Where Do Pearls Come From

Where do pearls come from...see photos of freshly harvested mussels with pearls still in their pearl sacs and see the answer for yourself.

Breaking open the Mussel

Where do pearls come from? This page is continued from the first pearl farm page. Take a moment now, if you like, to read the beginning of getting the mussel onto land from the pond.

Back on land, and after laying the muddy mussels on the ground, the pearl harvester worker retrieved a meat cleaver from his shed and forced the shells open with it. He'd obviously done this countless times, because of the swiftness of his actions.

Mussel with Pearls in Sacs

Next, the shells were opened fully exposing the fleshy meat and the freshwater pearls still in their pearl sacs or membrane covering the pearls. The mantle tissue which is implanted to start the pearls forms the pearl sac and in turn forms the nacre or pearl substance creating a pearl.

Where do pearls come from...from mussels like this which have been implanted with mantle tissue to start the pearl growing process.

Sea oysters normally are cultured to grow only one pearl...these are freshwater mussels, which can produce several cultured pearls at one time.

I'm sure there are many uses for the meat. In large operations it is bagged and shipped away.

Where Do Pearls Come From

The number of pearls visible in one shell surprised us and that is one of the main reasons that freshwater pearls are so affordable, because of the sheer numbers that can be harvested from a single mussel.

These guys are super quick at their harvesting and I had to ask them to slow down so I could really see what they were doing and also take some photos. Their profit comes from speed and efficiency...they'd never had an "observer" before.

Mussel with Pearls Removed

The pearls are then scooped out along with some of the meat. Any pearls lightly attached to the shell are knocked off, and many blister pearls still remain attached to the shell, which are too firmly embedded that they can not be removed from the shell. Often this section of blister pearls is cut and trimmed, however, and made into lovely jewelry.

The older fellow, after scraping out the pearls tossed this beautifully lustrous looking shell into the ditch. I instinctively, jumped up, saying, "No, no," and retrieved it, without really thinking. It just seemed to lovely to throw away and I wanted to get a closer look at it. In it was still a hidden pearl.

Then the reality hit me that with the volume of shells and pearls--what was one more shell or one lost pearl. It reminded me of when my father would fill the corn crib with shelled corn. Some fell on the ground and that was normal. What was one kernel of corn? What is one pearl?

Still, I was glad to retrieve it. After all, it was special to me.

Five Harvested Shells

The men worked fast and washed the pearls while I frantically tried to get photos.

The handful of pearls from only five shells fascinated me and it thrilled me to photograph them.

I wondered if I could possibly buy them as a souvenir of our visit. But before I could even ask, the owner who had come with us, shocked us by saying, "These are a gift for you!"

Blister Pearls

Wow! Freshwater pearls harvested before our very eyes and given as a gift and I would have been happy enough just to take pictures. The generosity of people is always a heart warmer for me, as I too enjoy giving, but I never want to take that act for granted in others.

Pearl Farm Owner with Pearls

So, how many pearls were there in five mussels? A total of 136 or an average of about 27 per shell. If you look closely, you can see the natural colors of pink and lavender and white.

Now, back home, I so much enjoy showing these untouched pearls to my friends...no holes, just natural, straight from the mother of pearl.

Matt, Harvester, Sam, Owner, Mr. Yang

I was glad to have two of my sons, Sam and Matt (my body guards...) with me on my journey to answer the question, "where do pearls come from".

Trips like this provide quality times for mother and sons.

Also here is Richard who interpreted for us, (he and my sons had a great time comparing favorite scary movies they've seen), the harvester and the pearl farm owner. What a great group!

Thanks to everyone who helped me see this fascinating process and answer the question, where do pearls come from. And for the pearls!

Return here to main pearl farm page after reading "Where do pearls come from."

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