1,Pearls are not formed around grains of sand, but nasty parasites
It’s a common myth that grains of sand in an oyster shell are what causes a pearl to start forming naturally. In fact, oysters are typically quite capable of expelling grains of sand that get into their shells – they have no need to encase the ‘irritant’ in a pearl.
So while it’s a little gross, the truth is that most naturally-occuring pearls are formed around a parasite… some sort of sea-worm or bug that invades the oyster and grabs on and can’t be expelled. In fact, when natural pearls are drilled to be used in jewelry, there’s often some really gross ‘ooze’ that comes out. Bleah!
If the thought of a little worm inside your pearls is distressing, take comfort in the fact that almost all pearls today are cultured, and typically formed around a small sphere of mother-of-pearl that’s inserted by hand.
2, A pearl’s surface is closer to sandpaper than silk
The surface (or “nacre”) coating of a pearl looks smooth. That shiny luster and gleam is what makes them beautiful. But the nacre is actually made up of millions of tiny crystals, so it’s not actually ‘smooth’. That’s why one common test for a “real” pearl is to rub it on your teeth. The tiny imperfections and roughness will be felt as a ‘grittiness’ that signals a genuine pearl.
3,Your pearls probably originated in the Mississippi River
At least their core did… Cultured pearls are formed when a small sphere of mollusk shell, or “mother of pearl”, is inserted into an oyster by pearl farmers. The vast majority of these ‘seeds’ are taken from mussels that come from the Mississippi River in the U.S. – because they grow large, thick shells and the right size spheres can be formed from them.
So while your pearls were almost certainly grown in Tahiti, Australia, China or Japan, your pearl’s core is likely “made in the U.S.A.” after all!
4,The original Margarita
Although “pirum” means “pear,” the Romans DID have a word for pearls: Margarita. So when Cleopatra famously dissolved pearls in wine and drank them, it was in some sense the original “Margarita” cocktail!