Oysters, Pearls and Hand Made Oyster Ornaments
Oyster is the common name for a number of different families of salt-water bivalve molluscs that live in marine or brackish habitats. In some species the valves are highly calcified, and many are somewhat irregular in shape. Many, but not all, oysters are in the superfamily Ostreoidea.
Some kinds of oysters are commonly consumed by humans, cooked or raw, the latter being a delicacy. Some kinds of pearl oysters are harvested for the pearl produced within the mantle. Windowpane oysters are harvested for their translucent shells, which are used to make various kinds of decorative objects.
True oysters are members of the family Ostreidae. This family includes the edible oysters, which mainly belong to the genera Ostrea, Crassostrea, Ostreola, and Saccostrea. Examples include the Belon oyster, eastern oyster, Olympia oyster, Pacific oyster, and the Sydney rock oyster.
Almost all shell-bearing mollusks can secrete pearls, yet most are not very valuable.
Pearl oysters are not closely related to true oysters, being members of a distinct family, the feathered oysters (Pteriidae). Both cultured pearls and natural pearls can be extracted from pearl oysters, though other molluscs, such as the freshwater mussels, also yield pearls of commercial value.
The largest pearl-bearing oyster is the marine Pinctada maxima, which is roughly the size of a dinner plate. Not all individual oysters produce pearls naturally. In fact, in a harvest of two and a half tons of oysters, only three to four oysters produce what commercial buyers consider to be absolute perfect pearls.
In nature, pearl oysters produce pearls by covering a minute invasive object with nacre. Over the years, the irritating object is covered with enough layers of nacre to become a pearl. The many different types, colours and shapes of pearls depend on the natural pigment of the nacre, and the shape of the original irritant.
Pearl farmers can culture a pearl by placing a nucleus, usually a piece of polished mussel shell, inside the oyster. In three to seven years, the oyster can produce a perfect pearl. These pearls are not as valuable as natural pearls, but look exactly the same. In fact, since the beginning of the 20th century, when several researchers discovered how to produce artificial pearls, the cultured pearl market has far outgrown the natural pearl market.