How Does a Pearl Come Into Existence?

Diamonds and jewels may be a girl’s best friend, and everything from rocks from the ground to organic byproducts from the ocean make it into jewelry for the fairer sex. Shiny pearls, for example, are often linked together in a necklace and large gemstones from deep in the earth are often the main feature of wedding rings. It’s true that gems make our lives a bit more shiny, but one question has always intrigued me about one particular “stone” that people seem to love.

Have you ever wondered how a pearl forms? Well, if you’re like me, then you have. The story of how a pearl forms is as shiny and special as the stone itself.

Mollusks: The Pearl Parents

Mollusk

Credits:Best_photo_studio/Shutterstock

Mollusks (or molluscs) are a class within a large phylum of invertebrate animals known as Mollusca. There are around 85,000 species of mollusks that we have recognized thus far. They are the largest marine phylum, which is evidenced by the fact that they make up 20% of all aquatic organisms. They can be found in both freshwater and terrestrial habitats. Some of the most commonly known mollusks include oysters, mussels and clams, but there are so many more!

Inside these creatures, if we’re lucky, we might just find our pearls!

r2lng

How does it Work?

Pearls are formed inside the bodies of mollusks, such as oysters, clams and mussels. When an external particle (called an ‘irritant’), such as a grain of sand or a bit of floating food, enters the body of these organisms, the process of pearl formation begins. As expected, when the organism senses that an irritant has entered its shell and irritated the soft tissues of its body, it initially tries to expel it. If that doesn’t work out, however, it launches a unique defense mechanism to protect itself from the intruder.

formation of a pearl

In order to make sure that the irritant doesn’t harm or contaminate the shell’s tissues any further, the oyster produces a substance called nacre (also called mother of pearl, for obvious reasons), which is also present on the inner lining of the body of the oyster. The mollusk continues adding layer after layer to guarantee that the intruder is sealed inside and is unable to harm the mollusk any further. After a certain number of nacre layers have formed, the irritant is completely blocked off from the tissues and voila! You have a gem!

Cultured pearls are made in more or less the same way; the only major difference is that in cultured pearls, the intruder (a grain) is carefully embedded inside the mollusk in a deliberate effort to stimulate pearl formation.

Internal Reflection

When light strikes the surface of a pearl, some of it is reflected, while some is absorbed. When the light rays enter the pearl, they are reflected at many different angles. These reflections interfere with each other at different wavelengths, which scatters various colors in different directions, thereby imparting the iridescent finish to pearls that we see.

Pearl

Credits:Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Many people say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and that is certainly true for pearls, which start off as an unwanted irritant and become one of the most desired things in the world. A treasure indeed!

References:

  1. Wikipedia
  2. How Stuff Works
  3. Live Science
The short URL of the present article is: http://sciabc.us/H81bc
Help us make this article better
About the Author:

Ashish is a Science graduate (Bachelor of Science) from Punjabi University (India). He spends a lot of time watching movies, and an awful lot more time discussing them. He likes Harry Potter and the Avengers, and obsesses over how thoroughly Science dictates every aspect of life… in this universe, at least.

.
Science ABC YouTube Videos

  1. Why Do You Hear A Rumbling Sound When You Close Your Eyes Too Hard?
  2. Hawking Radiation Explained: What Exactly Was Stephen Hawking Famous For?
  3. Current Vs Voltage: How Much Current Can Kill You?
  4. Coefficient Of Restitution: Why Certain Objects Are More Bouncy Than Others?
  5. Jump From Space: What Happens If You Do A Space Jump?
  6. Does Earth Come To The Same Spot Every Year On Your Birthday?
  7. Bird Strike: What Happens When A Bird Strikes An Aircraft?
  8. Google Maps Secrets: How Exactly Does Google Maps Work?

Tags:

Get more stuff like this
in your inbox

Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting stuff and updates to your email inbox.