Grafting for cultured pearls is a process similar to the one to produce a natural pearl. Whether the irritant is a grain of sand, a parasite, or a foreign body introduced by hand, if it is accepted by the oyster it will eventually become a pearl. Grafting is a high-skill task and must be done quickly to maximize the chances of success.
The grafter starts by placing a tiny piece of tissue from a donor oyster’s mantle inside the oyster. He then inserts a spherical “nucleus” fashioned from the shell of a freshwater mussel, which the oyster will automatically try to reject. Inserting tissue from a donor oyster has several functions:
cells from the oyster tissue develop around the nucleus, forming a pearl sac, inside which the pearl will be formed;
The mantle tissue plays an important role in determining the quality of the resulting cultured pearl;
The pearl sac regularly secretes pearl material around the nucleus. Extensive research has shown that the best mussel shells from which to make the nucleus come from a freshwater variety found only in American Mississippi River.
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