Chinese Pearls Are Now Affordable, but Inhumane

By Marcia E. Gawecki

The CBS Morning News segment on Thursday, August 4th, started out with an image from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” A young Audrey Hepburn wrapped in pearls was peering into Tiffany’s window eating a croissant. They also showed First Lady Jackie Kennedy and her young son, John, playing with her strand of pearls.

Once a jewel of the rich and famous, pearls are now affordable, thanks to China.

The news segment showcased colored pearls in red, blue, and green. Before that, most people only knew about black, gray and pink pearls from Tahiti and Japan. The new, bold colors will likely appeal to the younger set at the affordable price of $4 to $8 each. About the same price as a cup of Starbuck’s.

The Chinese claim that their freshwater pearls rival the more expensive and coveted saltwater pearls from Tahiti and Japan. In a side-by-side test, it was difficult to tell the difference.

Yet, one nagging question remains. What about the oysters?

In the segment, the reporter mentioned that the Chinese pearl makers have found a way to plant not one grain of sand, but 21 pieces of tissue into the oyster. That means, if they’re lucky, there will be 21 perfect pearls from each oyster.

For those who don’t know how oysters make pearls, here’s a quick summary: An irritant, such as a grain of sand, gets into the oyster’s soft underbelly. It’s like you getting a splinter on your finger. Because it’s threatened, the oyster then adds layers and layers of nacre (or calcium carbonate) deposits to cover the piece of sand, eventually turning it into a pearl. This process can take up to several years to complete. When the pearl is ready, the oyster is cracked open and dies.

When one grain of sand is an irritant, can you imagine how 21 irritants would be? Ask Octomom what it was like having eight children at once. On a smaller level, how about 21 splinters on your finger for a year?

Just because an oyster cannot complain, scream or cry at this abuse, doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel pain. With 21 irritants at once, what kind of life does that oyster have? It will not have a moment’s peace until it dies.

It doesn’t matter, you might say, because look at this beautiful pearl necklace that I’m wearing! Doesn’t it make it all worthwhile?

From what Nature has taught me while living in Idyllwild, there will be consequences for this “pearl factory.” Oysters are part of the overall food chain, and even though they will likely be farmed separately, there will be a fallout. Since the oysters will be in a constant state of irritation, they won’t be thinking about growing or reproducing. An entire line of freshwater oysters could become extinct.

That’s ridiculous, you say, you’re a spoilsport. But whenever an animal has to suffer needlessly for my gain, especially when it’s not for basic needs, then I’m not going to be part of it.

As a teenager, I remember peering into a Mikimoto store window in Paris. It was night time and raining, but I was in heaven. Like Audrey Hepburn looking into Tiffany’s store window, I found comfort in those strands of Mikimoto pearls.

“I will own a black strand someday,” I promised myself.

That seemed like the ultimate gift of elegance. Now that China has made freshwater pearls affordable, I don’t want any. Trees and oysters cannot cry out when they’re being exploited and in pain. But it doesn’t make it less real.

If we continue to abuse nature for our own selfish benefit, there will be consequences. Perhaps oysters will cease to exist. Nature created them as food for other sea life, not as a ready pearl factory for us. That’s not how it works.

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.



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