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Discovery Magazine 7/1/2006


One of the marvels of God’s creation is the pearl. Very early in history, someone must have lifted an oyster from the sea, probably looking for food, and discovered inside one of these beauties of nature. The pearl is one of the oldest known gems, and for most of human history, has been considered one of the most valuable. One of the largest saltwater pearls still in existence was recently on display at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Named the Hope Pearl, it is two inches long, and varies between 3 1/4 and 4 1/2 inches in circumference! An old Arab legend says that pearls were formed when dew drops filled with moonlight fell into the ocean and were swallowed by oysters.

Pearls are hard, round gems formed inside the shells of certain mollusks (like oysters) when an irritating object (a grain of sand) gets inside its shell. In defense, the mollusk coats the irritant with layer upon layer of the minerals aragonite or calcite (both crystalline forms of calcium carbonate) held together by a compound called conchiolin (kong KI uh len). The mixture of calcium carbonate and conchiolin is called nacre, or mother-of-pearl, giving pearls their beautiful color and luster.

Since few oysters actually suffer from an irritant, most oysters do not produce pearls. So around the year 1900, men from Japan discovered a way to cause all oysters to form pearls. These manmade or cultured pearls are formed by surgically implanting a mother-of-pearl bead or piece of shell into the oyster. Pearl farms are places where thousands of oysters are cared for during the two to five years needed for an oyster to form a pearl.

Since people consider pearls so valuable, Jesus once told a parable about a pearl merchant who came across a single pearl of great price. The merchant already had many fine pearls, but this pearl was so valuable and desirable that he sold all that he had in order to have the money to buy that one fantastic pearl (Matthew 13:45-46). The point that Jesus was making was that His kingdom—the church of Christ—is so valuable and so surpasses everything else on Earth, that a person ought to make whatever sacrifices are necessary in order to be a citizen of that one kingdom. 

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