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A pearl is a hard, roundish object produced within the soft tissue
(specifically the mantle) of a living shelled mollusk. Just like the shell of
mollusks, a pearl is composed of calcium carbonate in minute crystalline
form, which has been deposited in concentric layers. The ideal pearl is
perfectly round and smooth, but many other shapes of pearls (baroque
pearls) occur. The finest quality natural pearls have been highly valued as
gemstones and objects of beauty for many centuries, and because of this,
the word pearl became a metaphor for something very rare, very fine, very
admirable and very valuable.

Valuable pearls occur in the wild, but they are very rare. Cultured or farmed
pearls make up the majority of those that are currently sold. Pearls from the
sea are valued more highly than freshwater pearls. Imitation or fake pearls
are also widely sold in inexpensive jewelry, but the quality of the iridescence
is usually very poor, and generally speaking, fake pearls are usually quite
easy to distinguish from the real thing. Pearls have been harvested, or more
recently cultivated, primarily for use in jewelry, but in the past they were
also stitched onto lavish clothing, as worn, for example, by royalty. Pearls
have also been crushed and used in cosmetics, medicines, or in paint
formulations.

The unique luster of pearls depends upon the reflection, refraction, and
diffraction of light from the translucent layers. The thinner and more
numerous the layers in the pearl, the finer the luster. The iridescence that
pearls display is caused by the overlapping of successive layers, which
breaks up light falling on the surface.
In addition, pearls (especially cultured freshwater pearls) can be dyed
yellow, green, blue, brown, pink, purple, or black.
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