Today, nearly all pearls, whether they are Akoya, freshwater, Tahitian or South Sea, are cultured, meaning that a pearl formed as a result of human intervention. Prior to pearl culturing, which began around 1900, pearls were completely natural. They were formed by the mollusks on their own as a result of an irritant getting inside their shell. The farming of natural pearls was not a business in and of itself because divers would sometimes have to recover hundreds and hundreds of mollusks just to find one pearl. It just wasn’t cost effective.
The natural pearl business was actually a by-product of the button business. Buttons were once made from natural mother of pearl, the nacreous layer inside the shell of a mollusk. Whenever the mollusks were harvested and a natural pearl was present, it was set aside. Natural pearls were a symbol of status and wealth and were highly coveted. By the 1920′s, the button business had transformed and buttons were being manufactured in mass quantities from plastic. This caused a huge decline in the natural pearl market since the mollusks were no longer being harvested. Today, it is too costly to dive for natural pearls and the business isn’t really viable. So natural pearls are very very rare. Today almost all pearls in pearl jewelry are cultured pearls. This includes all pearls sold at MyJewelrySource.