Pearls -- lustrous, understated, beautiful -- are one of the wonders of nature. Formed naturally, they result from a fortunate accident, whereby a foreign object becomes lodged inside a shellfish, or mollusk, which then proceeds to cover it with concentric layers of protective coating, called nacre.

If the foreign object comes to rest within the body or mantle of the mollusk, a round pearl results. If the intrusive object comes to rest against the inside of the mollusk's shell, then the object will be covered with layers of nacre at that location, resulting in a half-round pearl known as a "mabé."

Naturally formed pearls, whether of the round or mabé varieties, are rare and exquisite jewels of nature. More than that, they also are a finished product in their natural state, unlike jewelry made from precious metals, which require a number of labor-intensive steps from mining through refining, or jewels made from precious or semiprecious stones, which also require laborious mining and processing procedures.

Because of their "ready-made" feature, and because of their rarity and correspondingly high cost, natural pearls in earlier times were coveted as very desirable, and very expensive, status symbols.

Pearl jewelry today, however, is relatively more accessible: pearl necklaces, brooches, bracelets and rings are commonplace. That is because most of today's pearls are of the "cultured" variety, meaning that man -- who throughout the ages has striven to satisfy the demand for any marketable product or commodity -- has stepped in and formed a partnership with the mollusk.

This has been accomplished through the clever expedient of implanting mollusks with one or more man-made "foreign objects," and then letting nature take its course. Within 18 to 24 months, the mollusk dutifully produces one or more cultured or mabé pearls, depending upon the number and type of implants it has received.

Cultured pearls, of course, also can be extremely expensive, with wholesale and retail prices predicated upon their size, quality and luster. But generally speaking, there are cultured pearls to suit everyone's budget, and the industry annually generates millions of dollars in the wholesale and consumer marketplaces worldwide.

The "foreign objects" which are inserted into mollusks to start cultured pearl production are round beads manufactured from the shells of mollusks -- only found in the U.S.A.

As every cultured marine pearl marketed today contains one of these machine-made "pearl starters," the market- place for the shell beads -- known as "nuclei" within the trade -- is extremely important and lucrative. Pearl nuclei are manufactured from raw American mussel shell to meet the specific requirements of the pearl culturing trade and, to date, no substitute has been found. More on the manufacturing of pearl nuclei.

American Bio-Gem, Inc. is working with its pearl farming partners on a global basis to test various new techniques and technologies to improve pearl production and quality. Additionally, entirely new pearl products are being created through an alliance between nature and technology.






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