Although valued as “gemstones” pearls (moti) are neither gems nor stones. They come from the oyster: a shelled marine creature that looks very much like a pair of cymbals or castanets. The pearl is not a part of any oyster’s body by birth. It is a growth that forms inside its body because of its reaction to an external irritant particle like a grain of sand which might have entered it through the gap between the pair of shells.

Such a particle causes the same irritation and stress to the oyster that dirt in our eyes causes us. It’s reaction is identical to ours: like our eyes go into a frenzy of blinking and furious batting of eyelids and try to wash away the particle by tears, similarly the oyster reacts to the particle by secreting layer upon layer of a substance called nacre upon the particle to shield itself from it.

In our case the irritation is temporary. For oysters it goes on day in and day out, year in and year out, the irritation progressing to trauma, pain and suffering while layers of nacre continue covering the particle and building up into a pearl.

To be precise, in nature when grit gets embedded into an oyster’s soft body, as protection it begins covering it with nacre. A pearl is thus formed – a result of a minimum of three, to a maximum of seven years of suffering.

To simulate this natural accident, man makes incisions in the oyster’s soft body and puts several pieces of gravel into it, resulting in years of painful suffering and eventual killing which may or may not even result in producing perfect pearls.

Every type of pearl is animal in origin and can only be produced in living shelled molluscs. Removal of the pearl inside involves splitting open the molluscs/mussels/pearl oysters by inserting a knife between the two valves and twisting it to cut the adductor muscle that holds the shell closed, thus effectively killing the creature… and “just too bad” if no pearl is found or has been properly formed which is more often, than not.

There is no difference at all in the torture oysters are subjected to and the torture that is inflicted upon animals in laboratories for so-called research and testing of products.
Natural/Wild and Cultured/Farmed Pearls
Natural pearls are those that have occurred wild in nature, whereas cultured pearls are those that have been engineered by humans to occur in farmed oysters. Gem quality pearls, whether harvested or cultivated, are always nacreous and iridescent as is the living shell that produces them.

There is literally a one in a million chance of finding a natural pearl. From 3 tons of oysters, only 3 or may be 4 produce a perfect pearl, and it could take as many as 100,000 oysters to produce a single good pearl necklace. In other words, the pearl industry kills and discards. This is the reason why natural pearls are no longer found except mostly in the sea off Bahrain. And, Australia has one of the world’s last remaining fleets of pearl diving ships. The Gulf of Mannar (Tamil Nadu) and Gulf of Kutch (Gujarat) no longer produce natural pearls.

When a piece of grit embeds itself in the soft body tissue of an oyster, it wraps it in nacre which forms into a natural pearl. (The glow of a pearl is based on the amount and quality of the nacre layers.) To simulate this natural accident, man uses a pair of surgical tongs to carefully hold the oyster’s valves open, makes a few incisions in its soft body and inserts gravel in each incision. (This gravel is a bit of shell/tissue from a freshly sacrificed life.)

The pain on getting a splinter under our skin is very a mild form of what the pearl oyster is made to suffer. An oyster is liable to die while being incised or falling a prey to fouling and boring organisms while secreting the nacre.

Even if it does survive these two steps, it has no chance of getting through unscathed during pearl removal which can be after as long as seven years of pain and agony — only to produce a couple of cultured pearls. And, only 40% of the pearls obtained are marketable, out of which 5% turn out perfectly spherical and fetch a good price.

Keshi or seed pearls are less than 2 mm in diameter and irregularly shaped. They are termed as by-products of pearl cultivation because they have failed to catch-on and develop into cultured pearls. (In India seed pearls are extensively used in zardozi embroidery usually done on heavy silk, velvet or satin utilising zari of different thicknesses.)

Mabé, blister or button pearls are half-pearls that grow flush against the inside of a pearl oyster’s shell. They can be naturally found or can be grown/cultured in Akoya, South Sea, Tahitian and Freshwater mollusks, however Ptera sterna, Ptera penguin and Pinctada maxima molluscs are usually used. Cultured Mabé pearls are grown in almost any shape although rounds, ovals and drop-shapes are the most common. A flat or hemispherical nucleus or disc is glued to the inside of the live oyster’s shell. These discs get covered with layer upon layer of nacre excreted by the mollusk thus producing the characteristic pearl iridescence and sheen. The torture lasts for at least 8 months but usually is as long as 6 years, by which time a millimetre or more of nacre will have built up over the glued-on disc. Mabé pearls can be as small as 5 millimetres and as large as 20 millimetres, depending on the size of their mollusk host and the introduced hemispherical disc.  The Mabé pearl is brutally cut off the shell using a circle-bit or hollow core drill bit, and the disc removed. No thought is given to the poor oyster that has suffered and been killed.

New Zealand produces Mabé pearls of abalone that are commonly referred to as blue pearls or pāua. Osmena pearls are occasionally sold as Mabé pearls, but are not pearls because they are actually carved pieces of the chambered nautilus shell, or turbo snail shells.

Thus each and every pearl, whether cultured or natural, represents hundreds and thousands of oyster shells being opened up and discarded, resulting in their death. Pearl oysters that are discarded are not channelled as food because oysters are eaten alive or cooked alive. If the shell is open the oyster is dead and can not be eaten safely.

Advertising and Marketing
99.99% of pearls sold in the market are cultured pearls from oysters and freshwater mussels. Aniline organic dye is used for the ones that are coloured light or dark. Cobalt-60 radiation is utilised to alter the manganese content of the mussels as is done to the Akoya pearl nuclei, thus converting the colour of the pearls to a dark grey. Tahitian ones are subjected to heat to make them attain a chocolate colour. And, “orient” is the word used to describe the shimmering, iridescent colours that reflect on the surface of pearls.

Marketed by colour, lustre/glow, shape, size/grade, and surface quality, pearls have been ridiculously promoted side by side with two other Ps: "pearls, politics and power". Women are thus enticed into buying them: they cite examples of celebrities who wore them in the last century and those who wear them now, and add catchy slogans like "bigger the better", "perfect pearls" and "from classy to jazzy" in their advertising campaigns.

No one declares the truth that pearls and pain are synonyms, or else 70% of pearls would not be worn as jewellery, mainly necklaces and chokers.

The rest are used for medicinal purposes ranging from aphrodisiacs to cures for insanity, ground up and made into potions, balms, and salves or simply be worn as jewellery for their so-called curative powers. Interestingly, the modern pharmaceutical industry continues to use pearls in medicines, e.g. high quality pharmaceutical calcium. Moti pisthi (ground pearls) added to a particular premium soap is obviously a marketing gimmick. A pearl facial is touted as a 4,000 year old hydration therapy, the natural pearl powder claiming to transfer melanin said to prevent tanning and remove pigmentation.

ALL Pearls = Pain, Suffering and Killing

Irrespective of the type, colour (like white, black, crème, pink, golden, fuchsia, maroon, green, grey, lavender, chocolate brown and in hues of blue) or name given to the pearls, the natural ones being Conch, Melo Melo, Abalone and Scallop, commonly available from Iraq (Basra), Venezuela and Australia; and cultured pearls being Saltwater, Akoya/Classic, Freshwater/Biwaco/Baroque/South Sea/Tahitian, Cortez, and Keshi/Seed; and those called Hyderabad, Mandapam, the famous Mikimoto of Japan, etc., ALL pearls have a hidden history of pain and killing. (Although Hyderabad is considered as the biggest pearl retail market in the world, it does not produce a single pearl. It is Chandanpet’s expertise in pearl drilling that has, for centuries, made Hyderabad famous for pearls.) Chinese pearls fall into the cultured freshwater pearls category – most of these are imported and sold in India. They are cheap (as compared to marine pearls) because of low labour and production costs, added to which breeding conditions (environment, food, temperature and salinity of water) for oysters in the southern regions of China are said to be ideal. Even Majorica pearls of Spain termed “man-made pearls” and some other imitations like Shell pearls and those called “artificial/fake/simulated pearls” use fish scales and/or lustre/dust from cultured pearls in their making.

At Chilika Lake (Orissa) pearls are hawked by literally plucking them out from oysters. Not being genuine pearls is one aspect, but that they have been planted in oysters results in their death.
Torture Unlimited
The same scientist from Andaman and Nicobar Islands who developed the world’s biggest black pearl came up with a new technology to create pearls in various shapes including Lord Ganesha. Using a particular species of oyster he carried out three surgical operations on the creatures to regulate the chemical secretion which forms the pearl. This torturous process is based on mantle activation so it envelops the nucleus (implanted grit) in six months instead of three years.

After doing some more torturous research, in 2022 the person declared that “the mantle’s natural characteristic is to release calcium carbonate and it does not secrete this only when a foreign substance enters it.” He also said that since pearls can be customised for colour, quality, crystallization and size by the medium he plans to expand his research work in tissue pearl culture in other marine species.

The Vizhinjam Marine Aquarium (near Thivananthapuram) of Kerala not only has marine wealth, but proudly declares having perfected the cruel Image Pearl production technique by which a mould of any shape made of shell cement is implanted into the pearl oyster.

In 2011 farmed Chinese half-inch pearls, six times cheaper than the Tahitian saltwater ones of the same size were in demand, thus making pearls cheap and affordable. Another innovation from China called Edison pearls – orbs in bright hues like vivid purple, pink and bronze, only seen in dyed pearls before, in sizes of up to three-quarters of an inch – were also introduced in the market.

By end-2015 a farmer at Gadchiroli was producing cultured pearls in his 900 sq metre freshwater pond. Oysters were being fished from the Wainganga River, cultivated (read tortured) for 18 months and then killed for pearls. The farmer had been convinced to switch from rice cultivation to pearl farming by the Krishi Vigyan Kendra. It is unfortunate that the Maharashtra state government trains and gives guidance in pearl farming (and not in growing crops such as say pearl millet) to farmers.

The main freshwater mussel species used for the production of pearls in India are Lamellidens marginalis, Corrianus and Parreysia corrugate.

A pearl oyster farming project report recommends that freshwater pearl culture farming should be undertaken along with other fish farming or any other aquaculture business. It clearly states that a nucleus (also called bead) made from dead mussel shell is inserted along with some solution in the mussels to get the required or desired pearl shape, and that round, half-round, and other designer pearls can be thus produced. In ½ to ¾ acre about 9,000 to 10,000 mussels can be accommodated and the technique to be utilised is double implantations (actually very many more than two implantations) in a single mussel. Mortality is at least 20%. Only 10% pearls produced are ‘A’ grade, 20% ‘B’ grade and sellable after a minimum of 15 to 18 months.

Let it therefore be known that not a single pearl is ever produced without a background of years of intense suffering to many more than one oyster.
Navratan Rings
Navratan rings or nine gem astrologically based rings usually have blue sapphire/neelam for Saturn, yellow sapphire/pukhraj for Jupiter, ruby/manik for Sun, diamond/heera for Venus, emerald/panna for Mercury, coral/moonga for Mars, pearl/moti for Moon, cat’s eye/lahasunya for Ketu and hessonite/gomedh for Rahu. Since these rings are based on planetary colours, pearl can easily be substituted with white moonstone/chandramani. (Coral which is equally hinsak can also be replaced with red jasper which has similar properties to coral but to a lesser degree.)
Beauty Without Cruelty hopes that by creating an awareness that pearls and pain are synonymous, shops will give up selling pearl jewellery. Pearls can easily be substituted with white moonstones which resemble them.

Like pearls, moonstones are lustrous, glowing rather than sparkling, associated with purity and innocence. Moonstones are translucent and posses an inner lustre, whereas pearls have an opaque glow. Ancients believed moonstones to be solidified rays of the moon and that’s how the gemstone acquired its name. Moonstones are mined in Sri Lanka and South India and the finest ones are reminiscent of the moon.

The moonstone plays the same role as the pearl in Indian astrological gem therapy, providing a cooling effect upon the wearer, bringing peace of mind and helping concentration.

Most astrologers feel that cultured pearls can give side effects because their production has involved torture to oysters. They may not be aware of the pain and death oysters of natural pearls have undergone.

Free Pearls
Some times inappropriate prizes are won like pearl jewellery. Being ‘free’ it certainly doesn’t absolve us even if we decide to give it away. It is best to decline acceptance of the prize.

Similarly, we should not appreciate or admire the beauty of pearls in any form any where, for example, the Ganpati idol at Byculla, Mumbai which was in 2009 decorated with 21,000 pearls.

Mother-of-Pearl and Fish Pearl
Mother of pearl is nacre, and like pearl, it is produced by living molluscs (oysters and abalone) and is actually their inner shell and the outcome of killing.

Capiz shells which have a similar lustre to mother of pearl are mainly found and used in the Philippines for decorative items such as vases, window panes, and jewellery.

Mother of pearl is no longer used as extensively as it was, however, it is utilised in lots of wrist watch dials, jewellery, inlay work, buttons for clothing, cutlery handles, light shades and musical instruments, so one has to be super-alert to avoid them when shopping. Whether natural, bleached, or dyed, the shimmering pearly layers are always visible.

Shell pearls, as the name indicates, are made from shells. Pieces of mother-of-pearl, oyster-shell, coral or conch-shell are spherically shaped, then coated with several layers of pearl dust, baked and polished. They could even be coated with essence d’Orient (a solution containing bleak fish scales) like glass beads which are the base of imitation pearls.

In April 2019 a biologist from the University of Rochester invented artificial mother-of-pearl using bacteria and claimed that it had the toughness of natural nacre.

Fish pearl/Mach Mani is brownish yellow and is obtained from the mouth of particular fish. This ancient gem stone is related to the Ramayana. However, a glass bead lined or coated with essence d’Orient made from fish scales to simulate a pearl is also called fish pearl.

It is surprising that vegetarian and religious-minded jewellers sell pearls and mother of pearl items. Most are unaware of the intense cruelty, but when they get to know of it, they have felt financial gain can not justify the death of countless lives, more so for vanity.

BWC hopes that for the sake of their own karma, jewellers will happily give up stocking pearls which emit negative energy because of the unknown intense cruelty and slaughter inflicted upon the oysters that produced them and countless others that were also killed in the quest for the pearls they sell.

If they must sell pearls they should opt for Cotton or the Utter Ethical Pearl which is made from cotton and pigment powder derived from fine mica (mineral).
BWC’s Pearls = Pain Campaign
In 2012 Beauty Without Cruelty launched a campaign against the use of pearls as a result of which ORRA (one of the world’s leading jewellers) agreed to display a “Pearls = Pain” poster in five of their thirty-three stores in India where they stopped selling pearls: Inorbit – Malad, Mumbai; Inorbit – Vashi, Mumbai; DLF – Delhi; Vizag and Kolkata.

BWC now looks forward to other shops not stocking pearl jewellery and will be happy to supply display material.

The good news is that by 2014, in Hyderabad considered the “city of pearls” (where more than 1,500 shops sell pearls) traders admitted to a 5% fall in demand despite the price of pearls having also fallen 10-20%, and had therefore begun selling precious gemstones. They blamed China for flooding the market with cultured pearls. The “BWC Pearls = Pain” campaign must have to some extent helped in bringing down the demand because soon after, the Gems and Jewellery Export Promotion Council declared that Export of Pearls from a high of $6.75 million in September 2013 fell as low as $0.07 million in September 2014.

Discrepancies have been found between the Commerce Ministry and the Gems & Jewellery Export Promotion Council (under the same ministry!) on the import/export data of pearls. However, the import of raw pearls positively increased, if not tripled 2015-16 onwards. Cultured and worked pearls imported (mainly from Hong Kong and UAE) were valued above $2 billion in 2016-17 and 2017-18, while export of pearls (and stones) from India during this period remained stagnant at around $500 million a year. It is baffling because earlier value-wise imports were low, but exports high.

Let us remember that PEARLS = PAIN. They are synonymous with nothing, absolutely nothing, but pain. And, let us forget the sales mantras that lure people into believing that pearls represent love, charm, purity and power.

Lastly let it be known that since the Victorian era pearls have been traditionally referred to as mourning jewellery. If for no other reason, then may be this inauspicious use will make people stop wearing pearls.

Pearl Cruelty can be viewed on You Tube

Page last updated on 24/12/22