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How are cultured pearls formed?

oyster

Cultured pearls are formed when a small irritant is forced into and penetrates the the mantle tissue of an oyster. Some of the most common irritants include small beads of gold and silver, small pieces of shell, clay and even wood.

After the insertion of the irritant, the oysters are returned to sea and are submerged in wire-mesh baskets for protection from natural predators. These baskets are also attached to floating rafts that are moved upon great temperature changes, red tides and other factors that could damage the oysters. The oysters are left submerged and in response to the irritant placed into the mantle, a natural substance called nacre forms and eventually hardens. The pearl forms when numerous layers of nacre harden over time. Pearls are usually harvested after 2 to 3 years when the oyster is opened, revealing a pearl.