Unlike gemstones, which originate from the Earth, pearls are the products of animals called mollusks. Though there are 100,000 species of mollusks, wild, pearl-producing mollusks are rare. A cultured pearl is created by inserting a mother-of-pearl bead into a mollusk. The mollusks are then placed in the water for several years until the pearl forms. Cultured pearls have made pearl fashion earrings popular and widely available, as they are significantly cheaper than pearls found in the wild.
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