The Immaculate Conception: Grafting Process in Pearl Farming

by Anna Semiachko August 27, 2018

The Immaculate Conception: Grafting Process in Pearl Farming

What has to happen for a pearl to be conceived in the oyster’s body?

It can be a result of two events: either it happens by accident in nature, when a piece of shell or sand gets in the oyster’s belly or if the nucleus (the pearl’s core) is carefully inserted in the oyster’s “pearl pocket” by a human hand.

A pearl farmer cannot rely on accidental pearl conception, as it occurs extremely rare and never leads to desired pearl quality. Therefore, since the pearl grafting technique was invented at the beginning of the 20th century, it quickly found its application in the farming industry all over the world.

The process can be compared to in-vitro fertilization when the oyster is the mother and the pearl is her dearly loved child. It is one of the most difficult and important processes in pearl farming.

The Grafting Stages

The First Graft

When the oyster reaches the “fertile” age (normally about 2 years old), the farmers take it out of the water, accurately clean and prepare for the surgical operation. They have to be exceptionally careful not to harm the “mom”. The procedure requires top skill and compliance with hygienic conditions. The surgeon opens the mussle for a couple centimeters, just enough to insert the nucleus.

The nuclei or the seeds for Namaka Tahitian pearls are completely natural. They are made from the shell of another oyster (Mississippi shell). The color of this shell is light and doesn’t affect the unique hue palette that Tahitian Black Lip oysters produce.

 However, just the seed is not enough for the oyster to accept the alien object in its body. The grafting technician will put a tiny piece of organic tissue to mantle the nucleus that was taken from another healthy black lip oyster. The epithelial cells of the mantle will multiply and cover the nucleus creating a pearl sac in which a pearl will grow.

After the successful operation, the specialists will put the mom-oyster back into the water and make sure she gets the nutrition and perfect conditions to thrive and grow a pearl by secreting even circular nacre layers around the seed.

The first graft normally takes from 16 to 24 months and, if all goes well, results in a first-graft size pearl 8 to 10 mm in diameter.

The Second Graft: How Do You Get a Bigger Pearl?

Let’s say the farmer was lucky and everything worked out smoothly during the first graft. The mom-oyster didn’t reject the nucleus, the weather conditions, temperature and composition of water were ideal. When the right time came the surgeons opened up the mussel and discovered a beautiful glowing round pearl inside.

That means that the successful work should be continued. This oyster becomes then a very valuable asset as she has proved her ability to give birth to beauty. She will be treated exceptionally well and used to raise another gorgeous child but of a bigger size this time.

A slightly bigger seed can be inserted then in her pearl pocket and in another 16 to 24 months she has a chance to deliver a second-graft size pearl – 12 to 14 mm in diameter.

The Third Graft

Now to get an even bigger beauty the farmer will conduct the third graft and patiently wait for another year or two. The tricky thing is that no matter how hard you try it’s impossible to grow a large pearl without going through all the grafting stages one by one. If the farmer will try to insert a bigger seed in a younger oyster that is not prepared for it, he risks to damage and kill the oyster or it will simply reject the unwanted nucleus.

The third graft pearls can reach 15 to 18 mm in diameter. They will be the most valuable not only because of their size but because of the years of work and effort invested by both Mother Nature and the pearl technicians who take care of the oyster’s wellbeing for years and sometimes generations.

The whole procedure is so delicate that it can be conducted only by caring people, no machines are able to perform the grafting, therefore the process cannot be automated. Every cultured pearl will carry the positive energy of the farmers and oyster-care specialists that work with passion and love to bring to life the unique beauty of the pearl.





Anna Semiachko
Anna Semiachko


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