegance. That is the black lip pearl oyster native to the Indo-Pacific oceans. In our native species, Crassostrea virginica, the inner shell is slightly chalky with a variety of colors that sometimes dazzle but not so often.

A pearl is essentially an irregular growth on the inner shell of the oyster that happens when an irritant inside the shell, for example a grain of sand, will cause the animal to go into defense mode and try to stop what is causing the agitation. The oyster will respond by coating the foreign object with nacre to smooth it out and make it comfortable to live with. This is how pearls are created, and the natural shine on the inside of an oyster is the nature of the beauty of the pearl. So beautiful inner shells produce beautiful pearls.  

In regions where P. margaritifera live there are operations that focus on implanting “nucleus” into juvenile oysters and growing them to create beautiful pearls that can be sold for top dollar on international markets. There are also naturally forming pearls that have been captivating people’s attentions for thousands of years. Remember the Steinbeck novel “The Pearl” where a quiet happy village is disrupted by the discovery of a valuable pearl that causes jealousy envy and hatred among the people living there?

Anyway, getting back to the question “do you ever find any pearls?” The answer is yes I do, but seldom are they beautiful, or have any value in the world of jewelry. You are better off focusing on the flavor of the oyster, and how it reflects the water body where that oyster was grown. Or, to put it more simply, “you’re the only pearl I see!”