Wednesday, June 10

Pearls, the underappreciated eco-jewels

Are pearls ecologically friendly? They are organic gems, yes. We like to think that pearls are angels’ tears, but in reality, pearls are the natural nacre made by oysters or freshwater mussels around a bead and/or donor tissue inserted by a man or woman. It doesn’t get more “green” than that!

 But what about their impact on the environment and on communities? Are there any mines or environmentally harmful processes involved in the pearl production process? Well, the truth is, pearls can only be cultivated in the war-free zones, away from turmoil and conflicts, since the quality of the natural environment has a great impact on pearl formation and quality.

Contrary to other gems and precious metals, their production is man-induced, so pearls do not need to be excavated. No dynamite is used, no shafts or holes miles deep are dug, and no heavy metals or other chemical processes are needed to treat them. In fact, the process of producing a single pearl of high quality is very complex and requires the utmost cleanliness and stability of environmental conditions and the precision of a surgeon from the nucleating technicians and others who take care of the molluscs, for the mollusc to be perfectly healthy for the entire duration of the pearl growth, which can be up to several years.

Conservation for the environment

Beautiful pearls need pristine living conditions. Everything matters. The temperature of the water, its cleanliness, the amount and quality of aquatic microorganisms upon which the molluscs must feed, themselves reliant on the correct salinity, oxygenation, and other environmental factors. All these aspects influence the mollusc’s well-being and therefore the quality of the pearl it can produce. To this end, pearl cultivators view monitoring the environment as an essential part of their responsibilities. They cooperate with local governments to offer assistance in educating communities about the importance of preserving a flawless environment, and help to develop skills within local communities in environmental protection and waste minimisation, in order to change environmentally destructive practices.

Support for communities

Working with pearls allows communities to grow and develop high-precision skills that are beneficial to local economies while preserving their natural environment. After all, the nucleation process is a type of a small surgery performed on the mollusc. It is a complex procedure to insert the bead or a piece of mantle tissue into a living creature without hurting it. Once the pearls are collected, sorting, matching, drilling and jewellery making also require people working with the pearls to be well-trained to make beautiful pieces for everybody to enjoy! In consequence, there is no temptation for the industry to employ children, as the work requires highly-skilled employees.

Products for the benefit of all

The pearls used for jewels are not all that pearl farms produce. In most cases, virtually the entire mollusc is used. After all the pearls are harvested, they are sorted into commercial and non-commercial quality. Commercial quality pearls are what we proudly wear in our jewellery. The percentage of “high quality + high luster” pearls (regardless of shape) in the average harvest varies from 30 to 70 percent, depending on the health of the molluscs and the other factors stated above. Non-commercial pearls are turned into powder and used in the production of pearl-based medicines and cosmetic products. The shells can be polished and reused for future pearl mollusc nucleation, or sold as a source of high quality mother-of-pearl to be used in crafts, jewellery, accessories, furniture, cutlery, etc. In Japan, ashes from burned shells and dried meat are used as an organic fertiliser. The meat from freshwater molluscs is used as fish bait, as an additive to animal feed, and in composting. Pearl oysters and abalone meat are often sold fresh or canned and are recognised as a veritable delicacy!

So… could we ask for more? Beauty and eco-smarts enclosed in one shimmering sphere! Next time you consider treating yourself to a jewel, think of pearls, the socially-responsible, conflict-free, and ecologically sensitive jewellery. You’ll love your jewels, and Mother Earth will love you in return :o)

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