Behind the Scenes of the Glistening Pearl Harvesting Industry
Marilyn Monroe declared diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but how about adorning the ‘Queen of Jewels’ for a special occasion? Not only do they compliment the class in taste of a person’s preference, but enhance their beauty as well. Gemstones are uncovered from the depths of the earth and still need to undergo immense carving and polishing to become the shiny stones that they are. However, there are living beings working on the sidelines to create the Queen of Jewels. Harvesting these creatures to exploit the precious jewel may sound like a vegan’s cry for animal cruelty. But are they truly harmful to the animal is something that needs to be cracked open.
Scavenged to Extinction
Oysters, the mollusk behind the creation of pearls that requires no polishing or carving to form their glistening appearance. Oysters create pearls in their mechanism to deal with irritation like debris getting into their shells and secreting nacre to coat the debris. Although every mollusk, oyster, clam or mussels have the ability to create pearls, only certain freshwater and saltwater mollusks can produce nacre which adds to the pearl’s quality, sheen and shape. This nacre is a protective substance produced layer upon layer onto irritants that slip into the mollusk’s soft tissue. What makes nacre special for making the pearl special is that the substance consists of organic material possessing carbon-based material called aragonite that’s needed to make the pearl sturdy and strong.
There are fewer mollusks producing quality pearls, as they have been scavenged to the brink of extinction. That is why, people have started pearl harvesting in remote areas on the planet, providing them fresh and clean water, as well as, necessary nutrients for their growth. These are called cultured pearls which are largely available compared to their natural counterparts.
Here, farmers introduce a small irritant into the mollusk, to make the creature produce pearls by secreting nacre.
A pearl can form between six months and four years, and throughout that time, oyster farmers must take the best care of their animals. They provide food for the oysters, keep an eye out for creatures or irritants that can hinder their ability to feed, treat their shells with medications to ward off parasites, and make sure the water is ideal for the growth of gems.
When it’s time to extract the pearl, the oysters are sent to harvesting facilities that use certain instruments for careful pearl removal. Now comes the question of whether oysters are killed or subjected to cruelty to produce pearls.
Cruel or Non Harmful?
It is true that most oysters are killed during the harvesting process, but the oysters who produce quality pearls are sustained and re-nucleated. These selected mollusks are sent for another round for harvesting. The farmer inserts a fresh nucleus since the second-generation gems are often smaller and of lower grade than pearls grown by older oysters.
The pearls are cleaned when the harvesting process is finished. To get rid of odors and filth, soak them in a cleaning solution. Pearls are polished and bleached as necessary. After that, jewels are matched by being poured into sizable sieves that separate pearls according to size. Additionally, pearls are rated and grouped in accordance with their quality parameters.
But are these processes painful to the animal? To find out, we must look into what exactly pain means or how pain is felt in oysters.
Nature’s fact is that oysters lack a central nervous system, instead have two ganglia that function as the stimuli sending response to the creature. However, these ganglia used more for its reflex than reflection. Meaning, the oyster can only react to any impact made on him or her, but cannot feel the impact. For example, when we touch a heating pan, we can immediately withdraw our hand due to the heat and this is reflex. The brain receives this message which indicates pain caused by touching the heating pan is called reflection.
Oysters cannot process the second behavior, reflection, however, they react to the environmental changes and it does not inflict any kind of pain on them.
Since there are more cultured pearl harvesting farms, how is the market doing?
India’s Got a Shining Chance in Pearl Harvesting
When we view the global pearl jewelry market, Market Watch reports that it has increased from USD million from 2017 to 2022, with the highest CAGR predicted to be USD in 2029. Coming to India, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) states that India's imports of pearls during FY13–18 were three to 10 times greater than the average yearly value of the world's pearl production.
This is due to many people showing immense interest towards setting up their own farms to cultivate pearls and the government is also contributing its part through the Blue Revolution plan. The Department for Fisheries has thus far provided financial support to 232 pearl farming ponds. Under the program, the government covers half of the cost of establishing a pond for pearl fishing.
In India, Hyderabad has been a center for fine pearls since the Nizam era and is home to the most pearl drilling facilities in the world. The city still actively protects and excels in this rare craftsmanship today. At a village named Chandampet, located on the route from Kamarreddy on Medchal highway. Here, there is a whole community that works in pearl drilling and processing. Located at about 10 km from Tupran, this village harbours some of the top artisans and highly trained workers in the field of hand drilling, a unique ability that has been passed down through the years.
The pearls are drilled and cooked for almost four days to remove their dingy color and bleach them. The pearls are then put in glass vials with water, ether, and hydrogen peroxide. They are placed in glass boxes with mirror bases and exposed to the sun's rays for roughly five days after this process has been completed for a predetermined amount of time. The pearls are next cleaned and classified based on their size, shape, gloss, glaze, and luster.
Hyderabad offers three different varieties of pearls such as semi-cultured, cultured, and original. The original variety, which only comes in two hard-to-find colors—pink and black—is regarded as precious. Black pearls are an uncommon and expensive species, particularly those with a green shine. While Basra, a pearl variation unmatched in color and luster, is one of the most expensive options available in this Southern Indian city, Rice-pearl is of great interest to most shoppers for its metallic glitter. Since pink and black pearls are uncommon, Hyderabadi jewelry has historically been made mostly with gleaming white pearls.