What is Pearl Farming
Pearl farming is the industry because of which today natural cultured pearls are available in market. In pearl farming, grafting of mollusc is done which later on produces natural cultured pearl.
Cultured pearls are grown on what are known as pearl farms. Several thousand oysters are nucleated and then cared for during the 2-5 years required for a pearl to grow and develop. Like any other farming, pearl farming also has its own risks. You need good luck with skills to be a good pearl farmer. An entire bed of oysters can be completely devastated by unpredictable and uncontrollable factors, such as water pollution, severe storms, excessive heat or cold, disease and many other natural and man-made phenomena. Pearl farming can indeed be a risky business!
Culturing Oysters for Freshwater Pearl Farming
Today, pearl farmers find that it’s simpler and more productive to breed their own oysters. Farmers collect high quality oyster eggs and sperm of oysters. The eggs are fertilized with the sperm, creating a new generation of larvae for the oyster farm. The larvae are then allowed to float freely in the water, but under controlled conditions, until they’re a few weeks old. There, they attach themselves to a stable object, such as a rock. Over a few month’s period, the larvae develop into baby oysters. They are then moved into a separate nursery region on the pearl farm. Here they’re tended for around 1-2 years until they grow large to be nucleated.
Saltwater pearls are cultured by prying open the mollusk 2-3 centimeters. A technician then uses a special instrument to make a tiny incision on the gonad (reproductive organ) of the mollusk. A small bead nucleus is inserted into this hole, followed by a tiny piece of mantle tissue, which is then placed behind it. The epithelial cells in this mantle tissue begin to multiply, growing around the nucleus producing a pearl sac. This is where the pearl grows. This process is the same for all saltwater pearls cultured with a bead nucleus today.
Freshwater Pearls differ from other cultured pearls, in that the great majority of them are not bead-nucleated. Mussels are grafted using a piece of mantle tissue only, without the insertion of any bead. The mantle tissue is placed into an incision in the host mussel’s mantle instead of the gonad. Since both sides of the valve can receive grafts, the average freshwater mussel can actually produce up to 32 pearls per culturing cycle.
The Pearls are Left To Grow
After nucleating, the oysters are given a few weeks to recover from the surgery. During this time, some of the oysters may reject and expel the implanted nuclei; others may become sick or even die. Most, however, will fully recover. The oysters are then placed in cages or nets and moved into the oyster bed, where they will be tended as the pearls develop. Depending on the type of oyster, this process can require anywhere from a few additional months to several more years.
Harvesting of Pearls
After the pearls have been allowed to develop fully, they must be harvested. After the pearls are extracted from the oysters, they are washed, dried, and sorted into general categories. Sometimes, the pearls are polished by tumbling in salt and water.