Do you know how pearls are made? I got a chance to learn all that goes into bringing affordable luxury to you with our Bead Gallery freshwater pearls available at Michaels Stores while preparing for my segment on pearls on Beads, Baubles & Jewels.
Let’s start with where the pearls start: the shells of clams or oysters. Pearls happen when the tissue of a mollusk becomes irritated. Sand or other grit can get stuck between the muscles of different types of clams, and if the clam cannot rinse the irritant away with the water that it filters, the only other way to help itself is to make the grit smooth, and the best way to do that was to coat it with the same pearlescence that it used to make its shell grow over time. This is coating is sometimes called nacre or Mother-of-pearl.
If the grit stays stuck in the shell for years and years it can become quite large and, if it were also lucky enough to be loose in between certain muscles, its form will be nearly perfectly round.
Our Bead Gallery pearls are cultured fresh water pearls (some of which you can see at the left) are grown to create pearls to be drilled as beads and to create shell that can be cut, polished, and drilled for beads as well.
Each clam is prepared while it is only 2 or 3 inches across, and the muscles are lacerated 25 or 30 times. These prepared clams are then placed in a freshwater lake in nets, 5 or 6 clams to a netted bag that water flows through but that the clams cannot escape from. Over months and years the lake is maintained to be clean and healthy for the clams, and the bags of clams are checked weekly for any disease or sickness, with any clam that is not healthy being removed so that the other clams are not negatively affected.
Over a period of 3 years a clam will grow from 2 – 3 inches across to 5 – 6 inches across. While it has been growing it has also created 25 – 30 pearls that average 3mm or 4mm, created when it healed the lacerations on its muscles, which of course healed very quickly. Because the points of healing are coated constantly with pearlescence, the pearls that it creates are 100% pearl from the core to the surface.
After 6 years the pearls will average 5mm to 7mm in size, and after 9 years the pearls will average between 9 and 10mm in size, but with each year the potential for the surface of the pearl to be less beautiful increases, so the larger pearls are considerably more expensive than the smaller ones.
Once the pearls are harvested they are separated by size, color, and quality. There are naturally produced black, pink, and purple pearls, but they are quite rare and always very lightly colored. White pearls that are perfectly round are also quite rare, and are also more valuable.
Once the pearls are sorted, they are polished and drilled. All of those clam shells are used too! Many have pearl shapes that are stuck to the inside of their shells (see below), and these can be used to make beautiful pendants or even catch-alls if they can be polished up nicely and do not need to be cut at all. The remaining shells are used to make all sorts of pendant parts and the small bits of the shells can be compressed to make beautiful beads that are either polished and sold white or dyed and sold in a variety of beautiful colors!
Thank you for taking the time to learn a little more about the life of the freshwater pearls that you can find in the Bead Gallery aisle of your local Michaels Store.
We are so proud to be able to supply beaders with a source of high quality freshwater pearls that are beautiful in your beading projects! For a quick and easy pearl project, click to the Monday Make :: Laid-Back Luxe Pearl & Leather Bracelet! And if you’re interested in a whole bevy of pearl projects, click here!